Relationship anxiety can critically impact your quality of life, even if you’re in a loving, trusting relationship with strong, established boundaries. People can struggle with relationship anxiety at any point in a relationship, and the excess worry can even start to interfere with your everyday life.
Taking the steps to relieve your relationship stress can make a dramatic improvement and can strengthen your relationship as a result. But first, what is relationship anxiety, why does it happen, and what are the steps you can take to deal with it more effectively?
What Is Relationship Anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is a common experience where people worry, doubt, or feel insecure in their relationship. These feelings can happen at the very beginning of a relationship or years into a committed partnership, and they often have little to do with the quality of the relationship itself.
At times, relationship anxiety may be a sign of an underlying anxiety disorder. People who live with generalised anxiety disorder, for instance, can experience anxiety relating to nearly any aspect of their lives — including their relationships.
People who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may experience a specific type of relationship anxiety known as relationship OCD. In relationship OCD, people can experience intrusive and repetitive thoughts about potential problems in their relationship or find themselves engaging in compulsive behaviours surrounding a romantic relationship.
Relationship Anxiety and Attachment Styles
Attachment styles are one reason you may be experiencing relationship anxiety. Attachment theory suggests that there are three main attachment styles which influence all of your relationships:
- Secure attachment
- Avoidant attachment
- Anxious attachment
Secure attachment is generally thought of as the healthiest of attachment styles. It indicates that a person is confident in themselves, in their partner, and in their relationship as a whole.
People with secure attachment styles generally manage relationship stress easily and are willing to be emotionally vulnerable and available to their romantic partners.
People with avoidant attachment styles may shun emotional closeness. This attachment style is characterised as aloof, dismissive of their partner’s emotions, or generally emotionally unavailable. They prefer to rely on themselves rather than others and are wary of deep emotional connection.
However, people with an anxious attachment style are the most likely to experience relationship anxiety. People with an anxious attachment style not only crave emotional intimacy but fear its potential loss and may need constant reassurance that everything is okay, that the relationship is going well, and that their emotions are reciprocated.
While a person with an anxious attachment style may readily find this reassurance with a securely attached partner, an anxious-avoidant pairing can exacerbate relationship stress and worry. Anxious partners may not get the validation that they seek, and intense emotionality can drive avoidant partners away.
How Do I Fix Relationship Anxiety?
Fixing relationship anxiety is by no means a simple process. First, it’s important to identify the source of your anxiety: is your partner’s behaviour making you feel anxious, or are you manufacturing the anxiety yourself? Consider whether you’ve always felt anxious in relationships or if it’s something about this relationship that’s leading to stress.
Once you’ve identified the source of the anxiety, you can take steps to correct it. It might mean sitting down with your partner to talk about your concerns about their behaviour, or it could mean sitting down with a therapist to discuss your own insecurities in relationships.
Perhaps the most effective and expedient way of resolving relationship anxiety is to start couples counselling with a trained mental health professional. Relationship counselling can help you uncover the cause of your anxiety and lead you and your partner to actionable solutions that leave you both happier in your relationship.
How to Have a Healthy Relationship
The keys to a healthy relationship are strong communication skills, healthy boundaries, and deep trust in one another. Breakdowns in any one of these areas can lead to relationship stress and are often the source of fights, arguments, and anxiety.
Building these skills can be the work of an entire relationship. Learning to communicate in a healthy way with your partner not only requires you to build strong communication skills yourself but also to understand the communication style of your partner.
Similarly, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries can shift over time, as you and your partner’s needs and responsibilities shift.
Trust plays an integral role in both of these skills. Being able to trust your partner not only allows you to be emotionally vulnerable with them but also prevents feelings of defensiveness when working on relationship issues.
But just as important is recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship. American psychologist John Gottman has studied marriage and relationships his entire career and identified four key indicators of unhealthy relationships. Known as the “four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse,” these behaviours are warning signs for poor outcomes in your relationship:
- Criticism: Criticism is when your partner attacks you personally rather than being understanding of a situation
- Contempt: When people assume a role of moral superiority and see their partner as beneath them, they are showing signs of contempt, which can devastate the love and trust in the relationship
- Stonewalling: Stonewalling is when your partner refuses to talk about issues at all, ignores you completely, shuts down and refuses to speak, or exits a situation at the first sign of confrontation
- Defensiveness: When your partner is always defensive and never willing to self-reflect, it can be extremely difficult to make progress towards healing relationship challenges
If your relationship is showing signs of these behaviours, relationship anxiety may indeed be warranted and no longer an irrational or excessive fear. And if you see these behaviours in yourself, it might be time to start making serious changes if you want to save your relationship.
How Does Couples Counselling Help With Relationship Anxiety?
Relationship therapy is one of the most effective ways to start the path to healing from relationship anxiety. Critically, relationship counselling is not just for people who are experiencing significant marital disputes. It can be a tool for any couple that wishes to deepen their emotional bond with one another and work to overcome relationship stress or anxiety.
In couples counselling, you meet with a specially trained relationship therapist who can help you and your partner address the root cause of your relationship anxiety, build healthy strategies to address the experience of anxiety, and collaborate on methods to strengthen your relationship in the future.
A couples therapist is not just a relationship expert; they have specialised training in evidence-based methods to help people work through the most common and difficult challenges in a relationship.
With the guidance of your therapist, you can build upon the essential tools for healthy relationships and start learning to avoid the pitfalls of relationship stress.
Traditional Anxiety Treatments
If the source of your relationship anxiety is outside of the relationship itself, it might be beneficial to seek out specialised anxiety treatment in addition to couples counselling. This could include methods such as:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy
- Medication management
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
These methods are designed to treat OCD and anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder. Instead of addressing relationship issues specifically, they can provide tools to help you manage and cope with your anxiety and significantly improve your quality of life as a result.
Novel and Innovative Anxiety Treatments
While conventional treatments are very effective for most people, new and innovative treatments can help even when other treatment methods have failed. These new treatments address the root cause of anxiety through targeted and evidence-based methods and cutting-edge technologies.
This includes treatments such as:
- Ketamine-Assisted Healing: Ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic, has quickly risen to prominence for its stunning ability to help people recover from a number of mental health challenges when taken in a controlled therapeutic environment.
- Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS): dTMS uses a specialised technology to stimulate regions of the brain associated with anxiety, which can in turn lead to a dramatic reduction in symptoms and improved quality of life
- Lifestyle Psychiatry: As part of the integrative approach of APN London, lifestyle psychiatry helps people make changes in their daily lives that can substantially improve their ability to manage relationship anxiety and stress
All of these treatment options are available in an integrated treatment model at APN London. These treatments can be used as either a first-line treatment for anxiety or can be used in conjunction with traditional treatment methods or relationship therapy to help you achieve the holistic relief you seek.
Choosing the right treatment for you involves a detailed assessment and the input of qualified professionals who can guide you.
Start Treatment at APN London
If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety and don’t know where to turn, reach out to the mental health experts at APN London by calling 0203 984 7699 or by filling out our confidential online contact form. Our experts can help you determine what types of treatment fit your needs best and will be there to support you along every step of your recovery journey.
- Bartholomew, K. “Adult attachment processes: individual and couple perspectives.” The British journal of medical psychology vol. 70 ( Pt 3) (1997): 249-63; discussion 281-90. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8341.1997.tb01903.x
- Driver, Janice L, and John M Gottman. “Daily marital interactions and positive affect during marital conflict among newlywed couples.” Family process vol. 43,3 (2004): 301-14. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2004.00024.x