Separation Anxiety in Relationships: When Being Apart is Painful


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Absence makes the heart grow…anxious.

At least for me, it does, and it used to be even worse in the past.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky. Chances are good that you don’t experience any sort of adult separation anxiety in relationships. But if that opening phrase is all too clear, jump in and let’s talk.

I’ve always been a sensitive, emotional person, even (especially) as a kid. As I grew into an adult, in many ways, that part of me didn’t change.

Sure, I grew braver about some things and learned to laugh at myself and be more confident and strong, but anxiety followed me into adulthood. One of the ways it manifested was in separation anxiety.

When Nathan and I were first together, we were long distance for a good year and a half. This was really tough on me, but the toughest part was always the saying of the goodbyes; the departure.

When Nathan was visiting me, I would start to grow terribly anxious when the end of the trip was growing near. Even a week before he was scheduled to leave I would get bouts of anxiety and nausea. And crying. Lots and lots of crying.

Flash forward to our separation, I would cry when it was happening, and for several days before. Frankly, it sucked, but generally, once we’d said goodbye and were busy living our lives during the time apart, this anxiety would dissipate.

These days, I feel like I can deal far better with temporary separation. But recently, we spent nearly 3 weeks apart, the longest since we’ve been married. As the date of Nathan’s departure grew closer, I found myself feeling that same familiar panic. That lingering anxiety and sadness about being apart from each other was still there.

I realized that, if I feel this way, as a 32-year old married woman, chances are, other people in relationships must feel this way, too. Maybe I can offer some words of encouragement, wisdom, and guidance.

I’m not an expert, but I can definitely say I’ve been there and know exactly what it’s like. Let’s talk about managing separation anxiety for adults, and how to make the most of extended separations.

A Caveat

I want to note that I am not a trained psychologist or mental health professional. All of the information contained in this article is from my own experience (plus some Internet research). Also, my separation anxiety is fairly high-functioning, as it typically does not cause interferences in my daily activities.

If you feel like you might be suffering from a serious separation anxiety disorder, or your anxiety is greatly impacting your ability to function, I suggest heading to this site for further information, or finding a licensed, trained mental health provider in your area. Adult eparation anxiety disorder is a real thing, and there are professional and clinical ways to help alleviate it.

How to Deal With Separation Anxiety in Relationships

Over the years I’ve learned how to manage missing my boyfriend, missing my fiance, and finally, missing my husband. Here are the things I keep in mind and the things I do to help myself

Know that the separation is temporary

No matter how long you and your loved one have to be apart, it is super helpful to remind yourself of the temporary nature of the separation.

It. Will. End.

This can be easier to deal with if you’re faced with shorter period of time apart, but if you’ve got a lengthy separation ahead, try breaking it down into smaller increments to help you manage better. And then, use the rest of these tips to help you out!

What if you have a fear that the separation WON’T end? I think this is what affects me. What if saying goodbye to Nathan is the LAST TIME I get to say goodbye to him? It’s an extremely morbid thought, but somehow, my mind goes there.

If that is something you also experience, I’d urge you to remember that uncertainty is always a constant part of life. This is a scary thing in many ways, but it also can serve as a reminder that your separation is no different than your typical daily life.

This may not be super comforting, but at least it lets you know that there’s no need to have additional fears with the coming separation.

I suggest reading the book Comfortable With Uncertainty.

When I fear uncertainty in separation, it also helps me to focus on the things I know for sure:

Nathan is a safe person. He takes precautions. He always returns. When we are apart, he calls or texts to let me know when he’s arrived somewhere. So, although we are apart physically, I trust that I can count on him to be safe and to return to me when the separation ends.

Let your partner know how you feel

Don’t suffer alone with your separation anxiety fears. This is a great opportunity to open up to your partner about your feelings. It’s important that your partner knows you might need a little extra lovin’ and care during this time apart.

He or she can then be mindful, perhaps checking in more often or simply being more sensitive to your needs and feelings.

Nathan doesn’t experience separation anxiety when we’re apart, but he knows that I do. To help support me, he makes sure to text me frequently when we’re away from one another and he video chats me nearly every day. This might be more than he himself needs, but he does it for me out of kindness and his commitment to our relationship.

