For some of us, the word sparks pure joy; we get the warm fuzzies thinking of taking our loved ones out to dinner, getting an apartment together, and truly building a life together.
For others of us, the word sparks anxiety. We fear losing control, getting hurt, or not being “enough” for our partner.
This is a real, valid response. It’s called “relationship anxiety.” And, unchecked, it can doom a relationship.
I tend to suffer from anxiety, particularly during stressful times (hello COVID?), so I wanted to seek out some guidance on how to navigate anxiety around relationships. This led me to our free masterclass on love and relationships with the shaman Rudá Iandê, who taught me how to identify and work through negative relationship situations such as relationship anxiety. I’d like to share these tips with you now.
What is relationship anxiety?
First of all, relationship anxiety is completely normal — it can affect anyone.
Relationship anxiety refers to feelings of worry, dread, and insecurity surrounding the state of your relationship, even if everything is going great.
What could this worry look like? Relationship anxiety often takes the form of intrusive thoughts like:
- What if I’m not good enough for her?
- What if he’s hiding a secret from me?
- What if I’m incapable of maintaining a relationship?
I call these the “what ifs.” “What if he dumps me, what if I’m not actually attracted to her, what if what if what if!”
These are intrusive thoughts, and they can do real damage to your mental state and the health of your relationship.
Remember the quote “A small leak will sink a great ship“? This anxiety can still damage your relationship and yourself.
Yep, that’s what can happen if you let your anxiety overwhelm you.
This is why it must be identified and corrected early as possible. Sometimes it’s better to identify the signs than to take a break in the relationship.
Luckily, through Rudá’s masterclass, you can learn how to attack the roots of these relationship issues, in order to let yourself thrive in a healthy, supportive environment.
What are some signs of relationship anxiety?
Before we can fix the problem, you need to identify the problem. Relationship Anxiety can take many forms, which is why it’s important to make sure you understand how it can manifest itself.
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1. Doubting your partner’s feelings for you
This is a big and bold one: you are afraid that your partner’s feelings for you aren’t strong. You might think “he’s leading me on,” or “she is only saying that she loves me.” While doubts can be healthy, relationship anxiety-induced doubts aren’t grounded in reality. These doubts continue to manifest themselves, even after your partner has told you how they feel about you.
If your boyfriend has said “I love you,” and your inner response is “is that true,” you might have relationship anxiety.
2. Fear of breaking up
This fear can be rooted in a loss of control. You’re constantly afraid that your partner is going to end things, even though there is no valid reason why that would happen. You may believe that every fight is one step away from a breakup, and end up walking around on eggshells to avoid an imagined breakup. This ultimately leads to a communication breakdown, which can actually create a rift where there was none in the first place.
3. Not trusting your partner
This can manifest itself from doubting their words to believing their cheating to more drastic measures, such as reading their text messages or emails. These trust issues are ultimately rooted in a fear of loss of control, and can ultimately drive your partner away, resulting in your fears being realized if you can’t control your anxiety.
4. Overthinking everything
People with relationship anxiety tend to overthink everything. Remember the “what ifs?” This is the “what ifs” along with the “it’s all overs” and the “she thinks I’m worthless,” and all the other mental torture we enact on ourselves. The important thing to remember is that none of this is grounded in reality. It’s all based in our anxious ways of processing.
Overthinking can impact how comfortable you feel when it comes to opening up to your partner.
You may be concerned about the consequences of what you say but honesty is the best policy when it comes to relationships. If there’s one person you should be honest with, it’s definitely your partner.
Overcoming overthinking can take some time and a lot of trust. Try to stop editing yourself. It may be difficult at first, but a supportive partner will understand.
If you have relationship anxiety, try to make a conscious effort to remain present whenever you’re together. Do not let your mind wander off to negative things that you think will happen.
5. Constantly seeking reassurance
“You love me, right?”
“You’re not just saying that?”
“You’re not going to break up with me?”
These are forms of reassurance-seeking. When suffering from relationship anxiety, you often will turn to your partner to be reassured that the relationship is stable. Unfortunately, this type of reassurance often does little to assuage the fears, and the constant need to be reassured can actually damage the relationship. Instead, the root cause of the anxiety itself has to be addressed.
6. Missing out on the present moment
This one hit close to home for me: if you find yourself worrying so much that you’re no longer enjoying the present moments with your partner, you are most certainly suffering from a form of relationship anxiety. The anxiety has so clouded your brain that you are now in a relationship with your anxiety, rather than your partner.
This is unhealthy for you, for your partner, and for your relationship.
This type of thinking can be treated with mindfulness, meditation, and therapy. Rudá’s masterclass is a great place to start to learn where these feelings come from, and how to address them.
What causes relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is often the manifestation of deep-rooted insecurities that we have been carrying with us since our childhood or early romantic relationships. Some specific reasons are:
You were burned in the past
We’re rational. If you were treated poorly in the past (maybe your ex cheated on you), then it’s only natural that you be concerned it could happen again. This is normal. Wanting to protect yourself from pain is hard-wired into our biology.
But just because you have been treated poorly in the past does not mean it is destined to be repeated. Additionally, it doesn’t give you license to treat your current partner poorly as well. Instead, you need to be mindful of your baggage you carry, and understand when your past experiences are triggering your anxiety.
You suffer from low self-esteem
There is conclusive evidence that those who suffer from low self-esteem are more likely to suffer from relationship anxiety. This is because your anxiety about the relationship actually serves as a projection of your own insecurity.
