Even when you truly want a relationship—when you're excited to call someone your partner—you can still get anxious as things progress. Now, it could be because your partner genuinely isn't right for you. But other times, the anxiety has less to do with your partner, and more to do with your internalized fears surrounding the idea of a romantic relationship. These fears are classic manifestations of relationship anxiety.
“Relationship anxiety can be described as the dread of losing oneself in a relationship,” says David Klow, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist. “It's as if we would no longer be who we are if we got too close to someone else. The fear for some men is that if they had a relationship that was too intimate that they would forfeit a vital sense of independence and autonomy.”
If you suspect your fear is getting in the way of an otherwise great relationship, you're going to have to overcome your relationship anxiety. We asked three relationship experts for tips on how to do that, and here's what they said.
Believe you’re good enough for your partner.
Sometimes our anxiety comes out of a fear of rejection or abandonment. We don’t believe we deserve the person we’re dating, so we figure out excuses to not pursue a more meaningful and serious relationship.
“Most often people experience relationship anxiety as a fear of being unwanted or being seen as less valuable as a romantic partner,” says Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed mental health professional and co-founder of Viva Wellness. “This may come with thoughts that someone is ‘out of your league’ in some way. Dating can sometimes tap into a core belief of 'I'm not good enough' that has deep-seated roots." This can lead to self-sabotage and putting up even more barriers between oneself and a romantic partner, Caraballo explains.
Decide whether it's good or bad anxiety.
There’s a fine line between anxiety, nervousness, and excitement. That’s in large part because our body has the same physiological response to all three emotions: the heart beats faster and surges of cortisol are released in the brain.
“That’s why not all anxious feelings are alike,” says Stephen Snyder, MD, a sex and relationship therapist and host of the Relationship Doctor podcast. “There's good anxiety, where you're doing something new and exciting; it’s when stress and excitement [are] all rolled together. Then there's bad anxiety, which is a premonition that something bad is about to happen. Bad anxiety usually means something needs fixing, or that your anxiety meter isn't working very well.”
If you’re feeling anxious in a relationship, it’s necessary to distinguish what kind of anxiety it is, Snyder says. “If it's good anxiety, appreciate the fact that your body is simply on high alert. If it's bad anxiety, consider whether you might need to make a change somewhere, or perhaps get treatment for an anxiety problem.”
Surrender to the relationship.
If you're feeling relationship anxiety—and you know it's coming from your own irrational fears of intimacy—one solution is to do the opposite of what your gut is telling you. Anxiety makes you want to run away from the thing that causes you to fear—but instead, what if you leaned into it? The more you expose yourself to something that makes you nervous, the less nervous you become.
"See how it goes if you surrender yourself a bit into the relationship," Klow says. "While there can be an anxiety about merging with another person, ultimately it can bring us the most joy and fulfilment in life to pursue intimacy.”
The worst thing that happens is you get your heartbroken. Don’t get us wrong, heartbreak is awful, but you’ll survive. Heartbreak happens. That’s what it means to be human. And you can’t let your fear of heartbreak get in the way of having a meaningful relationship.