Lean into the discomfort, it’s ok

Okay, you might feel shitty at some point during your separation. The point of these tips is not to help you avoid all of those feelings, but to healthily deal with them and work through them, and to alleviate the painful feelings when necessary.

separation anxiety relationships - woman crying on bed

But, it is perfectly okay to let yourself feel sad. Sometimes experiencing and sitting with your emotions helps you process them. You know how they say a “good cry” can be really cathartic? This is absolutely true.

Let it out. Let yourself feel crappy.

I’m almost certain that you’ll feel better afterward, and better able to manage your feelings. Sometimes, it even helps you redirect your energy. I know after I’ve cried and felt mopey, I often feel refreshed and ready to redirect my attention to a more beneficial, productive activity. (Even if that “productive” activity is bingeing Netflix.)

Do things that are important to you while you’re away from your partner

One of the top tips for handling separation anxiety from a partner is to take action. I can’t stress enough how important it is to take advantage of this alone time. You have extra time available to you right now; grab that bull by the horns!

So after you’ve had a good cry, it’s time to do something meaningful; something that matters to you.

Set aside some hours to focus on a personal hobby of yours. Or tackle a challenge you’ve been meaning to attempt. This might not be something crazily ambitious, but you could read a novel you’ve been putting off for a while.

Or maybe you can do something that helps you feel close to your partner AND deal with the separation anxiety at the same time. A great example would be getting some family photos printed and placed in albums. You can choose your favorite photos of you and your partner (and other family and friends) and get creative putting them in photo albums or framing them in your home.

You’ll be thinking of them while you expend creative energy. This activity will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, plus give you a sense of accomplishment, which will definitely help to reduce some of your anxiety.

Keep active, both mentally and physically

To alleviate separation anxiety symptoms in adults—or even just general anxiety—physical activity can be crucial.

If you have a regular exercise routine, stick to it while your partner is away. Or if you’re the one going away, make an effort to find time for physical movement during each day.

Truthfully, staying active and busy makes the time go by more quickly, so your separation will be over before you know it. Keeping busy is one of the key ways I help my separation anxiety.

Talk about your communication plans beforehand

One issue that might be contributing to your relationship separation anxiety is not having a firm communication plan.

Maybe you’re not sure when you’ll talk to your partner. How often will you Skype? Will you be annoying them if you text 20 times per day?

Having these discussions before the separation even begins is crucial. Not only does it ensure you both have appropriate expectations in place, but it can also eliminate a secondary source of anxiety.

Be sure both of you are committed to your communication schedule. Talking or messaging at the same time every day can be helpful (it’s also a great thing for you to look forward to daily), but this is not always possible. Be realistic and reasonable with one another.

And be flexible, too. Know that occasionally, life gets in the way and communication might be delayed. Remember your partner has the best intentions and don’t freak out or spiral if your communication changes or doesn’t happen on a given day.

Feeling anxious? Go do something active, participate in a beloved hobby, or call a friend. Soon enough, you’ll be talking to your partner again. And soon they’ll be back with you, as well.

Do something meaningful for each other during your time apart

Missing your boyfriend? Girl, channel that energy and do something sweet for that other person.

Spending time apart not only gives you some extra free time, it also provides you with the chance to gather perspective on your relationship. I can think of no better time to sit down and pen a hand-written letter to your love. This is such a lost art.

Writing is healthy and healing, but you’ll feel especially grounded as you write about what you love about your partner.  Give it to them when they get back and watch their heart well up with gratitude.

Maybe your partner isn’t into words. (Perhaps Words of Affirmation is not his or her Love Language). That’s cool.

Do something that will be special and meaningful to them, that speaks to them in their language. It doesn’t even need to be fancy. Has your wife been pestering you to clean out the garage? Why not tackle it while she’s gone and give her an awesome surprise when she returns? These simple actions go a long way, I promise.

Focus on the other important relationships in your life

If you’re wondering how to deal with separation anxiety from your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc., one of the best cures is to spend time with other loved ones. Don’t forget about those other important relationships in your life: your siblings, parents, friends, or even your children.

You might feel sad to be separated from your partner for a period, but there are dozens of other people who would love to spend some of that time with you.

Make a plan to have lunch with an old friend. Call your mom. Take your children out for a super fun outing.

These things will warm your heart and remind you that you are oh so loved.

Plan something special for when you will see each other again

One of my favorite methods for how to cope with separation is to focus on the reunion. When you and your significant other see each other again after a being apart, it’s a cause for celebration.

So instead of obsessing about the time away from one another, plan to do something sweet and special when you reunite.

