“I never should have told my partner that. They’re probably judging me for it, aren’t they? I wonder what they think about me. Can’t be anything positive. I don’t know why this person loves me in the first place. Wait, do they even love me?” Sound familiar? Thoughts like these, sooner or later, lead to the realization, “My anxiety is ruining my relationship.”
That realization, or even just a declaration that you’ve hastily made to yourself because of, well, anxious thoughts, means that there are things in your dynamic (or within yourself) you need to address.
If you find yourself struggling with relationship anxiety, all the “what ifs” cooking up in your head may worry you to no end. With the help of psychologist Shazia Saleem (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in separation and divorce counseling, let’s take a look at how constant overthinking affects your love life and how you can manage it.
What Is Anxiety And Relationship Anxiety?
Before we talk about anxiety in relationships and how it can adversely affect your dynamic, let’s get on the same page about what it is and when it turns into a problem. First things first, anxiety is a completely normal emotion that people feel from time to time when they’re nervous or worried about an uncertain outcome. Remember that feeling you got when your mom was just about to see the result of your math test? Remember that feeling you felt when you were just about to go up and try to flirt with him/her?
Anxious thoughts are common in such moments and are no cause for concern. However, when you start feeling anxious without identifiable or proportionate triggers or noticing physical symptoms of anxiety that get worse with time, anxiety disorders come into the picture.
Such disorders feature feelings of significant worry or nervousness that don’t go away and might even worsen with time. They often have no trigger and may cause a person to have negative thoughts and even experience physical discomfort. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 19.1% of adults in the United States have experienced some sort of anxiety disorder. Some of the most common anxiety disorders are briefly explained below:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: GAD refers to feeling anxious and edgy without any identifiable cause or trigger. The affected person may experience worry and nervousness about various activities and events, be they personal or general in nature. There may even be no cause for danger or harm, but a person may experience a period of excessive worry, even about things that may happen in the future
- Social anxiety: This anxiety disorder involves being fearful of social situations since those suffering from it believe that people scrutinize everything they do. Such negative thoughts often lead to an over-critical nature toward oneself
- Relationship anxiety: Anxiety in relationships includes a person involved in the relationship excessively worrying about its future and what their partner thinks of them
- Phobias: The intense fear of a situation or an object that leads people to exaggerate the threat in their mind, which leads to overwhelming fear and symptoms such as sweating, crying, shaking, and rapid heartbeat
Shazia explains that even people without a history of anxiety in relationships or their personal life can be at risk of experiencing anxiety ruining relationships. “Every time people think of a relationship, they only think of the good parts of it. The coffee dates and the nights spent talking. Especially when people aren’t in relationships, they don’t realize that it comes with another “R”, which stands for responsibility.
“When a person isn’t prepared to deal with the responsibility that comes with a relationship, they’re bound to experience some level of anxious thoughts, regardless of if they’ve felt it before. As far as recognizing it goes, you’ll be able to tell that what you’re going through is relationship anxiety when you’re constantly worrying about the uncertain future of your relationship or keep imagining worst-case scenarios in your head.
“You’ll struggle to figure out how to keep things afloat, owing to the constant doubt you’re in. You’ll feel perplexed, trapped, and might become extremely pessimistic even if you’re in a loving intimate relationship.” Along with the symptoms that Shazia has listed, you also need to keep an eye out for the following signs of relationship anxiety:
- Feeling as though your partner is just “tolerating” you or likes other people more
- Constantly worrying that your partner is lying
- Having a fear of relationships and trying to avoid them altogether
- Developing a negative relationship with yourself and assuming that your partner feels the same way about you
- Overthinking events that have occurred or may occur in the future
- Constantly worrying about being cheated on
The simple truth of it is that anxiety ruins relationships, and anxious thoughts can scar even the healthiest of bonds. With that in mind, let’s read up a bit more about how separation anxiety in relationships affects it, and what you can do to manage it.
6 Ways Anxiety Ruins Relationships
What kind of issues can anxiety bring up in a relationship? “Anxiety makes it impossible for two partners to be perfectly secure with each other,” says Shazia. This sense of insecurity can overwhelm the bond between two people.
Besides, when a person feels overwhelmed and doesn’t communicate that, it can really have a damaging effect on the relationship. The bottom line is, all the cries of “My anxiety is ruining my relationship!” hold some weight. Here’s why:
1. Anxiety ruins relationships when people become too dependent
“When I started feeling anxious about my relationship with Devin, I got too clingy and dependent as I relied on him for my happiness. When it got too much for him, he started treating me bitterly every time I couldn’t control my anxiety levels, which just made me cling to him even tighter. It’s keeping us from having a healthy relationship, and I don’t know how to tell him that,” says Josephine, a 23-year-old reader from Boston.
When you start having negative thoughts about your relationship and can’t seem to stop them, eventually, your partner bears the brunt of your anxious thoughts. The clingy behavior and need for constant reassurance may eventually lead your partner to question why you don’t trust what they’re saying.
