Relationships

Feeling Relationship Anxiety? Try These Coping Tips

Starting a new relationship can be nerve-wracking, but if anxious thoughts dominate your romantic life, you might be dealing with relationship anxiety. Don’t worry—you’re not alone, and there are ways to tackle and overcome this common issue.

Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta By Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Updated on May 24, 2024

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It’s common to have some trepidation as you start a new relationship, and it’s also normal for relationships to face challenges. But when anxious thoughts and feelings dominate your romantic relationships, you might be dealing with relationship anxiety.

The good news is that you aren’t alone—many people experience this. What’s more, you are not doomed to experience relationship anxiety forever and in every relationship. There are steps you can take to overcome relationship anxiety and build more positive relationships.

What is Relationship Anxiety?

Relationship anxiety is when you experience intense anxiety related to your romantic or intimate relationships. It’s not an official diagnosis: relationship anxiety is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the official handbook used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental health conditions. Still, relationship anxiety is widely recognized by mental health professionals as a common phenomenon.

There are several anxiety disorders that relationship anxiety is related to, but social anxiety is probably the most closely linked. Social anxiety is when you experience strong feelings of fear or stress in social situations. People with social anxiety are afraid of being embarrassed or humiliated socially, and experience strong feelings of guilt and shame.

Research has found that socially anxious people have relationship difficulties. They are less likely to marry and more likely to get divorced. Many of the feelings experienced by people with social anxiety, such as fear of rejection, are also experienced by people with relationship anxiety.

Common Causes of Relationship Anxiety

No one knows for sure what causes relationship anxiety, but it’s likely closely linked to a few main factors.

Attachment Styles

Your attachment style can have a strong impact on your experience of relationship anxiety. Attachment styles originate from how you were raised as a child. If your caregivers were responsive to your emotional needs, you are more likely to have developed a secure attachment style. If not, you may have developed an anxious attachment style or an avoidant attachment style, both of which can cause relationship anxiety.

Past Relationships

Other contributing factors to the development of relationship anxiety include difficult break-ups and traumatic past relationships. “When individuals have had negative experiences in their past relationships, these perceptions, experiences and expectations ‘accumulate’ as part of how one places their emotions in relation to others and can show up in the present relationship as anxiety, fear of losing the partner, or even a necessity of always being in a romantic relationship,” explains Karina Hester, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Grow Therapy.

Low Self-Esteem

Certain personality traits and mental health challenges might make you more likely to experience relationship anxiety. People who are prone to low self-esteem, negative feelings of self-worth, overthinking, social anxiety, and separation anxiety, are more likely to experience relationship anxiety.

Differentiating Relationship Anxiety from General Anxiety

General anxiety disorder, or GAD, is when you have ongoing, extreme worries and fears that become difficult to manage. Research from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America has found that people with GAD were less likely to describe themselves in a “healthy and supportive” relationship with their significant other. They were also three times more likely to put off intimacy and twice as likely to experience relationship problems.

So is GAD the same as relationship anxiety? What’s the difference? “Relationship anxiety is distinguished from general anxiety because the trigger for the anxiety is coming from your relationship only—you tend not to have disruptive anxiety otherwise,” says Tami Zak, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified internal family systems (IFS) therapist with Grow Therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Relationship Anxiety

So how do you know if you have relationship anxiety? Again, because it’s not a known diagnosis, there is no definitive guide. But our experts shared some of the most common signs of relationship anxiety to help you recognize when you may be experiencing it.

Emotional Signs of Relationship Anxiety

Hester shared some of the emotional signs of relationship anxiety. These include:

Behavioral Signs of Relationship Anxiety

Relationship anxiety can alter your behaviors. Zak described some of the behavioral signs of relationship anxiety:

Physical Signs of Relationship Anxiety

Just like other forms of anxiety, relationship anxiety can manifest as discomforts in your body. Hester explains how this might look:

Effects of Relationship Anxiety

The effects of relationship anxiety can be profound, and can impact both you and your relationship. Here’s what to know about the effects of relationship anxiety:

Impact on Personal Well-being

Experiencing relationship anxiety can affect your mental health and overall wellness, says Kristina Anzell, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy.

First, living with relationship anxiety can make you feel like you’re constantly on edge, tense, and walking on eggshells, Anzell describes. You may experience this when you are with your partner and when your partner is not present.

“You might have a fear or judgment or some sort of punishment from your partner,” Anzell describes. “You might not tell your partner information that you think they will judge you for or not be open to hearing.”

All of this can have a strong impact on your mental and physical health, she says. People that experience prolonged relationship anxiety may find themselves experiencing intense anxiety that infiltrates all aspects of their lives. This can include physical symptoms like feeling sick a lot of the time or other physical signs of anxiety.

If you are experiencing the effects of relationship anxiety to the extent that your health or overall functioning is impacted, Anzell recommends speaking with your therapist or physician.