Maybe buy some special lingerie for when you greet your husband at the door upon his return. Plan a fantastic dinner to cook for your girlfriend (her favorite) when she comes over after her trip. Or buy your sweetheart a simple little gift to say, “hey, I love you, and I’m so glad your back.”

No matter what you choose, be sure to live in the moment and embrace the joy of being back together.

After all, the separation does do one thing right: it makes that reunion so much sweeter.

READ NEXT:  Do You Love Me? How to Stop Seeking Reassurance

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3 thoughts on “Separation Anxiety in Relationships: When Being Apart is Painful”

  1. Hey Amy! I’m “N” (26) and I am going through some really harsh time. I live in Northern europe and my boyfriend (33) lives in the US. I am currently visiting him in the US and, as always, the departure day is getting closer and my anxiety is growing every. single. day.
    Reading the beginning of your post was like reading my own diary. My separation anxiety is so terrible – I cry weeks before leaving, when I’m getting ready to leave, at the airport, in the airplane, at home and weeks after that. It feels like it doesn’t get better at all until I see him again. That is the only time when I feel truly happy again.
    I am going to see him again maybe after one month or 3 months. I cannot even measure the anxiety I’m going through right now and I still have 10 days left to be with him!
    Anyway, the reason why I’m writing this comment is because I want to ask your advice. I feel the best when I get to talk to someone. I would prefer my boyfriend, but he doesn’t really understand. He doesn’t believe in separation anxiety and thinks Im just being redicilous and overreacting. He shouts at me, tells me to stop or else I have to sleep in the couch (if I don’t stop crying). I know, sounds bad right? But he is perfect in every other way.
    I can’t talk to my family, because they simply do not care/understand. They just roll their eyes at me if I try to talk to them about it and change the subject/start to talk over me. I also don’t have any friends, so..
    Im also very worried about how much I get to talk to him while we are separated. It’s going to be very irregular, he needs his own time a lot, especially after a long day at work (he owns a business where they build houses) and I have so much time alone that I tempt to talk to him a lot which irritates him sometimes. There is nothing for me to do at home either, I just sit and wait for his call or text. Literally. I love cleaning, baking and cooking but when I’m at home I feel like there is no one to do them for, so I just get depressed. And yes, I get very lonely. Without him I feel completely empty. I live in a village (population of 50 50 people) full of old people so I cannot make any new friends. I also can’t move to a bigger city , because my family lives here and they need me but even when I’m with them, I feel lonely. I have tried talking to a therapist, but she couldn’t help. I have tried different hobbies but I’m always so depressed and can’t focus on anything long enough for call them “hobbies”. Without him I feel useless. (I was raised old fashioned way, meaning I have been raised to be “the perfect housewife”, stay home and take care of the house while the man goes to work. I need to treat him like a God and keep him happy so I feel like the reason I’m even alive is because of him so without him, I feel useless because I can’t “serve him”) I feel like I cannot be independent. I hope we get to move together soon.
    I don’t know what to do and I know that you are not an expert.. But if possible, I would love to hear your advice.

    Reply
    • Hi there thanks so much for writing. I can identify with tons of what you said. I’ll give it to you straight because I think that’s what I needed back then 🙂

      in reading your comment the first thing that sticks out to me is that it seems like you’re looking to your partner for a lot of your happiness and maybe even thinking of him as the source of your happiness I totally get this but it’s not the healthiest way to live. On the one hand, any human is going to disappoint you at some point. No one is perfect, no one can fulfill all your needs, and especially no one can fulfill your deepest longings.

      It may sound cliche, but you need to cultivate some deep self-love, understanding that you are an amazing creation with infinite potential and so much you can give and do in this world. I think that self-love is vitally important because it gives you that love and security that we all desperately crave, without looking for it from another person. Obviously this is a really tall order because self-love does not come easily or naturally to most of us. it could be that finding or spending more time on your passions could be useful in building that sense of self love. Or finding activities that give us purpose.

      Personally, I think that can be where the role of God or spirituality comes in. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how we all intrinsically have this deep need to feel loved and secure but ultimately it’s only God that can give that to us. Now, I’m a Christian so I understand it in a different way but I think even if you’re not religious, this can be found in different places….self-love, a love of humanity, etc..

      It does sound difficult to make friends given where you’re living—although don’t rule out the older folk friends they are some extremely wise and kind people, and it would probably greatly appreciate your friendship :-).

