How do you feel when your partner is out of sight? Do you often become preoccupied with worrying about your relationship if your partner is away from you for, for example, when they go to work elsewhere or you live in different addresses? Perhaps you start imagining potential situations of your partner being unfaithful when they are out of sight. Are you often ruminating about your relationships in the past and what went wrong? Do you often feel very intensely when you first start a relationship and you often notice needing a lot of reassurance in your relationship? Perhaps it leads to a lot of arguments in your relationship.

I wanted to write about relationship anxiety today because it can feel embarrassing to someone experiencing it and also contribute to difficulties in adult relationships. I have previously written about father wound and how that may influence adult relationships, understanding relationship patterns and how early relationships impact adult relationships and how to transform your relationship.

How do you develop relationship anxiety?

We learn about relationships in our early childhood relationships with early caregivers and these may impact how you approach relationships today. If you find yourself often worrying about your relationships with other people and experience relationship anxiety, this may have its roots in your own relationship history with your early caregivers.

In an ideal mother-baby interaction, your mother would have been consistent in her interactions with you, with lots of eye-eye interaction, smiling, talking, holding, feeding, changing, cuddling and so on, when you were a baby and then grown into a toddler. Sometimes this does not unfortunately happen. Perhaps your mother had to start working very early in your life. Maybe she had (mental) health problems or you had a poorly sibling who needed a lot of attention.

Maybe your mother had the best intention but for some reason she was not able to be consistent with you in her interactions. She may have been present and loving when she was with you but then she had to go and you were left with various child carers a lot of the time.

When a baby and then a toddler experiences an inconsistent relationship with their primary caregiver, this starts to develop intolerable feelings of anxiety for worrying that mother will not return. The child may become preoccupied with having mother in sight and cannot relax even when mother is nearby.

In adulthood, if you experience relationship anxiety, you may (unconsciously) seek partner(s) who you will create a similar relationship dynamic to your early caregiver(s). You may find a person who is quite aloof at times and inconsistent in their interactions. You then start to seek reassurance a lot of the time and your partner may find it confusing depending on their own relationship history. This may lead to a lot of arguments.

Alternatively, you may have found a partner who is relaxed in a relationship and securely attached, but it sometimes still may not feel enough.

Relationship anxiety can be so hard and often people are uncertain whether this anxiety is stemming from a real threat to your relationship with your partner (e.g. partner not being fully committed to the relationship) or that these feelings are linked your own insecurity in the relationship that is stemming from you past relationship experiences.

What can alleviate relationship anxiety?

Someone who has developed this type of anxious-preoccupied attachment (bond) is constantly looking outwards and seeking validation from the other. Here are a few tips on reducing the relationship anxiety over time:

  • Increasing self-awareness – Learn to understand yourself, your trigger points and your own relationship history as an adult and childhood relationships.
  • Openly communicate to your partner about needs in your relationship – a compassionate and understanding partner can help you to feel more relaxed in a relationship
  • Be real about the type of relationships you have been attracted to in the past – Your anxiety may be increased if you are in a relationship with someone who does not have similar relationship goals.
  • Learn to make peace with your own relationship history through, e.g. journaling, psychological therapy.
  • Treat yourself with self-compassion and seeing this as a part of your journey.
  • Use grounding techniques to calm down your nervous system when activated, eg. Deep breathing, tracking your bodily sensations, naming solid objects in your environment, using your senses to feel connected to the present.

I hope you found it useful thinking about your relationship anxiety. If you are seeking psychological therapy to address your relationship difficulties, please visit my services page.