If you find yourself feeling anxiety in your relationship, then this post is for you!
Behaviors and Signs of Anxiety in a Relationship – Anxious Attachment
- Strong fear of abandonment, whether or not you have experienced it in your past.
- Trouble communicating directly when you’re upset.
- Experience fits of anxiety when you feel distance between you and your partner.
- Often feel unworthy of love.
- Emotions are extremely dependent on whether your partner is responding to you or not.
- Desire to feel deep connection with your partner but feel your expectations are often unmet.
- Desire for reassurance is almost constant and you cling to your partner to get it.
- Often imagine the worst-case scenario for your relationship.
If you felt like any of these signs describe you, you might lean towards an anxious attachment style, and this post can help you in dealing with anxiety you feel around disconnection in your relationship.
Just because you sometimes default to anxious attachment behaviors when you feel distance in your relationship, does not mean you are and can only be anxiously attached to your partner.
You are not destined to be in a relationship with anxiety forever; moving from an anxious attachment style to a secure attachment style in the same relationship is absolutely possible.
I want to make it clear that anxious attachment is separate from anxiety disorders, and that although this post can be helpful for everyone, it does not clinically address anxiety disorders.
The Goal – Manage Anxiety in a Relationship
Secure attachment in a relationship is the goal.
A secure attachment in a relationship can be described as a trusting, responsive relationship with boundaries where both partners have a positive view of themselves and their partner.
In Catherine Pittman’s book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain, she explains that our brains are far more capable of change than we realize. It takes effort, mindfulness, and practice to rewire unhealthy thought patterns and build new healthy ones, but it is possible. Dealing with anxiety in a relationship can be challenging, but with practice you can rewire anxious thoughts.
Being in a Relationship with Anxiety
A common feeling among those who tend to be anxiously attached to their partner is that although your partner has given you no reason to mistrust them, you fear the worst for your relationship; you worry about abandonment, infidelity, and betrayal.
Although this outcome is possible, if your partner has given you no reason to mistrust them, odds are, you have absolutely no reason to mistrust them.
Replaying your fears in your head can bring on an avalanche of unnecessary stress and anxiety that weighs you down and stops you from being present in your relationship and enjoying it.
How to Navigate a Relationship with Anxiety
Think about when you were learning to ride a bike. You were excited, but anxious, knowing that you had a risk of failing or getting hurt. It was uncharted territory, but all your friends were happily riding their bikes around without training wheels, so you knew it wasn’t impossible.
After a couple tries, you learn the art of bike riding, and pretty soon you’re saying, “look mom, no hands!” Now when you ride your bike, you have no fear of getting hurt.
Just like learning to ride a bike, learning to create a healthy relationship can be stressful and anxiety inducing. You know it’s not impossible, but it is new territory, and you know there is a risk of getting hurt and feeling frustrated about its difficulty. The more you practice, the better you get at it, and the less it stresses you out.
Navigating a relationship with anxiety takes more work than riding a bike, but what’s important here is that one of the best ways navigate a relationship with anxiety is to practice what you are afraid to fail at.
Although these steps for dealing with anxiety in a relationship are research based, they are not a replacement for the work that can be done with a therapist. If you feel your anxious attachment behaviors make it difficult for you to function on a day-to-day basis, I highly recommend visiting a therapist to help you navigate your relationship with anxiety.
I also want to clarify again that an anxious attachment style is not the same as anxiety disorders, and although these steps will help you deal with anxiety in a relationship, they are solution focused and are not specifically for those with anxiety disorders, but rather those who experience anxiety in a relationship or have an anxious attachment style.
Now, the 7 Steps to Help You Deal with Anxiety in a Relationship
1- Don’t blame yourself for feeling anxious, and don’t stress about being stressed.
We all feel anxiety. Feeling anxiety in a relationship is also very normal. The body’s response to fear is automatic. Sometimes our bodies sense a threat before we even have a chance to think and we just react to it.
