How to deal with relationship anxiety (whatever your status)
Anxiety is an epidemic. It affects one in five of us in the UK and even the Hollywood elite – Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Kendall Jenner are all sufferers. And whether we’re single, in long-term commitment or are experiencing a break-up, our relationship status is one of the biggest causes of worry.
‘Levels of anxiety have risen because our pace of life has changed significantly and we’re bombarded with mixed messages and societal pressures,’ says Relate counsellor Peter Saddington. ‘It still falls on women to “have it all”, while single women often have the added pressure from their own bodies and society and, in some cases, their families – saying they need to be settled by a certain age.
‘Many men, meanwhile, feel the need to provide and don’t know if opening the door for a woman on a date is gentlemanly or un-feminist.’ Here, experts explain the different types of relationship anxiety.
*If anxiety is eating you up, it’s probably because you’re jumping to the worst conclusion. Try making ‘I don’t know’ your mantra.
ANXIETY IF YOU’RE… In a new relationship
You’ve finally found someone you’re happy to share a bed and the remote control with, but you’re freaking out. This is totally normal, by the way. ‘Anxiety here often stems from the struggle of losing control, being vulnerable and keeping your independence versus not wanting to be alone,’ says psychologist Dr Max Blumberg.
FIX IT: In the early stages of a relationship, talking about thoughts, feelings and emotions can be scary, but now more than ever is the time you should be talking. ‘Say to the other person: “I’m having a wonderful time with you but I’m feeling really anxious because of X”,’ says Dr Blumberg. ‘Identify the problem yourself first otherwise you might scare the other person off and escalate the conversation into an unintentional conflict.’
ANXIETY IF YOU’RE… Single
On the one hand, it’s easy to be single in London as you’re distracted with a thriving social scene. On the other, meeting someone is difficult as no one seems to have time to date. It doesn’t help when we’re faced with reports that being in a relationship is ‘the most common way to increase happiness’.
FIX IT: ‘Try not to compare yourself to others; instead think about what you want and why you want it,’ says Anna Williamson, author of Breaking Mad (£12.99. Bloomsbury). ‘Accept that not settling means it could take a while for you to find what you want and appreciate it.’ If you’re serious about wanting to meet somebody, be proactive.
‘If you date a lot but never seem to meet the right person, think about where you’re meeting people and what you’re looking for that says this person is wrong,’ says Peter. ‘Are your standards so high you’ll never meet them? There’s often an underlying reason you’ll need to unpick.’
ANXIETY IF YOU’RE… In an unhappy relationship
It’s frightening to leave the security of a relationship and be single again. But all our experts agree that, unless you address the underlying problem in your relationship, the anxiety will never go away. In fact, it will probably get worse and you could find yourself repeating
the pattern with someone new.
FIX IT: If you want to salvage the relationship, you need to talk to your partner. Obviously. ‘If you feel more comfortable sending an email or writing a letter, do it,’ says relationship author Anna. ‘It’s a good way of allowing your partner to digest what you’ve got to say and consider their own feelings, but don’t let this be the only way you communicate. Make sure this is followed up with a face-to-face conversation.’
If you want to break up, ‘Say why you’re unhappy and that you don’t want to continue in the relationship, but explain why without blaming the other person,’ says Peter. Anna adds that relationship counselling can be helpful even for those who decide to break up. ‘You walk away feeling happier and secure.’
ANXIETY IF YOU’RE… In a seemingly happy relationship
On the surface you have it all: Great jobs, good looks, a smug Instagram feed and you never argue. But at home it doesn’t always feel like that.
‘Generally what’s going on here is a problem with intimacy,’ says Peter. ‘Out in public or with friends you can talk to each other because there is somebody else present. And not arguing often means avoiding confrontation entirely, out of fear that the other person will leave them or one of you will say something the other can’t bear to hear.
‘Dissatisfaction grows, nothing is dealt with and you start leading separate lives.’
FIX IT: ‘Choose a time to talk when you both have at least half an hour and won’t be distracted,’ says Peter. ‘Be clear in your mind of what the problem is and focus on “I am unhappy with X because it makes me feel Y,” rather than accusing your partner of something.’
Counselling can be beneficial, too. ‘What generally emerges is that women are good at keeping the conversation flowing whereas men respond well to being asked questions. If they haven’t said anything up until that point it’s because their partner didn’t ask!’
ANXIETY IF YOU’RE… Going through a break-up
Break-ups can throw up all sorts of past baggage. ‘Men’s response is likely to be starting another relationship as soon as possible as a way of protecting themselves and not being vulnerable,’ says Peter.
‘Women tend to feel guilty and compare themselves to their ex’s new partner, building up negative images about themselves.’
FIX IT: Start by talking to friends and family. ‘You need another perspective. When you say out loud what your fears and misconceptions are, it’s not long before someone else says “that’s rubbish”,’ says Peter.
‘You then start seeing things in a more balanced manner.’ If you think counselling could help, Peter says it often takes just three or four sessions to get you feeling more empowered and thinking more rationally.
‘Some self-help books can be beneficial too, as they normalise your problems, which can reduce your anxiety,’ he adds.
‘As do healthy distractions such as exercise and socialising, but dealing with problems means spending time alone reflecting on what exactly it is that is troubling you. Ignoring your feelings won’t work.’
Read more: What’s your attachment style?