      You can also throw yourself with renewed vigor and do some of your passions, like you mentioned cooking. And don’t hesitate to join online communities either. While it’s not the same as in person friends I’ve met a lot of great people via the Internet that I talk to daily. Just having them as a support is really important. Because we really do need support from others outside of our partner. I had to learn this and practice it. My husband can’t meet all my needs, he can’t be everything to me, and to put him in that place puts way too much pressure on him to be honest. Sounds to me like your boyfriend might be feeling that sort of pressure, so being able to channel more of your energy into friendships, passions, hobbies, self-love, could all be really beneficial for the both of you.

      you might find that that makes it big enough difference but I think your boyfriend’s behavior should be addressed a bit too. you might just need to have a serious talk with him about all these things make you feel. I know it’s Nathan had told me then I should go sleep on the couch it would make things way worse. And there’s no shame in crying, girl. maybe show your boyfriend this article in fact. You can show him that other people do in fact deal with this issue. Something doesn’t have to be a diagnosed medical issue to be a problem either. Some of the worst challenges in our lives are nameless and yet just as painful.

      If he’s open to it, you can also read the Five Love Languages. That’s a helpful book and it teaches you both how to give and receive love in the way that works best for you. Understanding that might help your boyfriend be better at showing you love and helping you feel secure and at the same time it might help you love him better.

      You deserve love and respect and to be “served” just as much as your partner does. Don’t forget that, and don’t forget that relationships should be a give and take. I hope this has helped you! <3

      Reply
  2. Hi, my name is Shade (18) and your post resonated with me somewhat.
    I’m in my very first relationship, nearly 8 months in, and so very in love.
    However, my separation anxiety and the consequential incidents due to my being unable to deal with it appropriately has led to an emotional rift between my boyfriend and I, that we both wish to heal from, but in my current state, simply may not be able to.
    To give you some background, I have fear of abandonment, stemming in part from having no friends in my life prior to the past year or so, and from my mother leaving when I was 15. I also suffered from severe social and otherwise generalised anxiety for the first 16 years or so of my life.
    In the first months of my relationship, I was extremely independent and relaxed, I didn’t mind spending time apart from my boyfriend, nor did I mind him having a desire to spend time separate from me to hang out with his other friends or do something that he enjoys that I don’t.
    It wasn’t until about four months in, when I really began to have strong feelings, did my separation anxiety really begin to manifest itself.
    My complete and utter terror of being left shows itself it passive-aggressive texts, jealousy and distrust, paranoia and other such negative, damaging acts and feelings.
    Now I understand logically that I have no reason to distrust my boyfriend- he shows how much he adores me on a daily basis, never does a thing to cause me reason to feel jealous, and has beliefs and morals in line with my own (a deciding factor to the fact our relationship even exists)- but these feeling just don’t stop.
    My constant need for reassurance, and attention, not to mention hurtful things I say in my states of panic, have stressed my poor boyfriend to the limits (he’s only 17, an entire year younger then I, but due to life experience, he’s a fair bit more immature than I am, and less able to cope with stress, and depression, and anxiety because he’s lucky enough to have grown up happy).
    He reached the point the other day of nearly breaking up with me, an extremely painful, tear filled 12 hours that had us deciding to break up, but after a day apart choosing instead to take our relationship less seriously and move forward slowly, and without the co-dependence that has previously grown between us.
    While I am happy to do this, as he is more then worth the work I need to put into our relationship to fix what I’ve broken, I desperately need advice on how to manage myself moving forward ( I understand you aren’t a professional).
    He is, quite heartbreakingly, scared of being hurt again. And he is scared by how dependent I’ve been on him.
    And so I need to give him the room to breath, and to grow, and to thrive, that he needs, and accept that along the way there is a chance he’ll realise I’m not the girl for him. And I need to do this without sacrificing myself.
    While I’ve been throwing my energy into my dog, and spending time with my friends and (trying) to keep up with school, I still struggle internally with the idea of spending the majority of our time apart (for the time being).
    For now, we are no longer staying at one another’s houses, and (this bit I know is needed, I have had unreasonable expectations) not texting constantly. Once the holidays start (in a month), he plans to make time to spend at least a day a week with me, outside of work and friends and family, and I already know that this is going to be exceedingly difficult for me to deal with without reacting negatively.
    Even though I know he loves me, I’m so, so scared of him changing his mind if I’m not there to remind him that he loves me.
    Do you have any idea of how to cope with this? Please?

    Reply

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