My previous article explored six common causes of relationship anxiety and discussed how anxiety is a natural part of intimate relationships.
Anxiety frequently appears during positive transitions, increased closeness and major milestones in the relationship and can be managed in ways that promote relationship health and satisfaction.
At other times, anxiety may be a response to negative events or an important signal to reevaluate or leave a relationship.
When anxiety enters the picture, it is crucial to determine if you are “done” with anxiety hijacking your relationship or your actual relationship.
Often in my work with couples, one partner will say “I’m done.”
Upon hearing this for the first time, it may seem that my client is done with the relationship. However, when I inquire what “I’m done” means, more often than not, my client is done feeling hurt, anxious, confused or frustrated and is nowhere near ready to be done with the relationship or marriage.
How can you determine what to do when anxiety is present in your relationship? How can you determine when to leave and when to stay?
Since relationship anxiety occurs for a multitude of reasons, there is no perfect, one-size-fits all solution. Relationships can be complicated, and emotions can be difficult to decipher.
However, the steps and strategies below serve as a guide to managing relationship anxiety.
1. Spend time assessing the root cause of your anxiety
And increase your understanding of your anxious thoughts and feelings in order to make a wise choice about how to proceed.
This will diminish the likelihood of making an impulsive decision to say goodbye to your partner or relationship prematurely in an attempt to rid yourself of your anxious feelings.
Answer the following questions:
- Where is my anxiety coming from? Is it a response to mistreatment, mixed messages or betrayal by my partner? Is it stemming from internal fears, past relationship wounds or insecurities? Is it accompanying an important new step in my relationship that is exciting and anxiety-provoking all at once?
- What other thoughts and emotions am I experiencing with my anxiety? Am I having thoughts that my relationship is not working, thoughts that I am not deserving of love or thoughts that I can trust my partner through any emotional pain? Do I feel angry, hopeless or confused?
- What is my anxiety telling me to do? Is it suggesting that I need to communicate more openly with my partner, end a toxic relationship, slow my relationship down or embrace the positive aspects of my partner and our future?
2. Give yourself time to decide what you want
Anxiety easily blocks your ability to be satisfied with your partner and can make decisions about what to do seem overwhelming and foggy.
It can make a happy relationship seem unattainable, cause distance in your relationship or make you believe that your relationship is not worth it.
Generally it is not best to make decisions when you are in panic mode or when your anxiety is through the roof. While it is tempting to listen to your anxious thoughts and feelings and do whatever they say, such as leave, hide, protect, avoid, shut down or yell, slowing down the pace and timing of decisions is actually helpful.
As you come to terms with the causes of your anxiety, you will have a clearer vision of what you want and need to do. For instance, if you determine that your relationship anxiety is a direct result of moving in with your partner and you are in a loving relationship and excited about your future, ending the relationship is probably not best or necessary.
While this type of anxiety is natural, it is important to make the transition to living together go smoothly and diminish anxiety by communicating with your partner, not giving up your social support, increasing comfort in your living space and practicing self-care.
On the other hand, anxiety stemming from repeated abuse or mistreatment by your partner is a warranted, powerful sign to re-examine your relationship and strongly consider leaving.
When anxiety occurs due to red flags in your partner, such as unavailability, cheating, lying or deception, anxiety might be the very tool you need to exit the relationship. Your partner forcing you to stay or threatening your freedom to breakup with him are anxiety triggers worth listening to.
A gut feeling that something isn’t right may manifest in anxiety symptoms. Even if you cannot pinpoint exactly why you feel the way you do, following your intuition is another reason to end a relationship.
It is best to honor gut feelings and walk away from toxic relationships for your own safety, health and well-being.
3. Understand how anxiety works
Also, understand how to find peace with your anxious thoughts and feelings without letting them win (if you want to stay in the relationship).
Avoidance of your relationship or anxiety isn’t the answer and can further induce anger and fear. In fact, running away from your emotions and allowing anxiety to control your life or relationship actually promotes more anxiety.
Giving up your love and connection in a healthy relationship with a positive partner just lets your anxiety win. Despite fantasizing about leaving to rid yourself of any anxious thoughts and feelings, running away from anxiety will only take you so far.
Generally if anxiety is based on internal fears and insecurities (and is not about a partner treating you badly), staying in the relationship may be exactly what you need to work through anything in the way of love and happiness.
Is your relationship what you want? If so, here’s how to put your anxiety to rest.
1. Communicate openly and honestly with your partner
This will ensure that he understands how you are feeling and that you are on the same page about your relationship. Be upfront about feeling anxious.
Own anxiety coming from insecurities or fears, and be willing to be honest about anything he is doing (or not doing) to spark further anxiety. Help him understand how to support you and what you need from him as a partner.
2. Show up for yourself
Make sure that you are taking care of yourself on a daily basis.
This is not about changing your partner or putting your anxiety on him to solve, rather it is you taking charge as an active participant in your relationship.
Give yourself the nurturing, kind, loving attention that you need.
3. Use anxiety-reduction strategies
These strategies will help you to confront your anxiety thoughts and feelings head on even when you are tempted to avoid them at all costs. Find ways to work through your suffering and comfort yourself when anxiety is present.
Utilize exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness and relaxation methods. Use a compassionate, non-judgmental voice to talk yourself through anxious moments and experiences.
4. Have realistic expectations
Decrease anxiety from rigid or unrealistic expectations, such as having to have and be the perfect partner, believing you have to say yes to all requests or having to be in a fairy tale relationship.
All relationships are imperfect, and it is impossible to feel happy with your partner in each and every moment.
Some level of disagreeing or fighting is a natural component to close bonds with others. Distorted relationship views only cause relationship burnout, anxiety and dissatisfaction.
5. Stay present in your relationship
And find the silver lining in transitions that promote anxiety. Anxiety is future-oriented thinking, so bring yourself back to what is happening now.
While planning a wedding or having a baby both entail prep work and future planning, do not forget about being in the moment. Being mindful, present and grateful for each moment is the best recipe for healing anxiety and enjoying the relationship you have.
Photo sources: amazonaws.com, renegadehealth.com, boundless.com, thindifference.com,