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Influence on Relationship Dynamics

Although there isn’t much research about how relationship anxiety specifically impacts relationship dynamics, it’s clear that people with anxiety disorders in general are more likely to have difficult romantic relationships. For example, research has found clear links between people with anxiety disorders and perception of low marital quality and satisfaction. Additionally, marital stress is associated with anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD.

Coping With Relationship Anxiety

Clearly, relationship anxiety can have negative impacts on your mental health and relationships. The question is: what to do about that? Hester shared some tips for coping with relationship anxiety and building healthier relationships.

Promoting Self-Reflection and Growth

It may sound cliché, but one of the best things you can do for your relationship anxiety is to work on yourself and build up your own skills for coping with challenging feelings. “Developing a healthy relationship with yourself is the primary and most essential first step to develop a healthy and secure relationship with others,” says Hester.

This may look like tackling your self-esteem and self-worth issues. It may also mean examining the ways that you are emotionally dependent on others, and striving for more emotional independence. “That means being able to feel secure, have healthy coping skills for natural and expected moments of doubts in the relationship and being able to function physically, psychologically, and emotionally independent of that one relationship,” Hester describes.

Developing Effective Communication

Communication is an important part of managing your relationship anxiety and paving the way for a healthier relationship. “Dialogue and open conversations are good tips for partners to offer each other and help the relationship feel strong and secure,” Hester says.

This is even the case when one of the partners in the relationship has experienced negative relationships or early childhood attachment issues with their caregivers, Hester explains. In fact, opening up about these experiences with your partner can help them understand where you are coming from and elicit a more compassionate response to your relationship anxiety.

It’s also important to talk about relationship boundaries as you work through your relationship anxiety. “Negotiating with your partner the boundaries of the relationship so things feel clear and respectful for all parts involved is another tip that can foster security since many aspects of the relationship were already discussed and planned,” Hester offers.

Overcoming Relationship Anxiety

The million dollar question is this: Is it possible to overcome relationship anxiety? Our experts say that yes, if you put in the work, and get the support you need, it’s definitely something that you can do.

“First, understand you are not in attachment style jail—you can work with an anxious attachment style so that you can securely attach to a partner,” Zak assures. And what will that take? “You will need to have strategies to stop ruminating and obsessing about your partner’s reaction to you when you feel anxious about it,” she describes.

Learning strong communication skills is also of utmost importance. It’s vital you communicate to your partner that you have relationship anxiety, and that some of your behaviors have to do with your own anxiety, not something your partner is doing, Zak says. Once your partner understands your relationship anxiety and how it manifests, they will be more able to have a compassionate response to your anxiety.

Seeking Professional Help for Relationship Anxiety

Professional help is essential when you are dealing with relationship anxiety. Usually that looks like seeking individual therapy, couples therapy, or a combination of the two.

Types of Therapeutic Approaches

Therapists often specialize in different therapy types; some therapists have more than one specialty. As you consider seeking professional help for relationship anxiety, you might want to know which therapeutic approaches work best for overcoming relationship anxiety.

Because relationship anxiety shares many traits with social anxiety, it can be helpful to look at therapy types for social anxiety. Here’s what to know:

When to Consider Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is a place for you to explore your attachment style and how it impacts your relationships. “You can explore where this attachment style developed and work through these past hurts and trauma in order to heal and be able to securely attach in your current relationship,” says Zak.

Therapy for overcoming relationship anxiety looks different for everyone. A therapist will come up with a treatment plan tailored to you. “Some things that you might work on with your therapist are grounding and mindfulness, working on boundaries and communicating them, understanding where this anxiety might be coming from and skills and tools to reduce symptoms and engage in healthy relationship dynamics,” says Anzell.

Benefits of Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is a great option for when you want to work on the communication aspects of overcoming relationship anxiety. This may be especially helpful if you are finding that sharing your feelings about your relationship anxiety and feeling heard and understood is a challenge, Zak says.

Besides helping to manage relationship anxiety, couples therapy has may proven benefits, including:

Supporting a Partner with Relationship Anxiety

The focus here has been on people who experience relationship anxiety themselves, but many people find themselves on the other side of things—living with a partner who has relationship anxiety and wanting to find a way to support them.

Anzell says that supporting a partner who has relationship anxiety may be simpler than you think. “If you are a partner of someone who has anxiety, the best thing you can do is to ask them how you can support them,” she says. For many people, just knowing that you care and want to help can be reassuring and can help assuage some of their relationship anxiety.

It’s also important to understand that everyone is different and needs different types of support. “Some people want to be left alone and some people need closeness,” Anzell says. “The only way you will know that is by asking your partner what they need and actually listening to them even if it is the opposite of what you want to do.”

Finally, supporting your partner isn’t something you have to do on your own. Supporting your partner may look like encouraging them to find a therapist who specializes in relationship anxiety—and helping them to find such a therapist.

Support may also look like offering to enter couples therapy with your partner so that you can learn techniques for healthier communication as well as methods to support your partner as they work on their relationship anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field. She helps individuals overcome numerous issues, including stress and anxiety disorders, self-esteem issues, relationship issues, depression, behavioral issues, and grief.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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