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Are you struggling with relationship anxiety, fear of abandonment or perhaps avoiding close relationships? If so, you may have relationship anxiety, here we explain what it is and how you can get help.

What is relationship anxiety?

Relationship anxiety is a form of anxiety disorder that is mainly linked to relationships. This anxiety can affect both individuals who are in a relationship and those who are single but worried about future relationships. It is a fear or worry that can be linked to many aspects of a romantic relationship, from the beginning of a relationship to its development and maintenance. The cause of relationship anxiety is often complex but it is possible to get treatment and relate better to other people.

Relationship anxiety early in life

Relationship anxiety can develop early in life during attachment to our parents or other caregivers. Depending on how they meet our needs, we can become differently secure and have different approaches to relating to other people. The early years are thus important for how we behave in relationships, but they are not crucial, and treatment is possible.

The role of attachment in relationship anxiety

Attachment to other people is something we create during our first years of life. Research shows that there are four different attachment styles: secure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganised.

In secure attachment, there is often clear communication and stable contact with other people. There is little fear of closeness or abandonment. In ambivalent attachment, you may be very anxious and seek a lot of reassurance from your partner about not being abandoned. The avoidant attachment person is more withdrawn in relationships and does not get close to others. The disorganised attachment is very much based on fear and may become confused and unpredictable in contact with others.

A study in Psychology Today notes that “Living with anxiety can have a profound impact on relationships. The effects of anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways and can significantly impact the dynamics between individuals. One common effect is the tendency to become either overly dependent or isolated within a relationship. Attachment is not a diagnosis but only a theory that can explain how we behave in relationships.” It is possible to get help if you think you have a problematic pattern.

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Causes of relationship anxiety

Causes of relationship anxiety can be varied and include previous negative relationship experiences growing up, low self-esteem, fear of repeating the mistakes of previous relationships, or insecurity and uncertainty in the current relationship. There may also be underlying trauma and it is good to seek help from a licensed psychologist or therapist if you have these issues.

Symptoms of relationship anxiety

Symptoms and signs of relationship anxiety can include:

  1. Fear of rejection: An overwhelming concern about being rejected by the partner, which can lead to avoiding approaching or engaging fully in the relationship.
  2. Fear of intimacy: Difficulties in creating or maintaining emotional closeness, often due to fear of being hurt.
  3. Excessive concern about the status of the relationship: Constant doubts about the stability of the relationship or the partner’s feelings, even in the absence of real problems. This may involve asking the partner again or otherwise seeking confirmation.
  4. Jealousy and distrust: Unjustified feelings of jealousy or a tendency to suspect the partner without reason. It can also be related to various control behaviors.
  5. Need for constant reassurance: Continually seeking confirmation and reassurance of the partner’s feelings and commitments in the relationship.
  6. Avoidance behavior: Avoiding serious relationships or withdrawing from a relationship when it starts to become serious or when feeling close for fear of losing autonomy, which is unfounded.
  7. Emotional roller coaster: Experiencing extreme highs and lows in mood based on events in the relationship.

If you are having difficulties in your relationship or relating in general, you may want to seek help. The problems may also be related to other disorders such as trauma, social phobia or other anxiety disorders so it is important to get an assessment from a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist.

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Treatment of relationship anxiety

Treatment for relationship anxiety can include therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to work on triggering situations, thoughts and behaviors. For more severe problems, you may be helped by, for example, ACT therapy, which is a cognitive therapy developed to identify past patterns from childhood and help the client to overcome them. Couples therapy can also be helpful in managing anxiety within a relationship. Developing good communication and trust is also key to reducing relationship anxiety.

The length of treatment depends on the severity of the problem. It ranges from four sessions to two years, depending on how it manifests itself. Finding a psychologist or therapist that you can trust and rely on is essential as the relationship with the therapist is important.

Managing relationship anxiety

Relationships with other people are human experiences that touch the core of our existence. It is therefore useful to seek help to change your patterns and create more intimacy in your relationships. Our service offers contact with psychologists and therapists who are ready to support you through your journey.

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12 common questions and answers about relationship anxiety

What is relationship anxiety?

Relationship anxiety is a form of anxiety disorder that is mainly linked to romantic relationships.

What causes relationship anxiety?

Causes of relationship anxiety can be varied and include previous negative relationship experiences growing up, low self-esteem, fear of repeating the mistakes of previous relationships, or insecurity and uncertainty in the current relationship. Underlying trauma can also be a cause and it is important to seek help from a licensed psychologist for these symptoms.

What does attachment have to do with relationship anxiety?

Attachment is something we create in relation to our primary caregivers and depending on how they meet our needs. There are four different attachment styles: secure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganized. Attachment theory is a theory of relating and not a diagnosis.

How is relationship anxiety different from regular anxiety?

Relationship anxiety can appear specifically in close intimate relationships such as in love relationships but you can have anxiety in other relationships too such as with friends, co-workers or your children.

How common are the different attachment styles?

Studies have shown that around 60% of the population are securely attached, around 15% avoidant, 10-15% ambivalent and 15-20% have a disorganised attachment.

Does relationship anxiety develop at a certain age?

The foundation for relationship anxiety can be laid in the early years of life but it can also be influenced by later events of stress and difficult life events such as trauma.

How does social media affect relationship anxiety?

Social media can exacerbate relationship anxiety by comparing oneself a lot to others, which can increase negative feelings.

What are the symptoms of relationship anxiety?

There are many symptoms of relationship anxiety but some of them are concerns and fears such as rejection, intimacy, relationship status and jealousy. There can also be avoidance and withdrawal. The relationship may be out of balance with an emotional rollercoaster.

Is it common to feel fear in relationship anxiety?

It is not uncommon to feel fear in the context of relationship anxiety, although in more severe cases the fear tends to be stronger. It is important to acknowledge your feelings and work through them, possibly with the help of a therapist.

Can relationship anxiety be treated?

Treatment for relationship anxiety can include therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to work through anxiety-provoking thoughts and behaviors. For more severe problems, you may be helped by, for example, schema therapy.

What is schema therapy?

Schema therapy is a cognitive therapy method developed to address different attitudes and life patterns that have been present since childhood and adolescence, but it can also be helpful for problems later in life.

Where can I go if I need help?

Through our site you can book an initial session with a licensed psychologist or therapist to describe your problems and start planning a treatment. We have therapists working in CBT, schema therapy and couple therapy. We can help you make the difficult things easier.

Treating relationship anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapy

Here we go through how relationship anxiety could be treated using $1. Help is available and here you can get an idea of the treatment:

Assessment of symptoms

The first step is for a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist to help you evaluate your situation and history. They will assess whether your problems may also be related to other mental health problems. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and goals

You will learn about how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors affect you both physically and mentally. They work on analysing situations and also set goals for treatment.

Tools to change behaviors and patterns

You will work on identifying and changing patterns of thought and behavior. Together with your therapist, you can work with different tools to overcome your problem. You will be given homework to practice between sessions.

For more severe problems, you can attend schema therapy.

If you experience problems since childhood that cause a lot of suffering in relation to other people, you can go to $1. It is a cognitive method developed to work on life patterns that cause problems and aims to increase the quality of life.

Couples therapy for relationship problems

If you have problems in your love relationship and have developed a pattern that is not healthy in relation to each other, you can also go to couple therapy, such as Integrative Behavioral Therapy for Couples (IBCT), which is a cognitive behavioral therapy for couples.

Follow up and evaluate progress

You will be supported by your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you. We make the hard things easier.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.