2- Thank your brain and body for trying to keep you safe.
Think of this ability as a gift that is there to protect you, but remember that it can be harmful when we become over-reactive and over-sensitive to certain “threats” that may be irrational.
3- Use your sensitivity to distance to your advantage.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it means that something is off and needs to be addressed. More often than not, your own underlying feelings about the situation are needing to be addressed, and not the situation itself.
4- Question the validity of your fears.
The aim is not to take all your stress away, but to consider whether some of your fears may be irrational and cause you more stress than they should. As hard as it may be, consider the possibility that what you perceive as a threat may not be as threatening as you think.
5- Consider why you may be responding this way.
Recognize what is underneath these feelings. Try to pinpoint what specific thoughts are making you feel certain emotions. Dealing with anxiety in a relationship sometimes requires self-reflection.
6- Explain to your partner what’s going on for you as simply and clearly as possible.
Remembering that you cannot and should not control anyone or anything but yourself is crucial. Dealing with anxiety in a relationship requires us to accept our lack of control and put our trust in our relationships.
Here’s what doesn’t work: “I would feel better if you would just do ____, or change ____. “
Here’s what does work: “Feeling close to you calms me, and I know sometimes I get controlling because I fear losing our relationship. My anxiety has no reflection on you, and while I’m working on emotionally regulating and rationally thinking, I would like if for a few minutes each night we talked and cuddled before we go to bed. What do you think?”
Recognize that you have anxieties that your partner does not control, and that there is only so much they can do. Asking if they can make a call if they are going to be late is okay, but there is a way to do it, and this small change will not solve your core issues.
7- Empathize with your partner.
When we let our anxiety take control of our actions, we often act selfishly by trying to solve the problem immediately, and cling to our partner until we get reassurance.
Think about how your partner might be feeling overwhelmed or be dealing with anxiety themselves when you are constantly pushing them to fulfill your unrealistic expectations of closeness and connection.
For more help with steps six and seven, be sure to check out my post 10 Ways to Have Good Communication in Your Relationships.
To Sum It All Up
So, after processing through the seven steps, you might say to your partner, “I feel anxious when you’re upset with me because I start thinking of worst-case scenarios. I know when you’re upset you want space, but the longer you don’t want to talk, the more anxious I get. But, I respect your needs and I think it could help us both if we scheduled a time to talk on your time when we get in an argument.”
As scary as it can be, the only way to deal with anxiety in a relationship is to let disagreements and distance happen.
Being able to accept moments of emotional distance in your relationship is the only way to truly repair them and navigate a relationship with anxiety. If you try to force connection and reconnection, it won’t happen, or at least if it does, it won’t feel as sincere as you want it to be.
Don’t limit your growth by anxiously trying to control your relationship and dismissing challenges. Take an empathetic approach toward yourself and your partner when dealing with anxiety around disconnection.
Here Are Some Takeaways
A secure attachment is a “safe haven,” in Sue Johnson’s words from Hold Me Tight, “where we will find comfort and emotional support”.
She says when we have a “secure bond with our lover, then it is easier for us to keep our emotional balance when we feel vulnerable, connect with our deepest feelings, and voice the attachment longing that is always a part of us.”
When you have a secure attachment with your partner, you can go out into the world knowing that your partner has your back.
A secure attachment can be built with effort and can only be maintained with effort. Hold Me Tight also teaches us two big lessons about connection and dealing with anxiety in a relationship.
“We all hit the panic button at times. We lose our balance and slip into anxious controlling or numbing and avoiding modes. The secret is to not stay in these positions. It’s too hard for your lover to meet you there.”
“Neglect will kill love. Love needs attention. Knowing your attachment needs and responding to those of your lover can make a bond last.”
Dealing with anxiety in a relationship and building a secure base with your partner can be challenging, but will ultimately bring you happiness, trust, and a deeper connection with your partner.