6 Things To Do When A Relationship Causes Anxiety
“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.” ~Anais Nin
When a relationship causes anxiety, we are groomed to believe our anxiety is the problem. After all, anxiety can strangle love, suffocate it, tear it apart, leaving most of us to believe that relationships and anxiety simply don’t mix.
If we feel anxious, we believe we need to get ourselves under control lest we ruin our relationship, adding pressure to the anxiety we are already feeling, and escalating it.
But what if anxiety wasn’t the problem at all, and it was trying to tell us something? Something important that we needed to hear?
The most important thing to know about anxiety is that it isn’t dangerous, it can be a help to you. It is a sensitive amazing tool we all have to pick up on potential threats to the things in life we care about most. What we do with it can make the difference between it being helpful, or harmful. Anxiety wants to be recognized, understood.
If your relationship is causing you anxiety, here are a few things to consider.
- Anxiety in relationships is common: Especially if you are prone to worrying or are with a partner who doesn’t communicate clearly, anxiety will be a part of your relationship, and that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing. Social by nature, we are pulled powerfully to love, long to feel connected, and want to protect our connections when we secure them. It isn’t hard to feel anxious when we don’t feel connected, and also anxious we do feel connected, anticipating a time when we may not be.
- Anxiety means you care: Fundamentally, anxiety means you care – we can only worry about things we care about – and relationships might be the most important thing to us. We care deeply about securing love, and keeping it safe. And we feel anxiety when love might be at risk. We want our relationships to work, and we also worry about not having them. It’s hard to imagine not feeling anxious from time to time when it comes to love. Worrying about our anxious feelings only confuses us, and blurs the message we need to hear.
- Tune into what relationship challenge your anxiety is signaling: Take a moment to acknowledge and name how you’re feeling (this actually lowers your distress according to research) Are you feeling a normal amount of protective anxiety, or is there real threat? Anxiety can be just about you, and insecurities you bring to every relationship, or anxiety can reflect stresses in the relationship Weeding out what’s important to your relationship is important.
- Detangle your baggage: We all bring our previous experiences, or “baggage,” into relationships – we can’t help but do this. But fears and anxieties left over from our childhood or previous relationships can flare up in current relationships. Unrecognized baggage can confuse anxiety’s signal, and add to what might otherwise be a manageable anxiety load, making us more irritable, less patient, and quicker to react. Recognizing your buttons are getting pushed, and that the situation is similar but not the same, can help lower your anxiety again, and direct your focus to the actual problems at hand – your communication, the time you’re spending together, how you are feeling. These are the stressors that deserve your attention, and your collective solutions.
- Recognize the motivation in anxiety to solve the problem: Instead of trying to ignore your relationship anxiety, recognize the motivation it delivers to do something about the problem. Are you worried about communication, constant unresolved fighting, betrayals of trust, or a lack of safety? These fears are real and are providing you information and energy to take constructive action.
- Know when to ask for help: If detangling your anxiety or communicating effectively proves to be a roadblock, it’s time for help. Friends and loved ones can be a great support, but sometimes their guidance doesn’t always feel helpful. A professional therapist can help you detangle your feelings and work through the roadblocks that are holding you and your relationship back. Ultimately the goal of therapy is to help you understand yourself, and your relationships better, so that you can more clearly see and implement solutions that are needed.
It is normal to worry about even the healthiest relationships, especially if worry comes naturally or if we have had reason to worry in the past.
When a relationship causes anxiety, try not to be spooked, or jump to the absolute worst conclusion. Thinking about anxiety as useful, rather than a nuisance, can help you use it constructively.
Don’t be afraid to name that you care about your partner and your relationship; this sometimes can be anxiety’s most effective use, fueling communication and intimacy that ultimately protects your bond.