Does the following describe you — you desperately want to connect with another person. You crave a relationship so badly, you’ll do anything to keep your partner with you. However, your frantic efforts to maintain closeness ends up pushing the one you love away?
If so, you might have an anxious attachment style, one of three insecure attachment styles. While this dynamic forms in early childhood, you can take action as an adult to heal your wounds and adopt a healthier way of relating. Let’s explore the question of what is relationship anxiety and how you can better manage your emotions and become more secure.
Your attachment style begins in earliest childhood. When you are an infant, you rely on your caregivers for everything — food, warmth, security, comfort. If your caregivers respond to your cries in a warm, nurturing manner, you internalize the message that the world is an inherently safe place.
You develop a secure attachment. You can handle temporary separations from those you love because you feel confident that they will return with their feelings toward you essentially unchanged.
However, sometimes, caregivers aren’t responsive. When this happens, your infant self reacts in one of several ways. Some infants withdraw, avoiding their caregivers even after they return. Others ramp up the volume, pitching a full-blown tantrum until they get the attention and care they need.
These children also become fearful that their future efforts to meet their needs will fall on deaf ears. Therefore, they cling to their caregivers, exhibiting extreme anxiety if they disappear for even a few seconds.
These cling-wrap behaviors can cause no end of trouble in adult relationships. Psychologists have found an association between anxious attachment and a vulnerable narcissistic personality style. Such individuals tend to exhibit behaviors that push prospective romantic partners away, such as going through their phones or computers for signs of infidelity without cause or demanding a partner spend every minute of every day with them. They ironically bring about the very abandonment they fear.
Fortunately, it is possible to overcome an anxious attachment style with therapy and hard work. It also helps to have a trusted individual in your life — although that person can take the form of a professional psychologist. Learning to respect your treatment times and avoiding behaviors such as texting your treatment provider after hours for non-emergency situations is excellent practice for when you’re ready to hit the dating scene again.
The sad reality is that not everyone has access to mental health services in the United States. Fortunately, you can discern whether you have an anxious attachment style by taking an online assessment. While it isn’t foolproof, doing so offers valuable insight into how you relate to others.
What if you can’t afford therapy but want to keep your relationship anxiety from derailing your current partnership? The following five tips can help keep your fears at bay, calming you and making you feel more secure.
Your significant other might love you very much — but their affection doesn’t come with psychic powers. Why not do the attachment quiz together and share your results? It’s a simple way to segue into a conversation about your needs.
Do a deep dive into your past unsuccessful relationships and take an unflinching look at the role you played in their demise. Did you push your partner away by invading their privacy or placing unrealistic demands on them to account for their time? If so, think about alternative behaviors you can use when something triggers your fear of abandonment — and share them with the one you love.
For example, you might say, “When you work too many late nights in a row, I feel concerned that you may have lost feelings for me. Can we schedule some time for us to connect without interruption and discuss your latest project to put my fears to bed?” Notice that you used “I” language and didn’t accuse your partner of infidelity — you expressed a need you had and respectfully asked to have it met.
People with anxious attachment styles are prone to codependent relationships. You might expect your partner to be everything to you and grow resentful when they don’t meet your every need.
Building a circle of trusted friends can help interrupt this cycle. When you feel secure that you have other people you can lean on when you feel lonely or anxious, you ease the burden on your partner. Of course, you still want your significant other to be there for you — but not every hour of every day.
Many people with anxious attachment styles feel extremely uncomfortable with being alone. Find solo activities that you love so that you begin looking forward to having time to yourself.
For example, some people find a regular yoga practice highly therapeutic. Others take solace in reading, hiking or gardening.
The convenience of modern communication is both a boon and bust for folks with anxious attachment styles. On one hand, you can connect with your loved one instantaneously, even if they’re on the other side of the world. On the other hand, you can feel your tension levels increase with each passing second they don’t reply to your text.
The answer? Pretend you’re on an extended overseas trip and establish regular check-in times — even if you and your significant other live together and only part ways for work and socialization. Knowing that you can expect a text or a call at 8:00 p.m. can help you resist the urge to message them at 7:00 — and 7:05, 7:10, etc.
Ideally, you can enter therapy alone or with a partner — but that isn’t always economically feasible. If you can’t afford traditional treatment, consider one of the modern alternatives. For example, many mental health apps offer real-time texting with trained counselors.
You can reach out to these individuals when you feel yourself getting ready to engage in maladaptive behaviors that might push your partner away or simply to get back on your level when you feel anxious. Such applications typically cost a fraction of the price of traditional therapy.
What is relationship anxiety? If you have an anxious attachment style, you could unwittingly sabotage the love you crave the most. However, by following these tips and seeking treatment, you can form a secure bond with the one you love.