If You’ve Experienced Doubts In Your Relationship, Read This
Signs you might be experiencing relationship anxiety.
Have you ever been uncertain in your happy and healthy relationship but can’t pinpoint what’s driving it?
Maybe you’ve felt a knot in your stomach when someone asks you if your partner is The One.
Maybe it’s a tightness in your chest that you wake up with when you’re lying next to your amazing partner, and it makes absolutely no sense.
Maybe you tend to nitpick things about your partner’s looks or personalities, like their height, loud chewing, or laugh.
Whatever form your doubts and irritation come in, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone in these feelings.
You may, however, be experiencing a little something called relationship anxiety.
What is relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety, in my experience, showed up as recurring doubts and fears about whether or not I had found the right partner—and these doubts and fears kept me from feeling fulfilled and happy within my relationship.
The catch is, this usually happens within a great relationship, a relationship that could be described as something you’ve always wanted, or dreamed about.
On the surface, the doubts and fears may seem like a “sign” that your current relationship and/or current partner are not right.
That something is off, or that your intuition is trying to tell you something…
But there’s so much more to relationship anxiety than meets the eye.
My story with relationship anxiety
To paint a quick picture for you, my relationship was (and still is…) pretty dang special and incredible.
My boyfriend and I have been together for almost five years now, and at the beginning—I was buzzing with excitement over finding such a great person, and giddy when we were getting to know one another.
The more I learned about Nate, the more I loved him and realized he was not like anyone else I had ever dated or was interested in (which was a great thing).
As things became more serious, and I began to envision our future, that’s when the anxiety crept in.
The more I thought about if Nate was “The One,”—the more pressure I was unknowingly placing on the relationship.
My parents had just gotten a divorce a couple years earlier, so the notion that “love doesn’t always last” was top-of-mind.
What wasn’t top-of-mind, that I later learned was playing a huge role in my anxiety, were all the fears and limiting beliefs I had about relationships, and the picture-perfect narrative I was aspiring for.
But back to the story.
As things with Nate and I got more serious, my anxious symptoms became worse and worse.
I was waking up with a tight chest more days than I can remember.
I was distracted at my job.
I was quite literally experiencing “gut feelings” (more like gut pain) and my stomach would lurch when I would think about marriage, or hear stories of divorce.
I knew something was off—and I thought it was Nate.
All the advice I had heard before on relationships went a little something like: “when you know, you know” or “just trust your gut!”
That advice made me feel awful, because I had no idea how I really felt about this relationship, and my gut was constantly in knots.
Not the most reassuring combination.
Yet, something in me was pulling me to stay and fight to make this relationship work.
Something in me wanted this to work more than anything before, and knew that Nate was someone I wanted in my life.
So, I chose to learn more about what could be causing these anxieties and make some changes.
Why relationship anxiety happens
If you are in a relationship with a partner who treats you with respect, who is kind, and who shares similar values to you, etc.—it’s likely your relationship anxiety has nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with you.
And there’s absolutely no shame in that—having this awareness is the first step to making a change.
It’s easy to remove the blame or responsibility from yourself and place it on others.
What’s harder is to get curious and look for how you’re responsible for your current circumstances.
Relationship anxiety can stem from all sorts of things.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for why relationship anxiety happens for some people and not for others, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to heal and work through the relationship anxiety either.
But today I want to explain some of the reasons why relationship anxiety may happen, and give you some questions you can begin asking yourself if you’re currently experiencing relationship anxiety
Your levels of self-worth, self-trust, and self-compassion (or lack therof)
Your wellbeing and fulfillment outside of the relationship (or lack thereof)
Past relational experiences or traumas which say ‘love isn’t safe’
Expectations and beliefs around love and relationships, which includes comparisons to societal narratives
Note: there are other reasons, but I kept it to the top reasons I come across in my work.
Self-worth, self-trust, and self-compassion
If you don’t have any a baseline of love, trust, or compassion for yourself—how are you going to have it for someone else?
I’m not a big believer in “you have to love yourself before you love someone else” as I think you can learn to love yourself more as you love another person.
That said, if you currently have an inner critic living in your head 24/7 rent-free who loves to knock you down, tell you that your decisions are questionable, and shame you—then you may be unintentionally holding yourself back from giving and receiving love.
If we don’t think we are worthy of love, we won’t open ourselves up to it.
If we don’t trust ourselves to pick a great partner, we won’t have faith that things can work out for our relationship.
If we don’t have compassion for the doubts and fears that inevitably come when making a big, life-changing decision like picking a partner, we will resist those feelings and feel pretty crappy.
One of the biggest realizations I’ve made is that the levels of self-worth, self-trust, and self-compassion I have for myself are 100% related to how I feel in my relationship.
Begin cultivating them and you’ll see a major difference.
Wellbeing and fulfillment outside of the relationship
Esther Perel, psychotherapist, has a great quote that beautifully captures why it’s important for us to have things outside of our relationship that are nurturing and supporting our individual wellbeing:
“Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
When we expect our partner to be our everything, and our main sense of happiness, we’re putting a ton of pressure and expectation on one person to provide what many people should be providing.
