Relationship anxiety can make you think there is something “wrong” with your relationship — but it’s really a coping mechanism trying to protect you.
Growing up as a highly sensitive person (HSP) was never easy. Overstimulated, overthinking, an overdose of feelings — I was used to feeling like I was “too much.” And I started to notice that these patterns would sneak into my relationships, especially romantic ones.
I always felt like I needed to be someone else in order to be loved and accepted by my partner. Despite being with a loving and supportive partner for three years now, I am still struggling with intrusive and obsessive thoughts, moments of overwhelming doubts, and a hyper-awareness of everything he does and everything I feel.
I used to believe that there was something deeply wrong with me… until I stumbled upon the term “relationship anxiety.”
Wait… What Is ‘Relationship Anxiety’?
Every single one of us, HSP or not, experiences doubts, boredom, or moments of anxiety in our relationships. Romantic partnerships are not like the ones Hollywood had fed us, and it is totally normal to not always feel in love, not always want to have sex, or to question our relationships. It is actually good to have these moments — to grow together, learn about ourselves and our other half, and deepen the relationship.
But relationship anxiety is about a disordered way of experiencing these moments. It is a coping mechanism, like anxiety, aiming to protect us. However, it translates into constantly obsessing about our relationship and/or falling into compulsions (like seeking reassurance every day or googling things like, “Is he ‘The One?’”).
It is about asking our loved ones if our partner is good for us or nitpicking every little detail about our relationship. It is doubting ourselves first, and our relationship second, despite being in a healthy, supportive, accepting, and loving partnership. And, as highly sensitive souls, we can be more vulnerable to relationship anxiety since we feel things so deeply and tend to overthink things, too. Here are some reasons as to why I think this is the case.
5 Reasons Why Highly Sensitive People Are More Prone to Relationship Anxiety
1. They’re afraid of being rejected.
HSPs often grow up feeling different, as though they have a disorder (which they don’t). “I am not normal” and “There is something wrong with me” are both recurrent thoughts for a highly sensitive person. We often feel disconnected to others, especially when we are young and grow up being told we need to “toughen up” instead of learning to embrace our sensitivity.
As adults, as relationship anxiety finds its roots in the fear of being abandoned, we want to be certain that our partner will not leave us. Therefore, we want to constantly make sure that everything is perfect, from our feelings to the way our partner acts. Because perfection means happiness, and happiness means our partner will not abandon us. (That’s how the mind of someone with relationship anxiety thinks.)
2. They are very in touch with their feelings — and it gets overwhelming.
HSPs feel everything, all the time, from excitement to boredom to nostalgia. And we all know that relationships are a roller coaster of emotions. When we feel happy and excited, we associate it with the relationship being “good.” But when we feel sad, anxious, or unsure, we automatically think that there is no love anymore. And it makes us even more sad, anxious, or unsure.
3. They are dreamers and idealists.
We have been raised in a culture where Hollywood’s happy endings and Disney’s fairy tales were often our first exposure to romantic relationships. As an HSP, we are more prone to have big expectations — because we want the reality to match our beliefs.
But the thing is, big expectations lead to big disappointments. And big disappointments lead to even bigger anxious thoughts, like “This must mean that this relationship is wrong” or “If I do not reenact The Notebook on a daily basis, I am not in love with my partner.”
4. They are all-or-nothing people.
When you have relationship anxiety as an HSP, it is either, “ love you and you are my soulmate” or “I feel nothing when looking at you; it must mean that we are not meant for each other.” And this black-or-white thinking can cause a lot of anxiety.
5. They need more time alone.
Romantic relationships are often associated with connection, intimacy, and intense passion. However, as an HSP, we get overwhelmed easily and need more alone time and space to charge our batteries.
But it can feel awkward to feel that — is there something “wrong” with us (or the relationship) just because we need alone time? Other couples seem to spend all their time together… So it can bring up feelings of guilt and the usual heart-breaking question, “Am I normal?” (Yes, you are, by the way!)
If you recognize yourself in any of the above points: Don’t worry! Relationship anxiety is a way to (subconsciously) protect yourself from past traumas, attachments, wounds ,and/or childhood pain. It can be helpful to seek therapy or talk to someone who understands and loves you.
If you are not a fan of therapy, or can’t afford it, but also want to do some things on your own, here are some tips to help you deal — and heal — from your relationship anxiety.
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6 Ways to Deal With Relationship Anxiety
1. Talk to your partner.
I get it. Communicating your feelings and being vulnerable can be hard, especially when you have been used to people judging you or making you feel lonely. But your partner is your teammate, and if you want it to work, explaining to them what you need, want, and have been through can be really relieving.
If it is hard for you to talk face-to-face, why not write them a letter? A song? A poem? Basically, express yourself with your preferred creative form to make them listen and understand — or at least to open the dialogue for you to then talk about it in person. Plus, that way, you can see each other’s body language, too, which is equally as important as verbal communication.
2. Practice self-compassion.
The thing is, the most important loving relationship you can build is with yourself. That does not mean that you need to be alone until you fully love yourself. Being in a relationship can be a great way to learn about your needs, your wounds, and your qualities. But practicing self-love and self-compassion can help you deconstruct the false beliefs about yourself — that you are not normal or that you do not deserve to be loved; you do.
3. Surround yourself with people who make you feel loved.
Relationship anxiety is rooted in the fear of rejection and abandonment. And as much as your partner can make you feel understood, loved, and accepted, you also need a fulfilling ecosystem around you, with friends, colleagues, and family members who make you feel as though you are deserving of this unconditional love.
Also, remember that your partner cannot fulfill all your needs, so having a night in with your best friend(s) is totally recommended!
4. Remember that relationships are a great means to learn and grow.
Romantic relationships can be hard, but when they are healthy, loving, and accepting, they can make us learn about our patterns and grow into a better version of ourselves. This means accepting that your partner will sometimes push your buttons and you will feel hurt — but see it as an opportunity to understand why you are reacting a certain way; it will make you grow.
By the way, I am not talking about abusive relationships here, including with someone who is a narcissist or is gaslighting you.
5. Try leaning into the gray area of things.
Remember when I mentioned black-and-white thinking? Well, the best way to change this pattern of all-or-nothing thinking is to notice that, sometimes, two things can coexist. You can feel both bored with and love your partner. You can want to spend time alone and miss your partner. Your partner can be not as sensitive as you are and still be a good match for you. And so on…
6. Practice being okay with spending time alone.
There is nothing wrong with needing to unwind and disconnecting from your partner for a few days and spending time with yourself instead. In fact, it’s healthy! It will also help you two reconnect more afterward. Just remember to talk to your partner, so that they do not freak out about you going MIA!
And remember that there is nothing wrong with having our own space, our own hobbies, and our own interpersonal relationships outside our partnership. On the contrary, this is more than healthy!
Being a highly sensitive person is a gift, and being with a partner who tries their best to learn and grow by your side is sometimes all we need. Relationship anxiety can be healed. But in the meantime, the important thing to remember is to be patient with yourself. After all, you are your biggest ally.
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