What is relationship anxiety?
It comes in many different forms, but it’s more common than you think.
Have you ever felt like anxiety is ruining your relationship? You’re certainly not alone, but up until a few years ago, it seems that people weren’t talking about relationship doubts or relationship anxiety.
Now, we know this is not only totally normal, but there’s even been a name created for a type of severe relationship anxiety, ROCD. So why are so many people feeling this way?
Does Society Create Anxiety in Relationships?
Has anyone ever told you that love isn’t a fairytale?
Maybe some sagely older person has, in fact, shared this piece of wisdom with you, and if so, you are lucky. You are way ahead of the game. Because in today’s culture, we don’t pay a lot of attention to ideas of love and marriage that aren’t romantic, lush, and full of drama.
Conventional thoughts on love and marriage tell us that when we’re of a certain age (typically mid 20’s) we will cross mystical paths with one unique individual who is destined to be the love of our life. This is our soulmate, the love of our life, and the one we are meant to be with.
Yet how do most relationships actually develop?
A lot of people start out as friends, a good basis for a relationship for sure. This means many couples don’t have an intense initial attraction…nowhere close to love at first sight.
How many people do you know have had that can’t eat can’t sleep type of “head over heels” experience?
Once you exit your teenage years, it drops off significantly. There is nothing wrong with that over the top feeling, but it’s important to remember that it is NOT a prerequisite for love.
You don’t have to lay eyes on your future husband and “know” instantly. Heck, you don’t even have to feel ANYTHING the first time you see them.
But in our society, we’ve put so much emphasis on feelings that if we don’t have that magical, breathless encounter, we automatically think something is wrong.
So when our average love experience is far less like the conventional image we’ve come to dream about, we think something is wrong. We start doubting the relationship.
What is a Normal Relationship?
Surprise! Love isn’t butterflies, endless sexual attraction, or drama. These heightened states may be part of your initial phase with a partner, but they don’t last (and drama certainly shouldn’t for a healthy adult relationship).
In truth, these aspects may point more toward lust and longing. Everyone knows that when you can’t have something you want it more. So the push and pull of relationships in the beginning (will she? won’t she?) as one is often the pursuer and one the pursued, creates delicious drama.
It’s so easy to become addicted to this novel thrill, but this is not the stuff true love is made of.
Love can be mundane. Love is simple.
Love is, most of all, a choice you make every day to move lovingly toward your partner even when you’re not “feeling it.” If you only rely on love as a feeling, you’ll have a tough time making it through the natural ebbs and flows of any relationship. (And they will come).
Love is about seeing through those rough patches and knowing that what you have is something worth so much more than just a feeling. It’s knowing that you wouldn’t trade your comfortable, safe partnership for the fleeting thrills of an impassioned affair.
Because when you know love is not a feeling, it is easier to accept all the highs and lows that life naturally brings.
A normal, healthy relationship encompasses this understanding on some level, and also makes space for each person to be an individual with all their myriad fears, flaws, and doubts.
Doubting Your Love
Some people often experience insecurity about their relationship (does my partner really love me?). But it’s not uncommon to feel doubts and concerns about your OWN thoughts and feelings, either.
Have you ever wondered if you’re 100% SURE about your relationship? Is he the one? What if you’re only with that person because you don’t want to be alone? What if you aren’t always attracted to your husband or wife?
What if little things about her annoy you? What if you love them a little bit more than they love you? What if they leave you? What if they die?
These fears, doubts, and worries, and countless others are SO. FREAKING. NORMAL.
A lot of men and women have one of these doubts or thoughts for the first time and fall into a panic. If I loved them, I wouldn’t be thinking this.
Not true. We’re multifaceted people capable of feeling all parts of the emotional spectrum.
And you know what those doubts or intrusive thoughts really mean? They mean you are a thoughtful person who is giving consideration to the decision to be with another person.
And of course, that decision is hella scary. But absent of major red flags, every potential partner has flaws you’ll have to deal with. No one will be perfect. So don’t let those all-too-common fears and doubts send you away from something good.
Deciphering Relationship Anxiety
If you were to do a Google search for ‘relationship anxiety’, you might not be happy with the results. There is a lot of fluff out there that will tell you “doubt means don’t”, or will convince you that if you aren’t feeling “in love” then you no longer love your partner.
I wish I could grab these authors by the shoulder and shake them authors and tell them to stop spreading this misinformation.
We’ve spent too long over-emphasizing feelings in this society (when it comes to relationships, I mean). I think this accounts for the deficiency in modern romance and may be the root of what is underneath the high divorce rate.
Sadly, many of us don’t know that doubts are normal, conflict is normal, and that relationships are WORK. When it gets hard, so many among us are ready to bail, or when it gets boring and too familiar, we decide the love is gone and search out a new partner to give us that old “high.”
It’s a real problem in this culture when we can’t commit ourselves to another person for the long haul, and I think one way to combat that is simply to continue to share this message.
And keep telling others.
Love is effort, love is a decision, and love can be challenging, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful than the fairy tale love we’ve been sold.
If you’re dealing with relationship anxiety, I highly recommend the work of Sheryl Paul and her Conscious Transitions programs.