2. Anxiety starts ruining relationships because the trust erodes
“When a person isn’t able to trust themselves because of their anxious and negative thoughts about themselves, how can you expect them to trust their partner?” Shazia comments on how anxiety in relationships sparks trust issues.
“They’re going to go down the spiral of self-doubt, where they’ll think things like, “Will I be able to meet my partner’s needs? Am I hurting my partner’s feelings?” These questions and skepticism inevitably leave a relationship riddled with major issues,” she adds.
The anxious partner may start anticipating betrayal and act out in an overprotective or controlling manner as a result. They may constantly question if they’re being lied to and refuse to forgive small mistakes, assuming them to be intentional acts meant to hurt them.
As a result, “My girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s anxiety is ruining our relationship” becomes a common concern. So, can anxiety ruin a relationship? Given that it can effectively erode one of the core prerequisites for a healthy relationship, the damage anxiety can cause is evident.
Related Reading: How To Stop Worrying About Your Relationship — 8 Expert Tips
3. Self-esteem issues can scar romantic relationships
With anxious thoughts comes an extremely jaded perception of oneself. This can lead to self-esteem issues, which invariably get projected onto one’s partner. Dr. Aman Bhonsle previously spoke to Bonobology about why that happens. He says, “The way you interact with other people is a reflection of how you interact with yourself. It tends to percolate one way or the other. For example, if you don’t have a high opinion of yourself, you might think your romantic partners will feel the same way about you.”
Such issues lead to a whole host of problems in romantic relationships. For starters, a person may be more tolerant of abuse since they’re hesitant to stand up for themselves. Or, they may settle for less in a relationship since they don’t consider themselves worthy of being loved.
Low self-esteem may also lead a person to bottle up their emotions, assuming that their partner isn’t interested in listening. This, in turn, may lead to resentment in the relationship. Hence, trying to figure out how to stop feeling anxious is crucial.
4. Overthinking every little scenario can take a toll
“My girlfriend and I have been through some terrible fights where she’d often have a mental breakdown. We’re working on it now, but everything I’ve seen has left a mental scar. Now, every time I sense that she’s getting a little upset or isn’t able to calm herself, I fear the worst-case scenario and can’t stop overthinking about what can go wrong,” said Kyle, a 25-year-old reader from Milwaukee.
“So every time we have a small argument, or even when she just makes a comment, all I’m thinking about is how she’s incredibly upset at me and that it won’t work out between us. I already suffer from anxious thoughts about myself and my life, but every time my partner makes my anxiety worse, I just don’t know how to talk about it or curb it,” he adds.
Every argument, every comment, and every insignificant situation can plague the mind of an anxious person. Even if their partner just rolls their eyes at them, they may think they’ve done something terrible and have upset their partner. Add to that the fact they may even hesitate to talk about it, leading to miscommunication in a relationship and resentment.
5. Anxiety in relationships makes people assume their relationship is subpar
“When a person is in an anxious state or suffering from a mental illness, they will operate from a defense mode and might even begin to think of their partner as the enemy because they assume their partner thinks negatively of them. Self-doubt usually does that to a person.
“That’s because they’re not able to keep up with the expectations of the other person, or at least they tell themselves that they cannot. They even begin to self-pacify by painting their partner as the villain and telling themselves that they’re being held back because of their partner,” says Shazia. Be it due to separation anxiety in relationships, general relationship anxiety, or any other form of the disorder, when you start to think of your partner as the enemy, “My anxiety is ruining my relationship” is a valid concern.
6. You may start avoiding your partner
While some seek constant reassurance, some people may completely start avoiding their partner while managing anxiety. One study found that people with social anxiety disorder are less likely to seek support from their romantic partners, which is why they may choose to ignore them. The same study mentioned that less support and more severe symptoms of anxiety increased the chances of the couple splitting up.
Every time I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I isolate myself and try to stay in the present moment to try and feel safe. In the process, I have to stop talking to my partner. This phase can sometimes last for days,” explains Kelsey, a reader from Texas, whose intimate relationships have suffered because of her anxiety issues.
So, can anxiety ruin a relationship? From what you’ve read so far, it must be pretty clear that your anxiety issues can hurt your partner’s feelings as well as adversely affect your romantic relationships. The constant stress can keep you from feeling safe, and might even make you behave selfishly.
Before you go any further, keep in mind that fixating on how to stop anxiety might just end up being frustrating, since some degree of anxiety is bound to stay with you. Remember how we said it’s a natural feeling and all? Perhaps change your mindset a little, and maybe ask yourself how to stop overthinking in a relationship and shake off the compulsive need to keep imagining worst-case scenarios.
5 Ways To Prevent Anxiety From Ruining A Relationship
“The best way to prevent anxiety from ruining a relationship is to be mentally prepared before entering into the relationship. You’ve got to be able to tell yourself that what you’re entering into entails a lot of responsibility, and not matching your actions with your words can have adverse effects on your romantic relationships and your mental health,” says Shazia.
