Relationship anxiety can be a complicated subject. There can be just one reason for that: both anxieties and relationship can be very complicated things and are often difficult to deal with.
The dictionary defines a relationship as a state of affairs between those having relations or dealings. Anxiety has several definitions, one of them being self-doubt about one’s capacity to deal with a situation, which in this case would be self-doubt about being able to deal with an existing or imagined state of affairs. Given the fact that a ‘state of affairs’ is seldom something that remains a constant, and given the fact that most people encounter at least some problems in having to deal with change, it should come as no surprise that many if not most relationships between people are characterized by at least a certain amount of anxiety.
Unless you are blessed with a limitless supply of self-confidence and you are of the belief that you can bend anyone to your will, you will most certainly at times experience periods of uncertainly when you are in a relationship with another person. Even if you are an extremely self-confident person, and for that matter a controlling one, things do not always go as planned, and you may catch yourself wondering how someone really feels about you. Self-doubts can creep in as well.
A Perfectly Smooth Relationship Is a Rarity
If you’re about to embark upon a relationship with another person, you may be unwilling to accept the fact that relationships almost never go smoothly. They do in the movies at times, but even in the movies there are often obstacles to be overcome before two people live happily ever after. Think of the movies you’ve seen where two people fight or argue all the time and end up marrying one another. Life can be like that.
The Beginnings of Relationships
Some of the obstacles you need to try overcome are real, but just as many tend to be imaginary. When you first meet someone and begin to become interested in that person, you will always have more questions in your mind than answers. You naturally want to find out all you can about the other person, unless you simply choose to put on the blinders and assume that you have found your perfect match in a person who can do no wrong. If the person of interest has a blemish or two, it could be a cause for some anxiety. In most cases however, when you experience a relationship anxiety, you are mostly looking at yourself.
When you first become interested in someone, you’re generally on your best behavior. One slip-up of course can be a cause for anxiety, perhaps extreme anxiety, since the person you’re trying so hard to impress may suddenly realize you’re not perfect, and perhaps not even close to being perfect. In truth, he or she may never have felt you were perfect in the first place, just extremely interesting. Still, you can often experience bouts of anxiety, fearing that at some critical moment in your budding relationship you’re going to mess things up, big time. It’s called worrying about the future.
Problems with Relationships
What is there about relationships that bring out these feelings of discomfort? Those who have looked into the subject in some depth seem to agree that, in layman’s terms, when you are in a relationship, that relationship can act as a mirror: a mirror that reflects what you are really like. Sometimes you may not like what you see or feel there is little you can do about it. Anxiety in some ways can be thought of as a fear that the mask you are wearing will suddenly fall off, revealing the presumed or imagined ugliness that lies behind it.
Relationships also have a lot to do with how you judge yourself and how you go about defining your goals and aspirations. Two people who are social climbers are more apt to get along well than if one is not in that category and regards his or her partner as somewhat of a stuffed shirt or a snob. People who are wealthy often seek out others who are in the same category or come from a ‘good’ family. If you fall into that category, you may often be subconsciously trying to burnish your own image. The real reason for being attracted to someone who is at the same social level as you will often be the fact that sameness tends to require less of a need to make adjustments, and trying to determine what adjustments you need to make to satisfy someone else or how to make those adjustments can be a source for feelings of anxiety.
The mirror analogy is a good one, because in the absence of a healthy relationship, you don’t always see or know the real you. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out to you what you are really like. You may be rated highly, especially if the other person gets stars in his or her eyes whenever you’re near, but eventually that person is going to wonder when you’re going to purchase a jacket that fits a little better or a pair of shoes that are either a bit more practical or have a little more class. Your eating habits, which you have become very comfortable with, can suddenly become a target for comments ranging from expressions of curiosity to outright disgust.
Building a Solid Relationship Takes Time
Sometimes it can take years to build a strong relationship, although most people try to make it happen in a relatively short time. There are certainly more than a few married couples who have been unable to agree on a number things until they have been married for many years, after which either one person gives up or both persons in the marriage begin to see themselves as they really are and become comfortable with what they are seeing. The truth of the matter is that building relations is an ongoing process and, at times, can be an unending one. It is also a process that needs to be constantly nurtured. Adjustments often have to be made, sometimes long after two people have become comfortable with one another, and making those adjustments is usually a cause for anxiety. A classic example is that of two people who fall in love and get married, and about the time it appears they are going to live happily after a baby comes along and perhaps another one later on. Significant adjustments are often required to keep the relationship a strong one since when a family starts to increase in size beyond two people, the number of anxieties tends to increase as well.
Seven Common Causes of Anxieties within Relationships
Relationship anxiety doesn’t just happen. Sometimes these anxieties are the result of things beyond your control, or at least they seem to be. Sometimes however, those anxieties are created in your own mind. One of the laws of physics is that matter can neither be created nor be destroyed, the ‘Big Bang’ notwithstanding. People however seem to have the innate capability of creating huge relationship anxieties out of nothing, often because they are basing those anxieties on assumptions rather than on facts.
