Relationship Anxiety 101 – Here’s What You Need to Know

by | Jan 24, 2021 | Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Relationships | 44 comments

As much as I love offering a deep dive into specific topics through my courses, it pleases me enormously to also offer the resource of this blog, where I can freely and regularly share both my personal and psychological musings, insights, and tools. The blog is a way that I remain in reciprocal relationship with my readers, a weekly opportunity to say hello with more depth and breadth than social media platforms allow. Whether I’m writing about parenting or health anxiety or relationship anxiety or transitions, I try to slow and simmer down into the heart of my soul so that I can offer something meaningful to the ever-expanding conversation available on the Internet

But when you’re suffering from your specific brand of anxiety, it can feel overwhelming to sift through almost 700 posts. So for today, instead of offering something new, I am collating the most important posts on relationship anxiety. You can find a Relationship Anxiety Collection here, which I created the last time my team and I did a blog makeover in 2018, but there have been many posts on relationship anxiety since then that elucidate some of the key mindsets and practices that can help you break free.

Here’s my work with relationship anxiety in a nutshell, including links to the most recent posts that elucidate the core concepts:

Relationship anxiety is a portal into deeper layers of anxiety, pain, and wounds that have lived in you for a long time. In other words, this is unlikely the first time you’ve experienced anxiety.

Relationship anxiety, like all forms of anxiety, is both a projection and a protector: intrusive thoughts and mind-spins are your unconscious’ way of projecting what needs attention onto the screen of your partner and when you’re stuck in anxiety your heart is protected, which means anxiety is doing its job: keeping you safe from taking the risk of loving.

The most difficult aspect of this work is recognizing that anxiety is a projection because the anxious mind is deeply attached to the question: But what if it’s true? What if this isn’t relationship anxiety but it’s actually my truth? This is the million-dollar question, and when you remain fused to this question you successfully avoid taking full responsibility for your inner world.

The number one reason why people are afraid to do the deeper work is because they’re afraid of what they’ll find, either about themselves or about their partner. They’re afraid that they’ll discover that their deep down truth is that they have to leave the relationship. This fear, in itself, is one way that you know that you’re suffering from relationship anxiety, for why would you be scared of discovering that you want to leave unless you really don’t want to leave?!?

What you’ll actually discover when you turn inward are the fears that barricade your heart and prevent you from loving deeply. When you soften these fears, you find more love, not less. You’ll discover that these fears often show up as some form of the “enough” question: “Is my partner enough?” which often flip-flops into, “Am I enough?” These two poles reflect our core attachment fears around abandonment and enmeshment. Most of us have a combination of both. This is one of the essential questions that lives inside relationship anxiety, as well as one of the most powerful healing opportunities.

Another key element to breaking free from relationship anxiety and rewiring the anxious brain is learning how to respond differently to the initial trigger and not latch onto first-response interpretations. I explain this concept here.

This is the piece that many therapists miss: working in the realm the heart. We cannot heal if we’re not willing to feel, and yet many therapeutic modalities attempt to bypass the messiness of the heart and only work with the mind. While it’s essential to correct cognitive distortions and learn how to respond effectively to our thoughts, we do not heal in the mind alone. Healing happens in the heart.

Lastly, people often ask me about the difference between relationship anxiety and ROCD. Here’s how I see it. 

I hope that’s helpful. Of course, if you’re ready to take a deep-dive into your inner work through the portal of relationship anxiety, consider my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course. But many people have found healing from this blog alone, and I intend to keep writing it for as long as the muse taps on my shoulder.

Thank you for reading. I’m so glad you’re here.

Categories

44 Comments

  1. Sheryl!

    Thank you for this. As a person who loves to be organized and have everything laid out in easy to follow steps/lists, this made me happy :).

    I was working on the OYH course, but I stopped and missed about a week because I thought I was feeling better and didn’t need the work. I could only afford OYH so maybe when I have the funds, I’ll get the RA course!

