How to Stop Overthinking in a Relationship

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Want to learn how to stop overthinking in a relationship? I’m going to share with you some of the ways to change this stress-inducing behavior and to ultimately feel better about your relationships and about yourself.

Hi, my name’s Amy and I’m an overthinker. If you’re here reading this article, chances are, you’re an overthinker, too. 

First of all, know that that is okay. Overthinking is completely normal, and in our fast-paced, super-charged, “always-on” society, it’s almost become the norm. 

But overthinking isn’t healthy. You don’t need an expert to tell you that. Overthinking stresses a person out. It overwhelms, pains, and causes unnecessary negativity. Overthinking is anxiety. 

And while overthinking can impact many areas of your life, this particular article is all about how to stop overthinking your relationship. 

Why We Overthink

Why do so many of us have a tendency to overthink? In some sense, it’s something we’re biologically wired to do. Humans are gifted with immense critical thinking abilities, which have helped us to survive and thrive as a species. 

Yet this skill can become damaging, as our thinking brain becomes infiltrated by our anxieties, our traumas, and other negative experiences. Suddenly, our brain is working double-time, trying to protect us from real or perceived threats. If we’ve experienced dangers in the past, we may become especially on-guard.

Dea Dean, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor, explains it well: 

“When someone is ‘overthinking,’ they are surveying and assessing if they are relationally “safe.” Their mind usually rehearses regrets from the past or forecasts worst-case scenarios for the future.”

I think this sums it up SO WELL. Dean further explains the process of overthinking, whether that is dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future:

“When one’s mind is in the past, most are replaying events and interactions, dissecting what one might have done to put themselves in ‘relational danger,’ to ensure they remedy possible problems or refrain from repeating them. When one’s mind is in the future, most are troubleshooting possible reactions to their actions or emotions, preparing and planning for how to avoid rejection or relational isolation, and looking to ensure they aren’t blindsided by a worst-case scenario.”

I’ve definitely experienced this type of overthinking. For me, it manifested as a need for constant reassurance from my then-boyfriend, Nathan. I’m not sure exactly where this deep abandonment fear stemmed from, although I can hazard a guess that being blindsided by a cheating ex played a big role! 

My father also passed away when I was very young, which is also likely to have contributed to a fear of loss. 

And yet, even people without these types of experiences can find themselves deep in the throes of overthinking and anxiety. It can strike any of us. This isn’t meant to scare you, only to let you know you are not alone if you’re experiencing this. 

My number one piece of advice if you experience overthinking or any type of relationship anxiety is to seek the help of a therapist or counselor. There is no substitute for expert help and a professional can help us uncover the root of these fears and begin the deeper healing process.

Lonely sad depressed teenager girl sitting on the floor near a wall and holding her head in her hands

How Overthinking Hurts Relationships

While we are prone to overthinking in many areas, overthinking in relationships is especially common. This is because relationships are associated with the ultimate possible outcomes: companionship, partnership, marriage. We place enormous pressure on relationships (for reasons both logical and illogical) and this means the stakes are very high. 

With such high stakes, relationships require that we truly put ourselves out there. Vulnerability is essential for allowing a lasting relationship to develop. And so relationships demand that we be vulnerable, opening ourselves up to the other person and to the unknown. This allows for the growth of deep love and affection, but it also exposes us to potential rejection, hurt, shame, and loss.

What could be scarier than that? Is it any wonder we overthink? 

While we may think our habit of overthinking is serving to protect us, it actually creates a number of problematic issues when it comes to a romantic relationship. Not only does it cause the overthinker (and often their partner) stress and pain, it has direct consequences on the health of the relationship as a whole. 

It doesn’t let things develop naturally

Perhaps the worst impact of overthinking is the role it plays in obscuring the current relationship. Because this type of overthinking is often due to our reactions from past relationship experiences, we unconsciously bring those issues into the present. This clouds our perceptions and blinds us to the reality of the present relationship. 

Sara Stanizai, MA, LMFT, says that “instead of communicating, we tell ourselves a version of what happened, then build on that story, and fuel it with all of our past relationship history, personal baggage from our families, and unrelated soundbites from friends or the media.” This causes us to “end up with a narrative that is not only untrue, but one that feeds into our worst fears.”
 
