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Good news: Relationship anxiety is normal. Whether you've been dating someone for a short time or you've been married for a few years now, feeling stressed about the state of your romantic partnership isn't at all unusual. To learn more about how to deal with this common relationship problem, we asked Alysha Jeney, a counselor who runs her own private practice called Modern Love Counseling, to weigh in on the topic.
"It's important to remember that everyone has fears," she says. "But if your anxieties are causing so much anguish that it's consistently preventing you from connecting with people, it may be time to seek additional support so you can learn the tools to work through it and have healthy relationships—because you deserve it." Here's what you need to know about how to deal with relationship anxiety, including the potential causes, the identifying signs, and the next steps for overcoming it.
According to Jeney, one of the root causes of anxiety is fear. "Fear is a core emotion that stimulates physiological sensations in the body or irrational thoughts and insecurities," she explains. "Anxiety can be a funny little way our body alerts us that there may be perceived danger."
When it comes to relationship anxiety, some of the fears (whether they're conscious or subconscious) could include "rejection, abandonment, fear of being authentic, fear of intimacy, or unresolved trauma from past relationships," says Jeney.
However, it is possible that what you're feeling might not be anxiety, but rather, excitement as the two trigger similar emotional responses, explains Jeney. "If you're feeling anxious about a relationship, maybe ask yourself, 'What am I afraid of?' But then also ask, 'What am I excited about?'"
How do you know if you have relationship anxiety? "Anxiety is normal. Fear is normal. Being excited or nervous about a relationship is normal," says Jeney. "However, if you are experiencing a pattern of being unable to establish loving relationships that are reciprocal due to your anxiety, I'd say it's getting to an unhealthy level."
What are some of the signs your relationship anxiety has reached an unhealthy level? "If you are unable to soothe, reassure, or confront the fear yourself, your anxiety may be taking over in an unhealthy way," she explains. "Your anxiety should not consume you, and if it is, it's because you need additional tools to process it."
The Next Steps
If you have relationship anxiety, there are some relatively simple things you can do to overcome it—and that doesn't necessarily involve ending the relationship you're in. "Some may assume finding the 'right' person will be the cure to relationship anxiety or insecurities, however, this is not the case," explains Jeney.
Instead, Jeney advises that you look inward in order to address your anxieties. "A relationship and partnership can support you with feeling secure and soothed, but it shouldn't be the sole source of comfort," she elaborates. "It is important to be autonomous in your own self-reflection and self-awareness, as well as be accountable for your behavior and needs."
Jeney advises anyone experiencing anxiety to "check with yourself, understand your triggers, your fears, your excitements, and your needs, and then share them with your partner." After all, "your partner cannot read your mind (or your heart), and if you solely rely on them to 'fix' your anxiety, you will be consistently disappointed and feel more and more isolated."
Finally, other ways to overcome relationship anxiety include "seeking relationship coaching or therapy, reading self-help books, and practicing emotional awareness and mindfulness work," advises Jeney.
This story was originally published on December 6, 2017, and has since been updated.
Up next, an expert explains the psychology of one-sided relationships.