    I know in previous posts, you have said you can’t offer personal advice, but I just have one question: A lot of the time, I am excited to see my girlfriend. I am excited to talk to her on the phone. I’m excited to give her a hug, but when I do all these things…. I feel nothing. It just feels like I’m looming over her (out of body in a way?) and not hating the moment, but not basking in love either. Before I do all these things, the thought excites me and fills me with love, but when those moments come, nothing happens.

    Is this being emotionally blocked or fear shutting me down? I would really appreciate your insight!!

    Warmly,

    ckay

    Reply
    • It sounds like a protection mechanism to protect you from feeling the vulnerability in the moment. And also remember that love is not only a feeling, so it’s okay to hug without the feeling present. And usually the more we chase after the feeling of love, the more it recedes.

      Reply
    • Hi Sheryl!

      I recently signed up for the conscious wedding course. I am on lesson 1 and going through the stages of fear. I truly love my partner and an also a co-parent to his teens and we did have a few things come up as far as priorities with $ for college and other things but You mention Knowing fear where you deep down know your just settling. That really scared me because I am also reading the wisdom of anxiety and it really talks a lot of there is no perfect relationship and you really have to lean into love and what love has been shown in the public eye is not real love. I have the deepest feelings for him but lately cant get rid of the pain in my chest. I am doing all the work I can and I know it all comes from fear from perhaps divorce, job loss and new job, bad relationships with people who were emotionally unavailable in the past and perhaps I am just expecting to be hurt so I am putting up walls. I am so scared to be hurt but he is so gentle and loving I know that since he has been married once this is taking a lot for him as well because his ex just walked out on him. I just want to stop feeling to uncertain about my whole life. Please help!!!

      Reply
  2. Hi Sheryl,
    I’m in the spiral of obsessive thinking after a very longtime and I cannot understand why.
    I was doing fine, doing my inner work, following your course on relationship anxiety and doing inner bonding.
    An intrusive thought of mine hit me hard yesterday: “I don’t like his chin”. Boom. I’m spiralling ever since.
    Not because of the thought itself that I know is just a cry for attention from my subconscious, but because I asked myself “what feelings am I covering up with this thought?” and I can’t seem to find any answers. I keep obsessing about this last question, which is another cover up for some other core painful feeling I guess.

    Reply
    • This comment made me laugh because, though I love my partner very much, I don’t like his chin either!

      I’m (obviously) not Sheryl, but I wonder if by obsessively searching for hidden feelings, you are actually giving your anxiety and doubt more power and strength in your mind. It sounds to me like you feel as though you are out of control, and you are using the search for a “hidden feeling” as a way of trying to regain that sense of control. I wonder what would happen if you allowed the intrusive thought to simply exist without trying to force a solution to it? It is very, very normal to love and be satisfied with the totality of a person and still have small things about them that bother you or feel imperfect.

      Reply
      • Hi 🙂 thanks for your word. Yeah, I think I ended up obsessing about hidden feelings haha but I was reading in another article that just asking the question “what is this thought keeping me from feeling?” is enough to break the circle and, in fact, some resonable answers came up in the next couple of days without even thinking about it. It was more like an intuition than an actual thinking process 🙂
        The answers that came up were that “I’m not loving/trusting myself completely” and “I’m trying to make someone else responsible for my aliveness/wholeness” and I think the intusive thoughts are pointing out to the feelings of aloneness first and then loneliness

        Reply
  3. Thanks yet again Sheryl!

    KH – I’m not currently in a relationship but in the past I’ve experienced exactly what you describe. I’d be interested to hear Sheryl’s thoughts on this too.

