Body + Mind is reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through some of the links on our site.
You might have heard the term “separation anxiety” before, but it can be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the different types of anxiety. What is separation anxiety in a relationship? Simply put, it’s a primal fear or distress caused by being away from your partner for an extended period.
This phenomenon is signaled by an increase in the hormone cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. When you’re away from someone you love fiercely or are dependent on, you may feel more stressed out and anxious than usual. Many people may notice that children or pets have the same reaction when away from their caretakers. Separation anxiety in a romantic relationship is similar — it’s just felt with your partner instead.
If you’re familiar with different cases of anxiety, separation anxiety feels much the same, except that it’s triggered by a person you love being away from you, whether it’s currently happening or just a thought. Separation anxiety is especially prevalent in children, but it can be seen in adults, too — mainly when you rely on a partner in your daily life.
In many cases, separation anxiety means that you and your partner are so intertwined that you feel safer with them there. If they leave for a certain period, you might feel like you are missing a piece of yourself. If you’re always around them, especially after potentially working from home over the past couple of years, you may feel like you need to rely on them to stay afloat.
This feeling can become painful if they have to leave for a business trip or visit family. Separation anxiety isn’t a good feeling, but it’s manageable if you know the signs and work toward treatment.
What is separation anxiety in a relationship? Many people may not know how to recognize the signs. Feelings of distress shouldn’t feel normal in your relationship, and if you’re feeling these things out of the blue — that is, neither you nor your partner did anything wrong to cause these feelings — then it’s a sure sign of separation anxiety.
Physical distress is the most noticeable sign of separation anxiety. General anxiety gives most people nausea or an increased heart rate, which puts them at risk for heart-related issues and events. Most people will start to pick up on their increased heart rate, nausea or stomachaches that often accompany anxiety.
If you experience emotional distress, you might feel intense moments of anxiety — the sick feeling that leaves your stomach feeling twisted. Without your partner, you may also feel helpless, like you can’t do anything or make choices for yourself. A a result, you should also look out for embarrassment — the feeling that comes with feeling helpless or not good enough.
Pay attention to any thoughts that race through your mind. Often, they result from anxiety and are not grounded in anything concrete. When your mind and body are panicked, though, you may not recognize that they are all fabrications of your brain.
Look out for these types of thought distortions:
Rest assured that these feelings typically emerge from anxiety. They are not rooted in any particular truth unless something recently occurred. Anyone who experiences separation anxiety could have these thoughts.
While it can be a good sign to depend on your partner for certain things, it demonstrates a level of dependence that could grow into something unhealthy if left unchecked. What is separation anxiety in a relationship but an indicator of how close you are with someone and how safe you feel in their presence?
The challenging part lies in learning to balance dependence and independence. You should feel okay if you are separated from your partner temporarily for any reason. That way, being apart will feel less overwhelming for you and your partner, and you can teach yourself how to function independently, too.
What is separation anxiety in a relationship? It serves as a warning that you may need to learn to be more independent. You can bond with and love your partner intensely without feeling those complicated feelings of anxiety. The goal is to work toward feeling like you’re in a stable, equal relationship.
You may try therapy to help you work through the issues. Once you learn the coping skills that allow you to be more independent, you won’t have to rely on your partner for simple things you can do yourself. You may also be asked to try out certain medications or a journal of your feelings. Be open to trying new things. Finding a solution for your separation anxiety will allow you to experience fun things in life without your partner. Then, you can come home and tell them all about it.