Shazia’s advice follows the adage, “Prevention is better than cure”. To keep your anxiety levels in check and enjoy the full extent of this intimate bond you share with another person, you’ve got to be in a stable headspace with yourself.
Once you’ve dealt with any anxiety issues you may have and are ready to take up the responsibility a relationship brings with it, things can improve. However, if you’re already in the throes of relationship anxiety and your bond with your partner is suffering because of it, there are still things you can do. Let’s take a look:
1. Seek professional help
When you’re struggling with thoughts like, “My anxiety is ruining my relationship”, you pretty much already know what the issue is, yet might put off getting the necessary help to deal with it. Would you walk around with a broken leg because putting a cast on would be a sign of weakness or because you think if you just ignore it a little longer, it’ll heal on its own? In the same manner, anxiety disorders mustn’t be left unchecked.
“The best thing any couple can do when they’re experiencing relationship anxiety is to reach out and seek professional help. Couples counseling and individual counseling will help you get to the root cause of this anxiousness,” says Shazia.
Though you will not be able to stop anxiety completely, you’ll find better and more productive ways of dealing with it and communicating it. If you’re trying to figure out how to stop overthinking in a relationship, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists can help you control your anxious thoughts and develop a more secure bond.
Related Related: Dating Someone With Anxiety – Helpful Tips, Dos, And Don’ts
2. Talk to your partner about it
When it comes to managing anxiety in a relationship, one of the most important things you can do is to talk to your partner constructively. After all, you don’t want them to think, “My girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s anxiety is ruining our relationship”. That’s quite literally nightmare fuel for you.
“If a person is ready to accept that they’re struggling with some kind of anxiety that they’re not able to handle, communicating that to their partner can definitely help. If their partner has a high emotional quotient and is able to help, it will only help bring them closer.
“However, most people hide their anxiety disorders and try to deal with them using unhealthy coping mechanisms. That’s because they lose trust in themselves and they lose their self-worth. When a person becomes brave enough to tell their partner what’s going on, they encourage honest and open communication, give their partner an explanation of why they behave selfishly sometimes and may get some much-needed help,” says Shazia.
3. Don’t trauma dump or make your partner your therapist
What sort of effect can anxiety have on your relationship? For starters, your partner may begin to feel as if it’s their responsibility to help you and make you feel better. That’s why it’s essential to remember that the goal of a conversation about your mental health should be to improve your relationship, not to burden your partner with your anxiety.
When you trauma dump, they will eventually grow tired of your issues. You don’t want them to end up saying, “My partner makes my anxiety worse”, do you? Share your feelings and concerns but also make sure to listen to your partner’s perspective and take their needs into account.
4. Know that you are more than your anxiety
Though managing anxiety by talking to your partner and seeking professional help will get you one step closer to healthy relationships, you also need to help yourself. For that, you need to know and believe that you’re more than your anxiety, your past experiences, your constant self-doubt, and your stress. Practice self-love, find methods to deal with your stress levels, and understand that the same person who experienced the anxiety will be able to curb it: you.
It may seem like your anxiety attacks sit like an immovable mountain in your life, but you’ve got to take things one step at a time. You won’t reach the summit by approaching by fixating on how to stop feeling anxious immediately. Instead, work on managing your symptoms one by one, till you reach the root cause of what got you there in the first place. That’s basically a year of therapy laid out for you.
5. Try not to let your fears consume you
First things first, stop seeking constant reassurance because you’re feeling anxious and have convinced yourself that your partner hates you. Learn to trust more in what your partner tells you. Next, learn to regulate your emotions and find healthy coping mechanisms for your anxious thoughts. Before you communicate with your partner about what you’re experiencing, understand that they’re not responsible to put you back piece by piece, and it’s not fair to them for you to expect it.
When you’re feeling a lot of stress, when the “what if” scenarios won’t stop popping up, when your anxiety makes you question everything about yourself and your relationship, learn to sit with them and manage them. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who knows your own situation the best.
- Relationship anxiety can make a person doubt the strength of their bond, assume that their partner hates them, and make a person extremely self-critical
- Anxiety ruining relationships is common and happens because of a lack of trust, communication, and reliability
- STo have a healthy relationship, seek professional help for anxious thoughts
- SLearn to communicate your anxious thoughts constructively, without expecting your partner to fix you
Wanting to go from “My anxiety is ruining my relationship,” to “I know how to stop anxiety completely” isn’t the most practical thing. You’re always going to have a bit of those self-destructive nervous thoughts in your mind, the best thing you can do is manage them. However, with time, continued effort, and a healthy relationship, you’ll eventually get to a place where your made-up nervousness about your relationship is in shambles and won’t eat away at your day. Soon, you’ll be able to say, “I love you too,” instead of, “Hey, you’re sure you love me, right?”