When I got engaged, I freaked out. And not in a good way.
While my relationship was good in so many aspects, I was consumed with doubts about my relationship. I obsessively analyzed every aspect of our relationship and felt an intense amount of fear. Yet, everyone around me seemed to be dating and getting engaged with a sense of ease and confidence that I would never have. I felt like something must be wrong with me or my relationship. When I discovered the term relationship anxiety, a lightbulb turned on for me. There wasn’t anything wrong with me or my relationship.
I was experiencing relationship anxiety. And as I learned more, and began to sahre more about my experience. My mission is to help create
What is Relationship Anxiety?
Relationship Anxiety is having fears around relationships, particularly romantic. These fears can focus on any aspect of a relationship. Obsessive doubts focused around your partner, yourself, and romantic relationships. Even just considering the possibility of dating can activate the fears.(ie. communication, attraction, feelings of love, compatibility, potential breakups, intimacy). When this anxiety is more obsessive and intense, it is referred to as ROCD. ROCD is a type of OCD that specifically centers on one’s romantic relationship. ROCD thoughts are repetitive and include compulsive behaviors aimed at resolving these thoughts, and significant anxiety related to the relationship. Some behaviors include doubting one’s feelings, seeking constant reassurance, avoiding spending time with your partner, clinging to your partner, and experiencing significant distress and anxiety.
When my clients come to work with me, here is how they describe their experience with relationship anxiety …
The need to “figure out if [the relationship] was ‘right’ for me. I had so much anxiety about it and so much of my energy was spent on trying to figure out if he was ‘the one’”
“I couldn’t make decisions on my own about my relationship and felt like I was spinning in the same toxic spiral every day. I was scared and thought something was wrong with me.”
“As my partner and I entered the 7th year of our relationship, I couldn’t shake the thought that I was making a mistake. I found myself obsessively analyzing everything about him and our relationship to reassure myself that he was ‘the one’. I was paralyzed by fear and felt incredibly ashamed and alone.”
Relationship anxiety can get triggered with major life changes (like moving or having a baby), or just as the relationship progresses in commitment level (like for me during our engagement). With that said, relationship anxiety can occur at any point within the relationship.
What Relationship Anxiety Looks Like…
People with relationship anxiety experience many different doubts in their relationship. These doubts can focus around themselves, their partner, and the relationship all together. Relationship anxiety doubts can sound like…
Partner Focused Doubts
- Am I settling?
- Do I really love my partner?
- Are they the one?
- Am I actually attracted?
Self Focused Doubts
- Am I good enough for my partner?
- Does my partner actually find me attractive?
- Do they really love me?
Relationship focused Doubts
- Is this right?
- Will this really last?
- Is this God’s will?
- Is this relationship healthy?
When these doubts arise, they create a high distress. Individuals may notice a fear response in their bodies, with sensations chest tightening, heart racing, stomach dropping, and/or tightness in throat.
The sense of fear and doubts is disproportionate to the situation at hand in the relationship. For example, a minor disagreement in preference can lead to hours spinning over “if we are really that compatible”
Relationship anxiety arises in relationships that are flawed and human. Meaning there are real relationship dynamic challenges and flaws within the partners. But ultimately, you are treated with respect and your best interest is at heart for your partner. If your partner is manipulative, physically abusive, controlling, or stalking you, here’s where you can go for help [include hotline].
In an attempt to relieve anxiety, ROCD often involves behaviors (often referred to as compulsions or urges). These behaviors that reinforce anxiety can look like…
- Comparing their partner’s attractiveness level to other people in the room
- Asking friends, family, God, or the internet about the “rightness” of their relationship
- Ending relationships when it gets “too serious”
- Mentally thinking about all the ways their partner is right or wrong for them (over and over again)
- Testing if their partner with questions to see if he/she is attentive enough to their needs
- Evaluating their feelings to check that they’re “in love” enough
- Checking partner’s phone to see if they are cheating
Urges and compulsions, while they may relieve anxiety temporarily, reinforce the message to our nervous system that our fears are real and important. Cue, experiencing more anxiety long term.
Why Relationship Anxiety?
Many people may ask why they experience relationship anxiety. There are many components that can play a factor.
Our attachment styles (link to attachment article), how we connected to our caregivers early in childhood, play a major role in how we attach to our romantic partners. If we didn’t have that secure attachment, it can play out as experiencing relationship anxiety.
Having tendencies for OCD and anxiety. Some people may have a personal past history with OCD and/or anxiety. Some may even have a family history of anxiety and OCD. Those who struggle with anxiety have a fear of uncertainty and danger. There are a lot of unknowns in a relationship and marriage. You can’t predict the future, but our fear based survival brain wants to evaluate every option. The unknown is equivalent to danger for your brain.
Perfectionistic tendencies also can play a role. It often leads to not tolerating flaws within yourself or your partner. High performers might treat relationships like a test they need to get an A+ on.
Relational Trauma can impact relationship anxiety. Going through prior heartbreak or divorce personally can make one very hesitant to love. Even witnessing a loved one go through that experience can also be traumatic. In fact, any type of trauma impacts our nervous system, and therefore can contribute to experiencing anxiety.
These are just a handful of reasons that can play a role. We believe that if we figure out why we are experiencing relationship anxiety, we will solve for the anxiety. It’s important to know that solving why you have anxiety isn’t always productive. It can turn into another anxiety spin in and of itself. Focus your energy on healing and giving yourself the support you need to do so. That is really what you need.
From Anxiety to Love
Relationship anxiety, though it can be overwhelming, is possible to heal from. As my client learn tools they begin to feel more calm and at peace. One of my clients shared that “the more we worked on feeling my emotions and letting them pass, the more I felt that it was okay and that I would be okay. And my anxiety went down a ton after doing all that work.”
But even more than feeling less anxiety, there is a new level of joy that becomes available from doing the work. Here is the experience of healing that some of my clients have shared…
“Even after the first session I was amazed at how much better I was feeling and so happy I was learning tools to help with my anxiety. I had to be brave and let myself be really vulnerable, but that only let myself open up and grow that much more. Throughout this program my confidence, self-love, self-compassion, and self-empowerment grew so much. I didn’t expect to get SO much out of this. I learned that I can take care of myself and everything I need is inside of myself. I learned not only how to accept myself (the positive and the negative), but also my partner. It helped me be more compassionate, more loving, more patient, and more accepting of him”
“Now I am joyously married and cherishing my husband, equipped with how to handle any of those uncomfortable thoughts or feelings if they come up thanks to all the work I did with McKell.”
“Having the freedom and fearlessness to make decisions that make me happy, and allowing myself to focus on what there “is” rather than what there “is not” has allowed me to be more present in the moment with my partner, not focus on outside pressures and expectations, and most importantly, has made me a much happier person! “
I know from my own personal experience, it is possible to have ROCD/ relationship anxiety, and build a happy thriving relationship. I have found a deeper level of love and connection within myself, because of my experience with anxiety. Use this anxiety as a beautiful invitation to heal, and reconnect with the authentic love that is already inside of you. To learn some free tools for healing, go check out the Relationship Anxiety podcast.