I get a lot of questions on how to deal with relationship anxiety and believe me, I get it!
Anxiety is a pervasive problem in general, and of course, it’s going to come out in relationships because relationships hit every emotional sore spot inside of us and there is a lot at stake.
Your intentions are good, you want the relationship to last and you want to avoid being hurt, but the way it manifests could end up ruining the very thing you want so badly.
So let’s break it down and talk about why it happens and what you can do about it. Keep reading.
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People who have relationship anxiety usually have an anxious attachment style.
Essentially, there are three main attachment styles:
1. Secure. This is basically the gold standard. People with a secure attachment style are comfortable and confident in relationships. They can be vulnerable and also at ease and usually are not worried about their partners leaving.
2. Avoidant. People with this attachment style avoid or fear commitment. They may completely avoid relationships altogether or be cold and distant when in a relationship.
3. Anxious. This is a type of insecure attachment style rooted in fear of abandonment. These people are usually terrified of their partner leaving them, and they have a hard time being apart from their partners in general.
There is also a fourth type which is anxious-avoidant, but this is apparently the rarest and is characterized by craving closeness intensely, but also fearing it. So you may be very aloof at first, but as soon as a guy shows interest, you latch on and become obsessed with him and become terrified of losing him.
Today, we’re focusing specifically on an anxious style.
Some of the most classic signs of anxious attachment are being insecure in relationships, clingy, terrified of rejection, jealous, distrusting, and having a negative view of self.
Now here is the thing about anxious attachment- it doesn’t necessarily mean you are constantly consumed with fears of your partner leaving, although some people who are very high anxiety will feel that way. Rather, it’s when you pick up cues that your partner might leave or lose interest that your anxious attachment kicks into high gear.
A study found that people with an anxious attachment style are indeed more vigilant to changes in others’ emotional expression and can have a higher degree of accuracy and sensitivity to other people’s cues. However, this finding comes with a caveat. The study showed that people with an anxious attachment style tend to jump to conclusions very quickly, and when they do, they tend to misinterpret people’s emotional state. Only when the experiment was designed in such a way that anxious participants had to wait a little longer— they couldn’t react immediately when they spotted a change, but had to wait a little longer— and get more information before making a judgment did they have an advantage over other participants.
Let’s unpack what this means.
Anxious people are hyper-vigilant to how their partners act. So let’s say one day you text your guy and he doesn’t text back for a few hours. But usually, he texts back within one hour, and you know this because you are always paying close attention.
But today he’s going longer than normal and you start to spin. What is going on? Is he with a girl? He must be with a girl because he always has his phone on him, I mean it’s 2021, everyone is glued to their phone! Why wouldn’t he have his phone? He must be with his girl and he doesn’t want to text me when he’s with her. I can’t believe he’s doing this. Men are all evil monsters. I’m going to end up alone. Life isn’t fair.
And you spin and spin. Then your guy reemerges. Turns out, he was in a meeting that ran long. Now you feel better, but deep down you’re angry. He still should have texted. Something isn’t right. Maybe he’s losing interest. And now you punish him because he has wronged you. Maybe you’re passive-aggressive, maybe you ice him out, maybe you yell at him, or maybe you withhold affection.
He doesn’t understand why you’re acting like this– and one thing I talk about a lot on this site is the fact that men are very drama averse– and he won’t want to deal with it. You will interpret this as him being cold and aloof and this will kick your anxiety into high gear again.
Now, if things like this happen once in a while, it’s one thing and a guy won’t hold that against you. But if you are anxiously attached, it won’t be a one-off. It will be recurrent.
And unless you are with a super empathetic guy who can pick up on all your nuances, he will get fed up with it. He’ll think you’re too needy and he will start to pull away and may even leave you thus bringing the very thing you fear into fruition.
Another thing I talk about a lot is is that the subconscious mind is always looking to prove itself right.
Essentially these anxious thoughts come from a place of thinking deep down that you are not enough, that you’re unworthy. And your mind is looking for proof of that.