    Reply
  4. Dear Sheryl, I am deeply grateful for you, your work, and your courage to honor the Muse tapping at your shoulders. Your blog was and has been a sturdy vessel that invited and welcomed me to dive deep into my inner work when motherhood’s threw me into the thrashing waters and tide swells of anxiety over eleven years ago. Thank you for always providing a warm and safe place here and in your courses where I can truly expand my understanding of my HSP inner world and the wisdom of my anxiety. Your wisdom of Sunday’s are so timely as the Sunday blues are so intense for me as a teacher mom especially during this pandemic. In deep gratitude, for all you share in courage and vulnerability.
    💛 Patrícia

    Reply
    • Thank you for this beautiful comment, Patricia. It warmed my heart.

      Reply
  5. Sheryl, thank you for this post – having the Relationship Anxiety Collection is so helpful, but it will also be nice to have this succinct post to reference the basics.

    Your work has helped me tremendously in the five months since I crossed the threshold into my ‘dark night of the soul’ amidst a number of transitions. It’s hard to imagine where I would be if it wasn’t for stumbling onto your website. I have found so much healing and wise guidance since and will forever be grateful. I have found my heart always lands on the “Am I enough?” question at the core of my hooks and instructive thoughts. As such, I’m greatly looking forward to the upcoming Trust Yourself live course next month! Thank you again.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad the blog has been helpful and I look forward to seeing you on the Trust Yourself course, Taylor!

      Reply
  6. Thank you for your words Sheryl.

    KH I also have the same questions. It has also taken me a long time to leave relationships in the past with struggling to make a decision being part of this; even when no red flags I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But having left i was happy that I had. Surely there must be times (even without red flags) when you might actually be happier with someone else? Thank you for any thoughts on this Sheryl.

    Reply
    • FH and KH,

      Your posts certainly stirred some unsettling emotions for me, as in the past, I too have struggled to bring something to an end, only to eventually find myself relieved and feeling like I “did the right thing” once I was able to bring myself to end it (or, when I was younger, avoid the issue long enough so that they would end it for me, haha).

      I think that those instances in themselves speaks to FHs point, that yes, there are times (even without red flags) when you might actually be happier with someone else. Obviously, upon hearing that, our anxious minds immediately go into panic mode, as the mere possibility of those instances existing opens the possibility that our current relationships could very well be one of those instances! Ahhhhhh! But what if we chose not to let our thoughts and questions stop there? (Which, by the way, is exactly what our anxiety and defense-mechanisms are telling us to do… “This path COULD be wrong; it may just lead to hurt; you don’t HAVE to feel the pain… abort abort abort!”). Instead, let’s try to push ourselves just a little further…..

      Anxious Thought- In the past, even in my relationships with a lack of red-flags, I ultimately felt relieved and a sense that breaking up was the right thing to do! What if that’s the case now?

      Deeper Question and Thought – (Deep breath in, deep breath out). Perhaps my sense of relief in the past wasn’t necessarily from no longer being attached to my past partner, but more-so from no longer being attached to the anxiety and questioning every day. Perhaps it was nice to finally have a break from the mental fog and chaos that I experienced day in and day out, so it would make sense that once I was able to have a period of respite from those thoughts, it felt good, it felt right. So what if now, as my older, wiser self, I am able to find a different way to attain that period of respite? What if I don’t need to break-up with my partner, but instead try a new strategy to feel that same relief?

      Anxious Thought- But isn’t it still possible that, even without the presence of red flags, I could be happier with someone else?