This means that by coloring our present with the narrative of the past, we’re not giving the new relationship the chance it deserves. And that can be a massive issue. 

It depletes the fun

Another consequence of overthinking is a simple loss of enjoyment. Simply put, thinking too hard takes away the fun of a budding relationship. This is meant to be the exciting period of getting to know a person, possibly falling in love, and building a connection. If you’re constantly stuck in your head, you are not in the present moment. You’re missing out on what’s right in front of you and robbing yourself of the pleasure of your relationship. 

It erodes trust

Probably the worst effect that overthinking can have is even more lasting: it breaks down trust between two partners. 

While overthinking is, by its very nature internal, its consequences overflow into the relationship.

For instance: you find yourself obsessing over the texts your partner has sent you, trying to decipher the meaning behind the choice of words, the punctuation, the emojis, and even the swiftness with which they text back. As you spiral into anxiety, you start to believe that your partner is angry with you or even cheating on you. All of your worst-case scenarios swirl in your head. 

This develops into conflict. The narrative you’ve told yourself has blossomed into a full-0n fight with you and your partner with you making unfounded accusations. Or, you start treating your partner with an unexpected coldness and distance. 

However it plays out, we can see that overthinking has created a much bigger problem than we started with. 

For the partner of an over overthinking girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse, this emotional roller coaster and constant doubt/questioning of their motives, can begin to make them feel as though there is no trust between you. 

9 Tips to Stop Overthinking in Relationships

Overthinking is ruining my relationship.

If this thought sounds familiar, don’t worry. I’m going to share some really helpful tips on how to stop overthinking a relationship. You can absolutely fix this issue and find peace. Wondering how? Read on. 

Develop Awareness of the Thoughts 

Since our thoughts are coming in rapid-fire, trying to simply push them out is often a useless exercise. Instead, experts agree that a better approach is to acknowledge the thoughts, which can often deplete their power. 

Dr. Kendra A. O’Hora shares the steps to recognizing and harnessing these thoughts:

“First, acknowledge the thought. Many of us are caught in internal battles that suppress or deny our own thought processes. When we shut down our thoughts or fear they tend to come back more strongly. Start by acknowledging that the thought has value and exists for a reason by saying internally or out loud: “I’m thinking this way for a reason and it is OK to be [hurt, angry, upset, overwhelmed].” 
 
Second, pause. Many times our thoughts escalate because we are rapidly moving. After acknowledging that the thought has value, try pausing to breathe, to notice your environment, or to connect with your partner. These brief moments can offer balance and peace before our thoughts derail us.”

Take Things at Face Value/Focus on Facts

One of the best things that helped me stop overthinking about my relationship was to learn to take things at face value. In other words, I would try my hardest not to “assign meaning” that wasn’t there. I tried not to read into texts or decipher a hidden message in my partner’s tone of voice. Instead, I tried to focus on the words themselves or on the reality of the action.

It’s good to remember that things usually are what they seem. It’s generally the most obvious and straightforward answer when you ask yourself what’s really going on here?

When you’re in a relationship with a good person, you have to learn to accept that he probably says what he means and that his actions speak truth. This can be SO HARD. I get it. Especially if you’ve been with someone who was dishonest with you in the past. But don’t punish your current partner for the sings of a previous partner. Give your new partner a chance to show you who they really are. So begin with an approach of trust—which means taking them at their word.

Image of happy young loving couple walking outdoors while hugging.

Learn to Self-Soothe

If your overthinking is sending you into a tizzy, learn how to self-soothe. Some of this technique has to do with the point above: taking things at face value. If you notice thoughts spiraling into catastrophizing, take a beat and focus on the reality of the situation. 

Perhaps you’re like me, and your overthinking manifests as repeated questioning of your partner or requests for reassurance. If that’s the case, learning to self-soothe will be especially important. This article can be helpful, too, for reminding you of what’s real: Does He Love Me? 10 Signs He Loves You 

But you don’t have to go all this alone. If anxiety is pestering you and you have genuine concerns about your relationship, seek guidance. It’s okay to ask friends and family for their advice, and you should, especially in a new relationship when you might be clouded by infatuation. Go ahead and check with them. Ask am I overthinking my relationship? They will set you straight. 