In other words, “what if you doesn’t love me,” is a projection of “I don’t find myself worth of love.”
The solution, as we’ll talk about later, comes from a place of self-acceptance, from realizing that you are a valid human being, who is worthy of love.
As Justin has talked about in his series of blogs on bachelorhood, attachment theory plays a huge part on how we navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Attachment theory, at its heart, is a concept that says humans have four strategies to have their needs met:
These strategies are cemented from infancy and inform how we will navigate relationships for the rest of our lives.
While the “secure type” (those who are comfortable displaying interest and affection) represent 50% of the population, the remaining 3 types round out the other half of the world — meaning that 50% of the population exhibit a form of negative attachment that can lead to relationship anxiety.
While the secure types can bring stability to an “anxious” or “avoidant” individual, allowing them to “level up” into being secure; the opposite is also common, with an “anxious-avoidant” type bringing a secure individual into a more negative attachment type.
While it’s not totally possible to completely change your attachment style, being aware of how you navigate relationships, in order to have your needs met, allows you to understand how you react in a relationship. If you know you’re avoidant, you know that commitment might lead to anxiety. Knowing this about yourself will allow you to better identify when it’s the anxiety talking, letting you make a calmer decision in the process.
Tackling Relationship Anxiety
In his free masterclass, Rudá Iandê looks at some key issues that relationships face, as well as how to solve these thorny problems.
One that immediately springs to the top is “codependency,” where one partner plays the role of “the needy,” while the other plays the role of “the savior.
This is what Rudá deems an “emotional sickness.” One of us comes to the relationship looking for our partner to solve everything about us — be our source of joy, of acceptance, of reassurance; while the other seeks to be the savior — the one who fixes everything, who is the knight in shining armor.
This dynamic is unhealthy, as each uses the other to fulfill a specific role that is missing in their own lives. This codependency isn’t about building a stronger relationship, it’s about using the other person as a tool, as a crutch, to fill an empty space.
It’s an emotional bandaid that can’t begin to cover the deeper issues.
The deeper issues
When it comes to the two dynamics of the codependency, Rudá offers this:
- The needy cedes their personal power onto someone else, viewing their partner as their savior
- To fix this, the needy must learn to view themselves as their own savior.
- Self-acceptance, and returning your power to yourself will allow you to break this codependency and dismantle your relationship anxiety in the process.
- The savior feels that their dependent partner needs them to survive. This leads to tremendous feelings of responsibility that can be overwhelming.
- Ultimately, the savior is accumulating the negativity of the needy partner, leading to resentment and guilt.
- Living your life for yourself and accepting you cannot fix your partner’s problems leads to self-acceptance and self-empowerment for both partners.
Identifying the codependency
Rudá, in his masterclass, offers three questions to see how codependent your relationship is. These are:
- How equal is your relationship?
- What are you learning from this relationship?
- Are you and your partner evolving?
If your relationship suffers from stagnation and inequality, you may suffer from codependency. Understanding that codependency may be at the heart of your relationship anxiety can give you the deeper insight needed to tackle the real root of the relationship anxiety issues, as opposed to exacerbating them through symptom-level treatment (such as seeking reassurance from a partner).
A technique for codependency reduction
To begin the process of healing, Rudá offers a beautiful technique that he imports from his other masterclass, Out of The Box.
He asks us, whenever we find ourselves in a codependent situation, to first identify our codependent role: are we savior or needy?
Then, take that character, and instead of fighting against it, push it to its maximum.
One your own, take your needy level to the highest possible, internally telling your partner how you absolutely need them in your life — how they complete you.
Then, after you have maximized this response, go in front of a mirror. Repeat this exercise, except direct it to yourself.
Instead of saying, “I need you in my life, I cannot exist without you,” you now say “I need myself. I cannot exist without myself.”
In this way, we learn to transfer our power back onto ourselves, embracing our inner energy, and boosting our self-esteem.
Other forms of help
Rudá’s free masterclass is one of many ways to help tackle relationship anxiety. He brings thousands of years of shaman techniques to help us achieve spiritual and relationship growth.
However, there are other ways that you can tackle relationship anxiety.
- For especially problematic anxiety, regular 1 on 1 therapy offers a great solution
- Mediation has been known to introduce a profound sense of calm and insight which can calm our anxious minds
- Like mediation, exercise helps clear our minds. When our minds are not whirring at a thousand miles per hour, we can take a moment to reflect on whether our issues are real or, in fact, unfounded.
Relationship anxiety does not have to be a relationship-ender. There is help available in many forms. Don’t wait until it becomes a major issue; act now to nip relationship anxiety in the bud.
The bottom line:
Anxiety is the unnecessary worry about things before they even happen. When it comes to relationship anxiety, it means you have that constant dread that your partner will leave you.
For others, it is easy to say that anxiety can be treated easily. But the truth of the matter is that it often requires a lot of effort to fix it.
But by taking care of yourself – and seeing a therapist if needed, you can start to feel better.
At the end of the day, tackling the root cause of relationship anxiety helps ensure that these issues will never rear their ugly head again. If you want to help strengthen the foundation of your relationship, or strengthen yourself to be emotionally ready for a relationship, check out our free masterclass on love and intimacy led by master Shaman Rudá Iandê, who teaches you how to empower yourself in order to build a relationship that evolves alongside yourself.