      Deeper Question and Thought- Yes, it is absolutely possible, even probable, that my current partner and I aren’t as compatible or as easy-flowing as we could be with different partners. But then once I found that next person, would there be someone else out there who was even more compatible than them? Yep. And so on and so on. This alone shows the flaws in our societies idea of love – that there is someone out there that makes your jaw drop, gives you butterflies in your stomach, and believes in and supports you in everything you do, no questions asked! Who wouldn’t want that!? But while that idea is definitely romantic, it is also an unfair expectation to have. Unfair because in this belief, the person you desire isn’t allowed to be human, to be flawed, or to be unlike ourselves- they must naturally adhere to our beliefs and our desires, otherwise there might be someone better. It is also unfair to ourselves, as it sets us up to continuously be unhappy, never allowing ourselves to sink into the feeling of contentment, but instead always giving prominence to those things that we (ie- our partners) are lacking. Worst yet, it lends itself to the belief that our happiness and life’s-worth is dependent on the existence of someone else. I don’t think so. Because then by that same measure, what would happen if, heaven forbid, after finding our perfect soul-mate, something catastrophic were to occur and our love was whisked away from us? Has my life’s purpose died along with them? Am I no longer entitled to be happy so long as I am alive? No. Instead, it speaks to the fact that our happiness must come from a variety of things in this world: a cacophony of experiences, friendships, and thoughts, all of which a partner is only a part of.

      Anxious Thought – I don’t know… this doesn’t sound romantic at all, and I want romance. I have friends who have it, so I know it exists and I want to experience it too!

      Deeper Question and Thought – Or maybe this just doesn’t sound like what you currently believe “romantic” to mean. And, what if your idea of what romance is, is actually malleable, and that with some work can become even more powerful, sexy, and raw. That by shifting your focus and being open to learning new ideas, you can experience a romance that you can’t even fathom yet, and better yet, be able to hold onto that romance whenever YOU (not your anxiety or doubt) choose.

      Anxious Thought – I’m still worried…. what if, just like in the past, when I started to feel these feelings, it was a sign that it really was over and that I was just scared to leave?

      Deeper Question and Thought – Is it possible you are falling prey to the egos black and white thinking? That your brain is attempting to come up with the most efficient answer, because the quicker you arrive at one, the quicker you can evade the pain? Well brain, I’m going to push back a bit…. because I know you can handle it. Brain, you are brilliant, you are amazing and you are useful. But you are also flawed. You are an efficient machine, which sometimes makes you hasty. You are programmed to immediately recognize patterns, but you often erroneously perceive them when they aren’t even there. And you have evolved so perfectly that you identify danger and pain preemptively so that I may avoid and ultimately… survive. But I am not you, brain…. but rather, you are me (and only a part).

      Yes, past me did feel these same feelings in a previous relationship (even many) that ultimately didn’t work. But that doesn’t mean my current relationship isn’t different. Instead it is possible that you (brain) are seeing a pattern that actually doesn’t exist. And as much as I understand your rationale, there is at least a part of me that wants to explore this relationship and my feelings a bit more – and that is my decision, not yours. In fact, that disproves your pattern theory even further…. yes, I see the similarities, but there are subtle differences that matter this time. I’m fighting harder than I did last time. I am seeking help, through counsel and courses, that I didn’t do before. This is different.

      I also understand that in the past, leaving ultimately ended up being right for me at that time. But I am not who I was any longer. I am a new me, with more experience, with more adversity and new values. So you have to at least acknowledge that my solutions in the past MIGHT not be the best solution for me now. Think of me as a baby- when I was hungry and hadn’t yet learned to speak, you, brain, helped teach me to cry and make noise to let them know I was in need. But now, after years of hard work and trying new things, I have learned to talk. Today if I am hungry, I will communicate it another way, not crying, as I am no longer the same as I was back then. Would crying today work? Perhaps. But is it what I would choose to do? No. And that’s the point – I now have the power to choose… so today, I CHOOSE love, and let’s see where it takes us.

      (Sorry all, I initially started this as a reply, but suddenly found myself in a therapeutic writing/spewing session. Admittedly, I am hesitant to push “Submit Comment” as I risk vulnerability and coming off cheesy and imperfect. But despite those fears, I hope that this might help someone out there… so here it goes!)

      Reply
      • JB, thanks for risking vulnerability and posting this – I really appreciated reading it!

        Reply
      • JB, this statement really spoke to me: “ But I am not you, brain…. but rather, you are me (and only a part).” among many others you put here. I appreciated reading your comment and found it helpful!