Taking care of your wellbeing and fulfillment outside of your relationship is no easy feat, but it’s your responsibility.
You, yourself, are the only person who can take care of yourself.
We’ve not always been taught that, and especially as someone who identifies as female, I’ve heard all too many narratives about ending up with someone who can take care of me.
But here is a list of many things that you can do to take care of your own wellbeing and fulfillment that have nothing to do with your relationship, but will light you up and bring more joy into your life (and thus your relationship).
Finding a hobby or passion project that you can do for fun
Going for walks in nature without your phone
Connecting to yourself through free-form or guided journaling
Taking mindful breaths to get out of your head and into your body
Moving your body in whatever way feels fun to you
Eating foods that nourish you and make you feel energized
Exploring ways to find pleasure in your life (be it physical self-pleasure, or the pleasure of listening to your favorite song to start the day)
Connecting with friends and family
Reading, painting, coloring, writing poetry, or dancing for fun—no result needed
That list could be endless, but the key takeaway here is this: find fulfillment in your life outside of your relationship. Your relationship is a beautiful part of your life, but it’s not the only part of your life. Start taking ownership for the incredible life you want to live.
Past relational experiences and/or traumas
Being human means going through experiences that are hard and affect the way we show up day to day.
Whether it’s been a not-so-healthy relationship, a hardship from childhood, or abuse—our past affects how we show up in the present relationship.
As a trauma-informed coach, I wanted to provide context to those who have heard the term trauma thrown around but are not quite sure what it means.
Trauma is your body’s reaction to a perceived threat to its survival, a threat being deemed by your body as having no solution.
There are two types of trauma:
Big T trauma: these are the types of trauma that are definite threats to someone’s survival: violence, abuse, accidents.
Little t trauma: these are internal experiences that tell our nervous system that something is wrong with us, that we are not safe within: examples could include a breakup, conversations where you feel left out, someone says something hurtful, experiences where you don’t feel worthy, when caregivers are neglectful or not emotionally available.
Little t traumas happen when we learn something has to shift within us internally in order to belong. And evolutionarily speaking, it has always been crucial that we belong to a community— if we do not belong, our chances of survival greatly diminished.
All of us have experienced trauma on some level. Our nervous system has had to adapt to us being human and surviving in this world in some way—those experiences our nervous system felt that didn’t feel like it had a solution (so our nervous system had to adapt to survive) affected us and are traumatic events (that forever shape our lives).
How we show up in our current relationship has much to do with the experiences we’ve had in our past, but it doesn’t need to stay that way. Gaining awareness of why we act the way we act can help us to show up differently.
Expectations and beliefs around love and relationships
If you’re anything like me, you love a good RomCom and are a hopeless romantic.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this—as long as you know that your expectations are not quite reality. If you place your relationship on the same pedestal as you see in the movies, on TV, or in the magazines, you may be striving for perfection, and perfectionism is a huge reason for relationship anxiety. That feeling that your relationship isn’t quite up to par, like the grass may be greener elsewhere—those result directly from perfectionism.
Again, this assumes you’re in a happy and healthy relationship. The grass certainly may be greener elsewhere if you’re in a toxic relationship—no question.
But learning to appreciate the relationship and person you have right in front of you may take some work adjusting your current beliefs.
Here are some beliefs I used to hold in my relationship/about love that were holding me back:
When you find the right person, you’ll know without any doubts that they’re your person and you’ll live happily ever after
Fighting in a relationship is bad, and should be avoided
Once you find The One, you won’t have to put much work into your relationship, it will be effortless
Sex should be hot and spicy like in the movies, all the time
Love is a constant state of bliss, it doesn’t come and go—it’s always there and so if you don’t feel in love moment-to-moment, it means the love is gone
You should always want to be around your partner, and always be attracted to them when they are around
Some of these beliefs may be ones that are hard to shake for you, they have been for me. But I realized that many of these expectations and beliefs were making me feel terrible instead of happy in my relationship, and that these beliefs were not 100% truth.
Once I was able to release some of these expectations and/or reframe them—I found so much more peace.
Taking ownership of your relationship anxiety
Now that you’re aware of some of the underlying factors of relationship anxiety, you can choose to show up differently.
You can choose to build your self-worth, self-trust, and self-compassion by speaking kindly to yourself, by setting small promises and keeping them, and by making choices that are in-line with what you actually want.
You can choose to partake in fulfilling experiences outside of your relationship and take care of your mind, body and spirit.
You can choose to reflect back on your past experiences and/or traumas alongside a therapist or coach to ensure that they’re not preventing you from showing up in a way that you’re proud of.
You can take inventory of what relationship beliefs you have been holding onto that may no longer be serving you.
It’s not an overnight process to heal from relationship anxiety, but it’s been the most rewarding journey I’ve ever taken.
I’ve learned so much about myself, what love really means, to appreciate the amazing human I have right in front of me.