Answering Your Questions: How to Handle Relationship Insecurities So They Don’t Sabotage Something Amazing
Knowing how to handle insecurities in relationships isn’t easy is something many people struggle with, especially at the beginning of relationships. Recently Carl wrote in asking for some targeted advice on this topic, and with his permission, I am including his story.
I have lately been experiencing a lot of anxiety for no reason at all. Things that haven’t even happened, in the past someone I dated would make out with guys in front of me on a night out. He slept with other guys and then I’d find out a few weeks later. I was a fool and put up with this for an entire year.
I’m now with someone who I love ever so much and supports me through everything. Honestly he’s like an angel sent down for me.
But I get so worried over things that don’t happen. For example, he has a lot of gay male friends and even though he’s never done anything to make me think he’d cheat. I think he’s going to do something with them and not tell me about it. I worry I’m not good enough for him. Even though he tells me I’m the most beautiful person in the world. I’m perfect and he loves everything about me even my flaws.
No matter how hard he tries to make me feel better I still get worried something bad is going to happen. And he’ll move on to someone better than me.
I don’t know how to overcome these thoughts. I know he wouldn’t do anything but at the same time the voice in my head makes up scenarios and make me feel sick and worried.
I feel if I can’t get these thoughts out of my head it’s going to ruin something truly amazing.
Worrying that your anxiety is irrational, and worse, that it will ruin something truly amazing is a horrible feeling. Not only are you worrying about your concerns, but you are worried to be concerned at all. It becomes hard to know what to trust and what not to when it comes to your feelings.
When it comes to relationships, anxiety helps keep us honest about the delicate and complicated process of determining what we should think, and how we are feeling. Try not to drown out your anxiety, but instead let it breathe enough that you can understand and use it.
We may not like what anxiety is signaling, but anxiety is always there trying to keep us safe, and protecting what we care about most.
Carl’s concerns are illustrative of how confusing anxiety can be, especially when it comes to relationships. Is it me being irrationally anxious, or is there something to worry about? And this is frankly the million-dollar question worth addressing.
Is your anxiety a legitimate, reasonable concern? A “ghost” from the past? Or some combination of both?
Teasing out what is a realistic worry, and what isn’t, is the key here. And here are some steps to take to figure that out.
- Allow your anxiety to breathe.
Work to ditch your worry about worry. When we resist anxiety and try to avoid and shut it down, it does the opposite: escalates. Instead aim to look at your anxiety squarely. Embrace it, name it, and ask yourself what it is trying to tell you?
We worry because we care, and having anxiety in relationships is totally normal, especially new ones. Once you accept your anxiety as a part of you that is trying to help, it will allow you to better understand it. This puts you in the mindset of workingwith your anxiety rather than against it.
- Tease out the irrational anxiety
Ask yourself what worries you have that are wholly unlikely to happen – like your partner making out with someone in front of you, or him telling you loving things he truly doesn’t mean. When you have a worry, ask yourself, where is the evidence such a thing will happen.
If there is no evidence to support your worry, chances are likely such a worry is unfounded, and irrational. Irrational anxiety doesn’t mean such a situation isn’t possible, it means it isn’t probable.
When your mind starts spinning irrational fears and spinning tall tales, try to reign in the possibilities to focus more on the probabilities. Beware of letting your fantasies run away with you, and instead stay focused on the facts.
We can’t stop our thoughts or make them go away, but we can replace them with more reasonable ones which can help.
- Check for “ghosts from the past”
Our memory is strongest for events from the past that are particularly painful – this is our memory working for us, we don’t want to suffer similar pain again. This formidable memory alerts us to situations in the present that remind us of the past. It can be surprisingly accurate, and also misfire.
The goal is to understand your buttons and how experiences from the past have shaped your vulnerabilities today. When buttons get triggered, anxiety can escalate. But once you understand your sensitive areas, you can better asses what is a rational concern and what is a ghost from the past, and gain a greater sense of control.
Carl’s previous boyfriend’s betrayals, and likely denials of wrongdoing, predictably makes it hard for Carl to easily trust anyone. His partner may need to do more than simply assure him of his love, and instead show him he can be trusted. Carl may need to see his partner be friendly with his friends without flirtation, secrecy, or denial.
It’s ok if this takes time. This is who you are, and there is no shame in learning and healing from the past.
- Bravely consider which anxieties could be rational
It might seem irrational that Carl is doubting his partner’s fidelity in the face of clear affection and consistent assurances, but could Carl be picking up on signs that should have him worried? For example, Carl’s partner may tell him his friendships are all plutonic, but does he flirt with them or have sexual histories with any of them?
Has your new partner ever cheated on anyone before? Does he keep secrets about how or with whom he spends his time, or shut you out from parts of his life in any way?
Believing a new partner might cheat on you could be irrational since it’s so similar to a previous relationship. But before ruling out such concerns as baseless, make sure you aren’t missing something.
Data points that support anxiety are often small, sometimes inconsistent, but always inconveniently irksome if we are brave enough to pay attention. An intimate or lingering look between he and a friend, a vagueness that feels secretive, or inconsistencies in his stories could signal a reason to dig a bit deeper.
No one wants to be a detective in love, and relationship anxiety is uncomfortable and inconvenient.
But anxiety is also trying to protect you. One should never feel inadequate or insecure about a healthy partner who loves you. You should feel enough, and safe. It is your partner’s job to show you that you are enough, and you can be sure of their love. It’s your job to assess if you should believe them.
The key is to pay attention to anxiety’s signal, and sort it out for yourself, even when with your whole heart you don’t want to.
Yes, previous relationships can make us more insecure and prone to anxiety, but they can also make us more cautious, and smarter in love. When it comes to sorting through anxiety, you need to make sure you aren’t picking up on any other dynamics he became so accustomed to for the year he tolerated betrayal. This relationship needs to feel different, not just sound different.
We have to question data points that are unclear – this is our anxiety working for us. Learning and growing in love has to involve asking the tough questions you may not have asked before, and seeing the answers as rationally as possible.
Handling insecurities is as easy as finding the right partner who fits you.
Anxiety diminishes when the coast is clear, and prolonged insecurity in a relationship is something to pay close attention to and often signals problems that deserve your attention. Healthy love evolves from consistency between words and behavior, increasing reliability, and intimacy that feels increasingly comfortable. Healthy love is safe.
While anxiety can misfire sometimes, it is usually on to something important and tends to linger (and even escalate) the more rational it is. Honoring your anxiety is honoring yourself, and anyone worthy of your love should understand and love that about you too.
If you struggle to do this, some support may be in order. I suggest you begin by downloading my free eBook, “Naming Your Feelings: A Guide To Understanding Your Emotions.” For more targeted help with managing anxiety, preorder my new book, Hack Your Anxiety, and receive free bonus offers here.