Nearly five years ago, a careless and stupid one-night-stand spelled the end of my long-term (and, up until then, committed) relationship. And no, it was not my boyfriend who ended it, although he should have. It was me. Because, for all his willingness to work through it, I couldn’t trust myself anymore. By extension, I couldn’t trust myself. If I was capable of something like that, how horrible are the things that he’s doing behind my back?
Anxiety is common in new relationships, as well as in long term relationships that have gotten a bit stale and dealing with relationship anxiety takes effort. When you can’t get out of bed in the morning because you dread kissing the person that’s making breakfast for you, or when you just freeze up when you think about your future together, it’s time for a change.
I’ve spent years rebuilding myself after my relationship fell apart, trying to figure out the reasons behind such a breakdown. Of course, it was triggered by my infidelity, but I was surprised to discover that finding the root cause while dealing with relationship anxiety was like peeling an onion – I uncovered layers and layers of insecurities that went all the way back to my childhood.
Improving your self-esteem
Loving others is difficult if you don’t love yourself first. In other words, if you’re not into yourself 100%, how can anyone else be? In my case, the problem was not in the relationship but actually much closer to home – it was personal.
Most of the time, dealing with self-esteem issues will mean ending the relationship you’re in. You see, you are not the person you’re supposed to be; you’re still not your ‘real’ self. When a partner goes through an extensive transformation, that puts a lot of strain on a relationship. Some people bail immediately, while others try to be accommodating but ultimately fail.
This is a time of healing – think about what’s affecting your self-esteem, learn how to be more assertive, avoid negative self-talk, and take care of yourself first. If you can do all that, and manage a relationship, kudos to you. I needed a clean slate – it was that or my sanity.
Every relationship is different. There are lovey-dovey couples where partners call each other ‘sweetie pie’, or ‘pumpkin’, or some other blood-curling affectionate nickname, as well as those that seem completely cold to outside observers. And, that’s perfectly fine. How a relationship looks to third parties is not important for this conversation. What is important is the fact that we all need a bit of affection from time to time. Forgetting a good morning or a goodnight kiss is not the end of the world. However, forgetting to kiss for a month will definitely fuel some major anxiety in the partner that’s keeping tabs on those things.
If your partner is not big on keeping the fire and the romance alive, it might be a good idea to sit with them and communicate your needs. Sometimes, all what is needed is a gentle nudge. Or, if you’re uncomfortable with that, you can just ramp up things on your end and see if they pick up on the hint. On the other hand, if you’re the one who often forgets about those small things that make a relationship tick, make a conscious effort to compliment your significant other when they dress up to go out with you. It seems like a small thing, but they probably went through all that trouble for you, and a small sign of appreciation will go a long way.
Handling stress at its source
Stress that we accumulate in our daily life can easily seep into personal areas of your life. An overbearing boss, difficult coworkers, and tight schedules – these are all things that we tend to take home with us without dealing with them. At one point, it becomes difficult to separate general stress from relationship anxiety, and it’s no wonder that most of us tend to put the blame squarely on our partners.
Try to deal with stress at its source. If you’re having problems at work, talk them over with your boss or your colleagues. Same goes for parents, relatives, and friends – if they are contributing to your growing stress levels, the only way to deal with it is to call them out on it. Other times, we’re stressed because we were dealt a bad hand by the universe. Short of cursing the sky, there’s not much that a conversation will solve there. When that happens, hit the gym – just five minutes of exercise can substantially lower your stress levels. Also, more and more people are using weighted blankets to destress while sleeping – some studies have shown that a bit of added weight during night boosts serotonin (happiness hormone) production, and helps you sleep better.
Another reason why people start feeling anxious in relationships is that they start losing trust in their partner. Normally, this happens after a major crisis, such as infidelity, a partner cleaning out a mutual savings account, or making life-changing decisions without consulting with them. Of course, you would expect that the partner who suffered through this will be the one dealing with the consequences. But, that’s not a given. In my case, it was me who cheated, but also me who was left riddled with doubts after the fact. Why did I do it? Why did he forgive me?
If the fault lies with you, the first thing you need to do is step up and let the other person know. Own your actions and don’t place the blame anywhere else. If you can do that, you can start assessing what went wrong and start forgiving yourself. If you were the one that was wronged, don’t let the knowledge of it simmer – discuss it with your partner to see why they did what they did, and why they felt the need to keep it from you. Most importantly, get some closure, one way or another.
Overcoming fear of abandonment
Abandonment issues can stem from childhood or from past relationships, and they are a major trigger of anxiety in relationships. Human beings long to be nurtured and cherished, and even a perception of abandonment will trigger a flood of negative feelings. Not only does that make us jumpy, stressed out, and nervous, it’s also a major turnoff for most people.
Learn to accept the fact that your partner is an independent human being with their own emotions and needs: they are not there to hold your hand every minute of every day. Openly discuss your abandonment issues with them, and actively work on sorting them out – self-help routines, keeping busy, a talk with a friend, or a counselling session can help with that.
A demotion, loss of friends, and heartache – those are the ‘prizes’ I won for letting relationship anxiety rule my life. I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, believe me. Relationship anxiety is not the end of the world, and it can be dealt with, but not if you let it control your every waking moment. So, when you start feeling that something isn’t right, that those jitters are starting to impact your everyday decisions, it’s time to take control and get to the bottom of things. Do it sooner rather than later – you will thank yourself in the end.