Being in a relationship can be the best feeling in the world. Finding ‘The One’ is like reaching the long distant light at the end of the dating tunnel. It’s normal to experience relationship anxiety during the early stages of a relationship. We are plagued by questions such as ‘do they like me?’ ‘do I like them?’ ‘will this work out?’. Unfortunately for those who suffer from anxiety, these fears are unlikely to be assuaged as time goes on. In fact, as couples grow closer, anxiety can heighten as the stakes get higher. So how do we recognise anxiety within ourselves and how do we handle it?
To some degree, all of us suffer from a fear of intimacy. No one enjoys being hurt, rejected or discarded, but we cope with this fear in a variety of different ways. Some of us will overcompensate for our fear by smothering our partners with affection, and others will detach or avoid so that they never have to run the risk at all. Fear of intimacy can be fuelled by a negative inner monologue, which can promote unhealthy reactions such as hostile and paranoid thinking, distrust, defensiveness and jealousy, all while lowering self-esteem and confidence – ironically two traits that are consistently rated as being highly desirable and attractive in a partner.
The key principle of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is that through challenging negative cognition, we can break the cycle of negative thinking and subsequently change our behaviours. However, before we can challenge our negative thinking in the context of a relationship, we have to first allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Being in a relationship involves putting yourself out there and running the risk of being hurt. We must first accept that this hurt may happen and that this is okay. We, humans, are much more resilient to suffering than we give ourselves credit for. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and accept the risk of being hurt, we protect ourselves from letting one awry affirmative act on our partner's behalf bringing the whole house of cards tumbling down.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable comes along with letting your partner help you. Communication, as always, is key. However, it can be hard to let your partner know how to help you if you don’t know yourself. Find the right balance between opening up and not becoming entirely emotionally reliant on your significant other. It’s important to remember to take their feelings into account as well – relationships are a two-way street and it is very likely that your partner has fears, worries, and concerns of their own.
If left unchecked, anxiety can create distance in relationships. Anxious thoughts are distracting and can prevent us from really relating to our partner. In practice, they can snowball and leave you feeling insecure. You might act out against your partner based on these irrational thoughts, which in turn can set your partner off, effectively creating the distance that you initially feared. We are much more resilient than we think – and can handle the hurts and rejections we so fear. Humans have an incredible capacity to heal, and, an incredible capacity to love.
Stay tuned for part two – discussing how to deal with a partner who is anxious in a positive and healthy dynamic