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The experience of anxiety takes on many forms and is commonly described as intense, confusing, frustrating and sad.
Anxiety manifests as physical and somatic symptoms, such as increased heart rate, shaking, insomnia, rapid breathing, muscular tension, sweating and fatigue. It can cause fidgety behavior, an inability to concentrate or focus, as well as feelings of nervousness and impending panic or doom.
When not addressed, it can be debilitating and effect your overall well-being.
In particular, anxiety about relationships can be particularly devastating and unsettling because anxiety can be present in relationships that are going well.
Relationship anxiety has significant effects on relationships. However, the presence of anxiety does not necessarily mean the relationship should end or that it is unhealthy.
In fact, anxiety is a natural part of relationships to some degree and may be a positive sign of how invested you are in the relationship and how much you feel connected to your partner.
Relationship anxiety can feel so overwhelming that you will do anything to cure it and achieve peace of mind. It might cause you to believe that ending your relationship will eliminate your anxiety, although this belief may or may not be true, depending on where your anxiety stems from.
Sometimes anxiety just shows up, and it is not clear why. Other times anxiety surfaces during conscious triggers, transitions and experiences that naturally induce anticipation.
For instance, relationship anxiety commonly occurs when relationships go through major transitions, even when they are positive. Transitioning from early dating into a monogamous relationship, meeting each other’s families, getting engaged, moving in together, planning a wedding, having a baby and other positive relationship steps all require adjustment and the ability to embrace change.
These transitions also elicit anxiety because they may cause you to question if you love each other enough and if you are ready to move forward. Therefore, it is natural for many women (and men) to report higher levels of anxiety during relationship milestones.
Our bodies also struggle to know the difference between positive and negative stress, producing anxiety during experiences that are exciting and happy. It can be a struggle to differentiate gut feelings that something is wrong in the relationship from anxiety that naturally transpires in romantic relationships.
It might also feel difficult to determine if your anxiety is more internal (aka your fears, insecurities, unresolved emotional wounds, etc. playing out in the relationship) or if your anxiety is a response to your partner’s behavior (aka your partner cheating, keeping secrets, not communicating openly, etc.).
Carefully assessing and honestly exploring the root of your anxiety will aid you in determining the best course of action.
Several universal causes of relationship anxiety include:
You might be faced with anxiety about the future of the relationship purely because you want your relationship to last and do not want to lose your partner.
While you keep your relationship alive by your actions in the present, knowing that the future of your relationship is unpredictable and not guaranteed can be anxiety-provoking and hard to process. Wondering how to make a relationship last and if it will stand the test of time sparks anxiety.
You might also feel uncertain about the future if there is growing distance between you and your partner or you are faced with important life choices.
Anxiety may arise if you do not believe you are deserving of love, your partner or your relationship.
Loving relationships entail emotional closeness, vulnerability and you and your partner accepting and knowing each other in very intimate ways.
If you fear intimacy or feel inadequate, it is difficult to become close with someone and it is overwhelming when a partner expresses loving feelings toward you.
Although you want your partner’s love and attention, these experiences can set off deeply rooted fears of getting close to others (and later being rejected) or fears of you are not deserving of love or happiness.
Particularly after any violations to the relationship, emotional or sexual infidelity or untrustworthy behavior (such as discovering that your boyfriend or husband has been talking to women on online dating websites or sending flirty texts to an ex-girlfriend), anxiety intensifies.
Being betrayed or violated by a partner is shocking and upsetting and causes you to feel out of control. It activates worry about the act being repeated and sets up confusion over whether or not the relationship can be saved and repaired.
Relationships with partners who are guarded, non-communicative or unable to tell you how they feel provoke anxiety.
When a partner does not make you feel valued or does not openly verbalize how he feels about you, you will naturally worry.
Receiving mixed messages from a partner, breaking up and getting back together several times or hearing statements such as “I love you, but I am not in love with you” are all anxiety triggers.
If you have to ask where the relationship is going or have questions about your partner’s commitment to you, you are bound to feel anxious.
No matter how in love you feel, having different values, relationship and life goals and visions of the future of the relationship creates anxiety.
Disagreements or differing perspectives about where you want to live, how many children you want, how religious you are or how money is spent spark anxiety, as you naturally contemplate how to move forward or if it is time to walk away from the relationship.
You might wonder what you are willing to give up or compromise on or what is more important to you your own wants and needs or the relationship.
In general, stress generates anxiety, so it makes sense that when there is stress in your relationship or periods of discomfort, you will feel more anxious. Feeling unheard or angry and fighting about the same topics over and over again is troubling.
Again, you might have strong urges to leave your relationship to protect yourself from anxiety, but depending on the nature and cause of the anxiety, ending the relationship might not be the best course of action.
If you love your partner and want to stay in the relationship, there are many positive actions you can utilize to confront your anxiety head-on and move forward in healthy ways.
Stay tuned for my next article on how to handle relationship anxiety, decrease anxious symptoms, make your relationship work and how to tell when your anxiety is a valuable signal to leave your relationship.