couple standing in a wheat field with their hands over each other's shoulder for comfort
Illustration by Marta Pucci

Relationship Anxiety

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
2/24/2022
Last updated:
5/8/2022
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
2/24/2022
Last updated:
5/8/2022

TL;DR

  • It is quite normal to feel anxious about your relationship from time to time
  • If you find yourself constantly questioning your partner’s motives you may be suffering from relationship anxiety
  • Childhood relationships, past traumas and other mental health issues can lead to anxiety in your current relationship
  • It may be that your anxiety is acting as a warning system so don’t discount your feelings immediately
  • There are plenty of things you can do, both with and without your partner to help resolve difficult feelings.

Mild anxiety about a relationship is normal. We worry because we care what people think of us; we worry because relationships are important to us. As human beings, we generally prefer being together and sharing our lives. Which means we have a vested interest in our relationships succeeding.

So if we spot problems, it’s natural to feel a little worried.

The problem comes when those feelings of anxiety do not stem from reality; when they get out of hand. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can recognize whether your feelings are normal or whether there might be a more serious problem.

Relationship anxiety: the basics

Relationship anxiety can crop up when you least expect it, whether you’re in a long-term relationship or a new one. It might stem from lack of trust, concerns about the future, or perhaps you have niggling doubts about whether this person is ‘the one’ for you. The effects of relationship anxiety can be far reaching.

Most people will experience feelings of doubt and unease at some point in their relationship. But how can you tell if it is becoming a problem that needs to be ‘fixed’, or something you can safely ignore?

How you can recognize people with relationship anxiety

Do you find yourself constantly looking out for problems in your relationship, questioning everything your partner does and says? Over time this can erode how secure you feel and damage the connection you have with your partner. Actions that tell your partner you don’t trust them, like jumping to conclusions, calling them repeatedly, checking their emails or even distancing yourself emotionally, are likely to cause disputes and resentment. And what’s more, repeatedly engaging in these types of behavior can actually make moderate anxiety worse.

What about when those feelings of anxiety start to spiral out of control? That’s when they can begin to affect your mental health and ultimately impact your quality of life. And when you find you’re spending more time worrying about the relationship than just enjoying it, something needs to be done.

Identifying the cause

While it can be difficult to take a breath and run a diagnostic on yourself in a particularly anxious moment, if you choose a time when you’re feeling a little calmer you may be able to look for patterns.

Start by trying to figure out whether there is a connection between the anxiety in your relationship and what has come before. Have a think about the root cause of the anxious behaviors. When you really get to the nitty gritty of it, what’s the problem here? When did these symptoms of anxiety begin in the first place? Are these feelings you’ve experienced in previous relationships or only this one? 

Numerous studies have identified a range of reasons people struggle with relationship-based anxiety.

One of the most compelling is thanks to the way we formed a relationship with our primary caregivers as a child. Known in the scientific literature as attachment theory, the principle of this thinking is that the type of care we receive in our earliest days shapes the way we think about ourselves and others. A secure attachment style allows us the confidence to go off and explore the world around us. Or not. An insecure attachment style, or anxious attachment style, can result from an inconsistent or insensitive bond with our primary caregiver. And that can lead to difficulties in emotional expression, not to mention anxiety in relationships in the future.

Childhood relationships

Of course, romantic relationships are different from parent-child relationships, but the lack of a secure attachment style in the early years can affect our current relationship without us even realising. The effect can be seen in how accessible we are when our partner needs us, how responsive we are to those needs, and how emotionally engaged we are with what they need from us. All behaviors and understandings that are key to healthy, intimate relationships in adult life.

PTSD or poor past relationships

PTSD, or past trauma, can also impact the way we view ourselves and our relationship with our current romantic partner. If you’ve been treated cruelly or unfairly in a previous relationship, the psychological distress can be difficult to shift, leading to negative effects on your mental health. If difficulties with confidence or feelings of self-worth result, these can impact the way we feel about future relationships and even the way we feel we deserve to be treated. Acute stress or elevated anxiety are natural feelings as you learn to trust a new partner following a difficult break-up or relationship.

Generalized anxiety disorder

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder that impacts on daily life, you can expect to see some signs of relationship anxiety creeping in, too. This, combined with poor sleep quality, may lead to feelings of paranoia and mistrust over a partner’s motives. Plus it’s always hard to manage difficult feelings and emotions when you haven’t had enough sleep.

Making things better

If you’re worried about something specific, you could be reading the situation correctly. Don’t forget that sometimes mild anxiety can actually serve as a useful warning. It can be our brain’s way of saying ‘stay alert, there is danger here'. In the best case, less severe forms of anxiety can be a good check-in and change so they definitely shouldn’t be discounted. But if you feel you are facing severe anxiety, and it is become all-consuming or overwhelming, it can be damaging. It’s important you seek help.

Some quick tips for reducing symptoms of relationship anxiety:

  • Concentrate on the ‘now’. We could suggest mindfulness and meditation, but that sounds a little cliché when it comes to anxiety busting tips. While incredibly powerful with practice, the point we’re making is not the act of meditation but finding an ability to focus on the now. What’s the point in worrying about the future if all you’re doing is destroying the happiness you have right this moment?
  • Talk, talk and talk some more. We’ve said it before, and no doubt we’ll say it again, but communication is key to any healthy, stable intimate relationship. No journey together will be completely smooth but if you concentrate on honest, vulnerable communication on both sides, you really will find a way through most things.
  • Prioritize your partner. Often, anxiety begets anxiety. Or to put it another way, anxiety can spiral, impacting both parties and leading to a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, feelings and worries. Instead, try a little circuit breaker. Arrange a date night, spend time together just the two of you doing something you enjoy. Be a little spontaneous and see how your partner responds. Allowing space for some more positive interactions could give you the kick start you need.
  • Try therapy. If communication issues and worries around sex and desire play a big part in your relationship anxiety, therapy from a qualified healthcare professional is definitely an option to consider. But if a face-to-face chat doesn’t sound too appealing, or you’re not sure if a sex therapist is for you, why not start with the Blueheart app. It’s easy to get started, simply fill in our online assessment and you’ll receive a tailored plan to help you get back on track. Stress free, in your own time and in the privacy of your own home.

Improve Your Relationship
Blueheart's app has taken people from 'I can't imagine being touched' to 'where do I like to be touched?' From 'will we break up?' to 'we will work through this together'
take the assessment