Develop Tools to Manage Your Anxiety

In addition to self-soothing and self-care techniques, figure out how to diffuse and mitigate your anxiety. This will be different for everyone, but such skills are invaluable, as they can help you throughout your entire life.

For many people, the best way to manage anxiety is to get moving. Exercise has innumerable benefits on mental wellbeing.

Meditation, too, is a huge help. Try different tools to see what works best for you, and stick with something for a bit to give it a real chance. 

READ NEXT:  15+ Best Marriage Books for Couples to Read Together (2020)

Learn to Let Go of Control

One of my best tips on how to not overthink a new relationship (or one that’s not so new) is to discover how to release your need to control. 

This is hugely difficult for me. I love being in control of a situation. Control is safety. Control is reassurance. 

When we have control, we think we can determine the outcome. Or we think we will avoid catastrophe.

Sadly….oh so sadly….this is not true.

It’s an error to think we truly have control over how things will turn out. Life is full of uncertainty, and the sooner we grasp that the better. Harsh but true.

And yet, I have good news. Embracing uncertainty has near-magical power to reduce your anxiety. It brings incredible freedom and the ability to be more present and have a more open heart. Intrigued? Here are a few awesome books on this very subject: 

Practice Honesty 

Building your relationship from a place of honesty is not only one of the keys to a successful partnership,  it can also serve as a mighty way to reduce overthinking in your relationship. 

Approach your significant other with a commitment to being honest and clear in all you say and do. When you come to the table with clear motives and no hidden agenda, it paves the way for your partner to do the same.

Have real discussions about honesty. Talk about how important it is to you and how deeply you value it. Chances are, your partner does, too. Make a commitment to honesty with one another. 

And you can be honest about your anxiety, too. This creates opportunities for healing and for you and your partner to grow closer. 

Dea Dean says “It’s important that overthinkers continue to share ‘what it’s like to be them,’ with their partners and for partners to demonstrate care for them. This is different from the over thinker unpacking or processing their worry in detail and asking for assurance from their partner. The over-thinker could simply say to their partner, ‘I’m in my head and overthinking about our last conversation. I’m feeling scared about where we stand and I just want you to know what I’m going through.’ The partner could ask what would be most helpful to the over thinker ( a hug, doing an activity, saying “I hear you and I love you.”) and offer to show care without taking responsibility for their worry.”

Dean’s suggestion is a great one, and also provides the chance for the overthinker to practice self-care as well as open, honest communication.

Journal Those Thoughts and Feelings

Wondering how to how to stop overthinking about a guy? Girl, get that journal out! (You too, bro! Journaling’s for everyone).

Writing out your thoughts on paper can actually help release you from ruminating on them in your mind. Not only that, but the very act of journaling can help you to sort through your tumult of feelings.

Limit Your Triggers

What things cause you to overthink? Manage those.

This can actually be easier than it sounds. It mostly involves developing new habits that support what you need.

For instance, limit your social media time. An abundance of research shows that social media use can be directly tied to increases in anxiety and depression. And from a personal perspective, I’ve seen firsthand how too much time online heightens my anxiety.

If this is something that impacts you, too, give yourself some tough love and set limits on your screen time.  

Limiting your triggers can also mean filling your time with activities you care about. When you are busy pursuing a hobby or passion, you’re far less likely to be sitting around obsessing over a text or dissecting what he or she said.

Learn More about Healthy Relationships 

Finally, one tip to stop overthinking is to continue your journey in learning about what a healthy relationship entails. Learn what isn’t true about relationships: those relationship myths that society puts in our heads. Discover how to become a better partner. Relationships are extremely complex, and are something you will continue to learn about throughout your entire life. 

Also remember that there really is no right way to do relationships. All of your feelings? Normal. Valid. Real.

Focus on how you’re feeling in the relationship, avoid thinking about how you SHOULD be feeling. Erase should from your vocabulary. Suddenly, you might find that things are so much brighter and more joyous than you thought. 

And above all, I can’t stress enough how valuable therapy can be. A therapist can help you figure out the answer to the question: why do I overthink relationships? We all have our own story. Figure out yours and change its ending.

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