Relationship anxiety is when you have an intense feeling of doubt, fear, or insecurity about your relationship. Although it can happen with friends and families, it’s more common in romantic relationships — both new or long-term.
It’s absolutely normal to have some anxieties about your relationship and doesn’t mean a breakup is imminent. That being said, if left unchecked relationship anxiety can become too much to handle, to the point where it damages your relationship.
Thankfully, there are ways to help you cope with relationship anxiety and have a more fulfilling romantic life. We asked experts what relationship anxiety is, how to recognize the signs, and how to deal with relationship anxiety.
“Relationship anxiety is primarily anxiety around the stability and consistency of a relationship,” explains Jennifer Klesman, a licensed therapist.
Although it’s not an official diagnosis, relationship anxiety often gets grouped with social anxiety, an anxiety disorder that causes fear of social situations and being judged by other people.
Relationship anxiety isn’t necessarily an indication that there’s something wrong with your relationship or your partner. “It can definitely occur in healthy relationships and be a normal part of adjusting to being with someone new,” says Klesman. “Relationship anxiety is often about our past and image of ourselves rather than the person we are in a relationship with.”
It’s natural to worry about your relationship every now and again, but relationship anxiety becomes problematic if it evolved into debilitating stress that negatively affects your relationship.
“If we don’t address this anxiety then it can persist and be a threat to the relationship because it influences our actions,” explains Klesman. “However, if we work to find its cause and manage it then we can overcome this anxiety and become more secure in the relationship.”
“Relationship anxiety is often described as a sense of fear or dread. Like you’re about to lose something precious,” says E.J. Smith, a licensed counselor.
“It feels like a lot of fear of abandonment or worry that you will screw up somehow and your partner will leave,” adds Klesman. “It can look like intrusive thoughts that you aren’t good enough or that your relationship will end.”
Relationship anxiety might manifest at the start of a new relationship, when you and your partner are still building trust and intimacy with each other, but it’s important to note that relationship anxiety feels distinctly different from the butterflies in your stomach you get at the start of a new relationship.
If you have relationship anxiety, you might find yourself constantly doubting whether your partner actually wants to be with you, finds you attractive, or whether they’re going to leave you for someone better.
Relationship anxiety can manifest differently for everyone, but common signs of relationship anxiety include overthinking, doubt, withdrawal, and insecurity.
These feelings can be temporary and show up unexpectedly, or they can stick around.
Some people might find relationship anxiety manageable, but for others, it can become distressing to the point where they push their partner away or sabotage their relationship.
Fear of commitment, intimacy, or being vulnerable
Self-silencing or not communicating your emotions
Not expressing your needs and being over-accommodating of your partner
Avoiding arguments because you fear your partner will leave you if you bring up an issue
Questioning your partner’s motives or doubting their feelings for you
Having poor self-esteem and thinking you’re not good enough for your partner (or that they’ll “find someone better”)
Obsessively comparing your relationship to others
Avoiding relationship milestones
Looking for reasons to break up, or constantly worrying your partner is about to break up with you
Overthinking everything your partner does or says
Constantly needing validation or reassurance from your partner
Experiencing separation anxiety from your partner
Being controlling, jealous, or overprotective of your partner
Sabotaging the relationship by picking fights, pushing your partner away, or pushing their boundaries.
Relationship anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in an unhealthy relationship or your partner is a walking red flag. “Often it’s caused by our own insecurities and past experiences,” says Klesman.
“While our partners can soothe us and reinforce the stability of the relationship, the cause of this anxiety can come from our past experiences in relationships or dating, our insecurities in our own self-worth, and a negative self-image that makes us feel not ‘good enough’,” she adds.
In other cases, “if one partner is not faithful they develop a mistrust of the other person and project this suspicion onto them, creating their own anxiety that the person is not trustworthy because they are not trustworthy themselves,” says Klesman.
There can be many underlying causes behind relationship anxiety, including:
Unresolved relational trauma (such as infidelity, abuse, or neglect)
Low self-esteem or low self-worth
Pre-existing anxiety disorders
“I think that relationship anxiety is probably more common than people think,” says Smith.
“Like all types of anxiety, it’s the brain and body’s response to a perceived threat. So in that way, it can serve a pretty important purpose — alerting us to something that isn’t quite right. Or it can be something that is constantly sending out a false alarm. Think about a smoke detector—it’s there to detect a fire. But sometimes, having something under the broiler or searing something on the stove can set it off too.”
It’s worth noting that if your partner gives you legitimate reasons to feel anxious — for example, they routinely cross your boundaries, disappear for days on end without communicating, or are emotionally distant from you — then there’s a chance your anxiety is well-founded.
Erin Rayburn, a couples therapist and founder of Evergreen Therapy, says relationship anxiety can signal that a need is going unmet or boundaries need to be established in a relationship. “It can also be a red flag if what it is identifying is an unhealthy or problematic issue,” she adds.
If, on the other hand, you’re in a perfectly healthy relationship and your anxiety isn’t caused by your partner’s behavior, keep reading for ways to deal with your relationship anxiety.
Can relationship anxiety be treated? It can, although it might take some time and effort. The key to coping with anxiety in relationships is accepting that it’s a normal feeling to experience — as long as you can identify your triggers and understand why you’re feeling certain emotions.
You deserve to feel secure and happy in your relationship, so if you find yourself experiencing frequent worry, doubt, or insecurities about your relationship, it’s important you take steps to address it. Below are seven tips for dealing with relationship anxiety:
Process your feelings. It can be challenging to confront and validate what you’re feeling, but it can help you make more sense of your emotions. “It's good to take a step back and sit with your feelings until you have more clarity,” says Rayburn. “While this can be uncomfortable and even scary, when we take time to let our feelings manifest and try to focus on how our anxiety is making us feel, it can help us understand our triggers and the root of our anxiety, which can also lead us to solutions,” she explains. Both Rayburn and Klesman recommend journaling your feelings to help you get your anxiety under control.
Talk to your partner. “If you’re feeling anxious about something, talk to your partner about it,” says Klesman. “This involves being vulnerable but for a relationship to be healthy, that is key. Speaking to your partner can also help develop a plan and actions for them to take if you’re feeling anxious so that they can support you.”
Speak to a therapist. If nothing helps, then it may be time to talk this through with a therapist who could help you identify what’s driving your relationship anxiety. Therapy can help you make sense of negative thought patterns and gain clarity on what your triggers are. “Seeing a licensed therapist can help differentiate between effective ways of improving and possible warning signs about the relationship,” says Rayburn, who also recommends couples therapy. “Relationship counseling can be a helpful tool for working with one's relationship anxiety. Anxiety doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong, but it can be an opportunity to improve the relationship and oneself.”
Practice mindfulness. Anxiety often makes us worry about hypothetical scenarios, so practice staying in the moment. Research has found that mindfulness can be beneficial for social anxiety. Breathing exercises, yoga, and guided meditations can help anchor you to the present moment and stop your mind from spiraling out of control when you’re feeling anxious.
Recognize that feelings aren’t facts. Your feelings are valid, but remind yourself that they don’t reflect the truth. Next time you catch yourself jumping to conclusions or over-analyzing something your partner said or did, take a moment to reframe any negative self-talk and instead focus on the positives in your relationship.
Find a healthy coping mechanism. Do something for yourself that makes you feel good — explore a new hobby, spend time with friends, exercise.
Be patient. “Understand that everything does not need to be fixed immediately,” says Rayburn.
For more advice on how to deal with relationship anxiety, download Paired and complete the exercise “Relationship Anxiety”, written by relationship psychotherapist Anjula Mutanda.