        Reply
  7. Thanks so much, this was really timely. I thought I was “recovered” from my relationship anxiety for about 4 years now. I recently began a new certification program which has required deeper introspection than I’ve done in a long time and maybe even ever, and wham, the thoughts that I haven’t had in years are suddenly back. This threw me for a loop until my wise husband pointed out to me that my ego is trying to protect me from feeling what I really need to feel and keep my in my safe and familiar places. I knew he was right, but reading this post really solidifies that for me. The brain is a sneaky, sneaky beast!!!

    Reply
  8. thanks for this. Your work has given me the courage not to be constrained by ‘mainstream’ or ‘medical’ approaches to anxiety.

    Reply
  9. Thank you for offering such a wonderful free resource. It really is appreciated by myself, and I am sure by many others. I look forward to reading more!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Em! I’m so glad you’re here.

      Reply
  10. When there are red flags, it’s a different type of anxiety. This is where self-trust comes in: developing the muscle of discernment that allows us to differentiate between red-flag anxiety and relationship anxiety.

    Reply
    • Sheryl, I am new here and hope you might still comment on this article. What are red flags in your opinion? I find it really hard to discern as I know I have relationship anxiety and an insecure attachment Style and do project a lot! But my partner is anxiously attached with his own issues connected to it. So maybe you or others can share some of their experiences with that? Do all of you have safely attached partners who are confident with intimacy, boundaries etc? Or did you learn this and grow to have this individually and together in the Relationship? Thank you 🙂

      Reply
  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    I love how everything is all in one place, organization is always nice to me so thank you for laying it all out there.

    Remembering back to when I was a teenager, I was dating the girl of my dreams and now that I think about it, I had RA/ROCD! I know in another post you talked about being an adolescent and just “taking” and that being perfectly fine as long as you don’t bring that into adulthood.

    Would it have been possible as a teenager to learn differently or is it just not possible developmentally/psychologically wise?

    Hope that makes sense xoxo

    Reply
    • 100% possible that you had relationship anxiety as a teen. It’s actually quite common.

      Reply
      • Would it have been possible for me to work through the anxiety?

        I really missed out if I could’ve worked that all out. Wow :(.

        Reply
  12. Hi Sheryl,

    Your posts on relationship anxiety have been very helpful. I have yet to take your e-course, but may do so in the future when time permits. I feel like an outlier as a male with this issue, and in particular with the issue of physical and sexual attraction. I also have a red flag having recovered from pornography addiction, which I was doing before I met my wife and continued to do throughout our marriage until finally a couple of years ago I had an anxiety breakdown about my marriage and decided to get help. I have made tremendous progress with my addiction and my wife has been very loving and supportive. Yet, I still struggle with seeing my wife as sexually attractive and still have difficulty at times getting aroused when I am intimate with her. I guess my question is – is there hope for a guy like me who loves his wife and wants to stay in his marriage but sees sex with his wife as a struggle (which continues to cause anxiety for me)? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Oh, there’s so much hope, Jonathan. The fact that your wife is supportive and that you’ve been willing to do your inner work, including addressing the porn addiction, speaks to the fact that you both have what it takes to continue to create and grow a loving marriage. Have you read Your Brain on Porn? It might be helpful. The Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course would be a great place to start when you’re ready to dive in more deeply to your inner work.

      Reply
      • Thanks for taking the time to reply – it was very reassuring. Thanks for the book suggestion, too!

        Reply
  13. Dear Sheryl,

    These posts have been very helpful.

    My partner has been away since early December on a trip with his family. He is coming back in just a few days. When I think about seeing her again, a pang of fear/anxiety strikes my stomach. Does this mean I don’t want to see him and I don’t love him?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Correction: When I think about seeing him again.