This is why anxious women are often drawn to avoidant men – because deep down she doesn’t feel worthy of love, but she thinks if she can get this guy to love her, then she’ll be worthy, and then all her past pain and trauma will be wiped away. However, she can’t really break through his walls because he has an avoidant style and her neediness makes him even more avoidant, thus proving her longstanding belief that no one will ever love her back, and the cycle continues.
Oftentimes when the anxious person gets upset, they will act out and need to be soothed by their partner in order to recalibrate and feel OK again. Eventually, the partner will feel resentful because this is exhausting!
Where does an anxious attachment style come from?
A lot of people say it’s formed in childhood and develops when a parent is inconsistent- one moment they’re emotionally insensitive and other moments they are loving and available. The child doesn’t know what to expect and yearns for consistent attention and connection.
This causes people with an anxious attachment to have a hard time depending on others- they might distrust others and believe those they love and depend on can be emotionally erratic and even abusive.
However, it doesn’t always come from childhood. You can develop anxious attachment as an adult after a traumatic relationship experience.
Now let’s talk about solutions to get your anxiety under control
1. Date someone with a secure attachment style
Dating someone who is secure will anchor you and model a healthy way of being. A lot of people with anxious attachment styles are drawn to avoidant types but you have to recognize this will make things worse and this is a toxic dynamic. The avoidant person will only trigger your anxiety to the max making it impossible for you to ever feel at ease in the relationship and it will confirm your longstanding belief that you will never have a relationship that lasts.
Do whatever work you need to do in order to identify the types of guys you go after and why you’re drawn to them.
2. Be emotionally honest
If you feel that you can’t be totally honest for fear your partner will leave, you’re not with the right person. If he’s a good guy, he will appreciate you being honest and vulnerable about how you feel. Tell your partner- “I care about you, I want to connect, but I have some intimacy issues that sometimes get in my way” and talk about it.
In order to do this, you need to be emotionally honest with yourself. First recognize if you are anxious and try to identify where it came from and how it manifests in your relationship, and explain it to him. This will make a lot more sense to him than you going nuts anytime he does anything without you.
3. Respond instead of react
This goes back to the study I cited early: Only when the experiment was designed in such a way that anxious participants had to wait a little longer— they couldn’t react immediately when they spotted a change, but had to wait a little longer— and get more information before making a judgment did they have an advantage over other participants.
So what does this look like? Let’s say your guy goes out with his friends and you don’t hear from him. You immediately assume he met a girl and is hooking up with her. Before you react, stop and take a pause. Realize maybe he’s just having fun with his friends and wants to give them his attention.
And talk yourself down from the ledge.
Everything in your relationship is fine, there is no cause for concern. It isn’t reasonable for him to text you every 5 minutes.
Think about what you would tell your best friend in this situation- how would you talk to her?
Try to choose your response instead of reflexively reacting. Anxious thoughts can be very fast, frenzied, and frenetic. Recognize when they start to flood you and do what you can to slow it all down.
4. Watch you to speak to yourself
That inner voice is powerful… and thoughts are real forces. They create a change within us which can either lead to us feeling panicked and terrified or calm and at ease.
Tell yourself- I am OK. I will be OK. I was OK before him, I will be OK after him if this doesn’t work out.
You can also try playing psychologist with yourself to uncover what’s going on.
What’s the real fear here?
I’m afraid he met another girl.
And what does that mean to you?
He’ll leave me.
And then what?
I’ll be alone.
And why does that make you scared?
It will prove I’m unlovable.
Ahhh, there it is. So that’s the root issue that needs to be addressed.
5. Find someone reliable to talk to
This could be a friend, family member, or maybe a good therapist.
A lot of the time, our anxiety-generated fears are totally irrational and we can’t see it until we talk it out and unravel what’s going on.
And having an objective person can really help you get there. And a skilled therapist can give you the tools to manage that anxiety.
I hope this article gave you helpful tips and tools to manage your relationship anxiety. One thing that can really send you spiraling is when a man pulls away and seems to withdraw, but it really doesn’t mean what you think! Read this to find out more:If He’s Pulling Away, Do This...