1) Money, Money, Money – Finances are a cause for many anxious moments. You can blame your spouse for reckless spending, and that blame may be well founded. You can on the other hand suffer from anxiety attacks by blaming yourself for not being able to keep your household finances, or your spouse, under control. This can sometimes be an unpleasant example of how your relationship with your spouse can be the mirror that reflects your own inability to control your own environment.
2) If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another – One of the biggest reasons for relationship anxieties is, if the relationship has been a long one, the number of problems that arise, or seem to have a potential for arising, can sometimes seem to be never ending, and it doesn’t always matter if those problems are big ones or small ones. You hope that every now and then you’ll be able to experience a ‘perfect’ day in your relationship, not realizing that no relationship is a perfect one, nor could you even describe what a perfection relationship actually consists of, beyond glittering generalities.
3) Failure to Try to Understand What Is Causing Feelings of Anxiety – If relationship anxiety is causing a problem for you, what do you do? First of all, you have to understand what it is that is behind the problem or what it is that is causing or could cause your relationship to fail.
4) Negative Thoughts Breed Negative Relationships – Negativity is often a major cause of feelings of anxiety in one’s relationship. Negativity is insidious. Your relationship can turn into a negative one slowly, without you even realizing it. Negative relationships are often built on many small things. Negative feelings about one’s relationship can easily become habitual.
5) Loss of Trust – Loss of trust in a relationship is often a serious matter to have to deal with. Infidelity is one of the more common causes of a loss of trust, especially when one of the partners in the relationship has been blindsided by the other person. Loss of trust can also be a result of looking into the future, rather than into the past or the present. You may have enjoyed a reasonably good relationship with another person up to the present time, yet for some reason you feel the relationship will eventually turn sour, for whatever reason.
6) Assuming What Others Are Thinking – One way to avoid these types of anxieties is to find out your partners true feelings about things, rather than trying to guess what they are, which of course takes much less effort. Not understanding a person’s true feelings or beliefs can easily lead to misinterpreting their actions. Someone may not want to talk to you because they are having a bad day, or don’t say hello because their mind is elsewhere. You might interpret either case as the person being angry with you or thinking poorly of you, when such is not the case at all. You feel rejected, because your mind is telling you have should feel that way, when in truth there is no basis for feeling rejected at all.
7) Excessive Worrying about the Future – This was mentioned earlier in terms of losing trust in a relationship because of fears of what the future may bring. Your relationship can be damaged if, instead of attending to today’s issues, if indeed there are any to be dealt with, you spend your time working on problems that you think may crop up next week or even next year. Focusing on the possible future outcomes of events can cause you to totally lose your ability to cope with the present. A good example of this would be if any time your partner makes a suggestion, your immediate response is ‘What if…?’ A response like that not only can become tiresome but also may lead your partner to assume you’re questioning his or her intelligence, leading to anxieties on his or her part.
Five Strategies for Dealing with Relationship Anxieties that Can Prove Helpful
1) Don’t Procrastinate – One of the problems you may run into at times is the fear of the truth. If you’re afraid someone really doesn’t care all that much about you, it can be easy to avoid asking them if that is indeed the case, for fear your assumption may prove to be true. If however you know for certain your relationship has suffered some damage, you’ll in a better position try to do something about it by finding out the truth. If you procrastinate or beat about the bush, you’ll never gain any traction because you’ll never know for certain what the true situation is.
2) Ask, Don’t Assume – One of the best ways to alleviate troubling anxieties is relatively straightforward. Ask instead of assuming. This has already been touched upon. You want to ask about what someone is thinking instead of assuming what that person is thinking. Even if the answer may not be to your liking, it often places you in a better position than making an assumption will, since the truth is usually easier to build upon than an assumption is, which can easily change.
3) Ask Open-Ended Questions – The best questions to ask are open-ended questions. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers are sometimes not much better than assumptions. It’s one thing to know if a person is upset or not upset. It’s much more valuable to know why a person feels the way they do. That’s information you can use and build upon to strengthen your relationship.
4) Listen to the Answer – Besides asking the right questions, you need to listen to the answer. If you are assuming an answer, you may not even listen to or at least fully appreciate the answer to your question you’re getting. Not being a good listener can over time damage the best of relationships in that it tells the other person, or at least leads them to assume, that you’re not interested in what they have to say.
5) Ask a Follow-On Question if You Feel the Need To – Try to work for an answer that answers your question instead of having to be satisfied with one that still leaves you hanging. You don’t want to play the role of an interrogator, but you may find at times that a follow-on question can help to clear the air, plus it gives the other party a second chance to express his or her real feelings in a way you can better understand them.
Dealing with relationship anxiety can almost be summed up into three words: ‘ask, don’t assume.’ Add ‘listen’ and you may be amazed at how many problems in relationships, especially those that are imagined, can be solved or avoided entirely.