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 that 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 intimate relationships.
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 significant other. Nor is it about a lack of compatibility in your current relationship. However, if you don’t deal with relationship anxiety, it can have a big impact on your mental health and wellness.
“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. For example, you allow your anxious thoughts to intrude upon your relationship or let your past relationship experiences derail a committed and healthy union.
“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. This negative thinking may lead to self-sabotaging tendencies, whereby you demand constant reassurance from your partner.
People experience relationship anxiety in many different ways, 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.
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.
For example, if you lacked love and support from your caregivers in your early childhood, you may have developed an anxious or avoidant attachment style. This can affect how you behave in a committed relationship as you may need reassurance in order not to lapse into anxious tendencies.
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 of 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.
In a committed and loving relationship, you should be conscious of your partner’s feelings and well-being — not intentionally triggering their anxiety. If your partner consistently breaks your boundaries, it can leave you asking questions like “Do they even love me?”
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 long-term relationship and your partner’s behavior doesn’t cause your anxiety, 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 overcoming relationship anxiety 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.
Relationship anxiety can also linger from a previous relationship and if these doubts aren’t effectively dealt with — they can hinder your new relationship.
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.