      Reply
  14. My main fear is that if I do the inner work and heal & grow, I will outgrow my partner – meaning that we will no longer be suited to eachother as I will have changed too much as a person and become a different person to the one who first fell in love with him. Is this the same as what you were saying about being scared to heal incase I find out that my truth is that I have to leave? Is this just resistance trying to persuade me to NOT heal to keep me safe? Or is it a real possibility? (If so, how do i avoid it?).
    Also, thank you so much for your blog. I must have read hundreds of your articles by now and I have learnt an unbelievable amount ❤️

    Reply
  15. Sheryl,

    Not sure if you saw my first post on this thread (I understand you can’t reply to every post), but was hoping you could advise on which e-course would benefit me the most. Lack of attraction for my wife has been the main cause of my relationship anxiety (as I explained in my first post). So should I take the “Attraction” course or the “Relationship Anxiety” course? Thank you in advance if you are able to reply.

    Reply
    • Just responded. And by the way: you’re not an outlier with this work. There are many men taking the courses and reading the blog, but they don’t often speak up. Thank you for sharing your story here.

      Reply
  16. If you are scared of being single/alone, do you have to leave your relationship to learn to be single/alone? Or can I learn to heal this fear WITHIN my relationship? My relationship is very healthy and allows for growth and I don’t compromise myself just to stay in it.

    Reply
  17. Sheryl, do you write ever about, for example – feeling/thinking couples? Like someone who needs emotional validation pairing up with someone who is emotionally unresponsive (like if you tell them you were in a horrible earthquake and they just remain neutral and don’t say anything, lol). Are these kinds of opposites “pink flags”? Considering that a thinking type’s inferior is feeling – so it may not be able to be worked through much?

    Reply
    • I haven’t written about it but it certainly comes up in my work.

      Reply
  18. Dear Sheryl,

    Thank you for sharing all your wisdom with so much love. I have been following you for months now. Relationship anxiety has lived with me through every relationship in which I have felt deep connection and love. But the current relationship has taken it to a whole new level. I am mostly monogam-ish while my partner is polyamorous. We love each other a lot and the present relationship feels very nice to be in when I do not feel threatened. But when the fears and the intrusive thoughts take over, it is very difficult to convince myself that this is safe. Apart from having one other lover, my partner has an ex who has a very big presence in his life, who reaches out for him and then goes away at regular intervals for the last two and a half years. He lets her do that because he is very much in love with her and he has been honest about it. He is also a person who struggles with creating and holding boundaries. And these traits put me on the edge every now and then. However great the relationship feels at other times, it rattles me to be here when the intrusive thoughts take control. The anxiety also doesn’t let me stay in touch with my deeper, inner wisdom, intuition more often than not. In moments when I am able to connect to this wise self, I hear myself saying that this person loves me truly and I love him. And I also sense some trust in him and the kind of human being that he is. But then in other moments, I snap back to the red flags: his inability to see that he needs boundaries, his orientation is different than mine. Sometimes I go to him to seek assurance that my preferences will be respected. But I don’t know if it is possible for him to do that. What does this look like to you?

    Reply
  19. Hi Sheryl

    Not sure if you are still checking this, but I have a follow up question from my original post:

    Is it really possible to grow your physical/sexual attraction to your partner if that has been a struggle throughout the relationship (to be honest, there was some attraction at the start)?

    I have read in some places that it is not, so if this is a problem in your marriage, over time it will erode the relationship and the marriage – especially for men.

    Thanks in advance for sharing any thoughts you have on this.
    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    Reply
    • With the right tools, attraction can absolutely be grown for both women and men. It’s the premise of my Open Your Heart course :).

      Reply
      • Thank you for the quick reply. So if my main RA spike is attraction/sexual intimacy, which of your courses should I start with? The RA course or the OYH course?

        Reply
        • Absolutely start with Break Free From Relationship Anxiety.

          Reply
          • Thank you for again taking the time to respond to my questions. I will sign up for the RA course soon when my schedule opens up. Life is busy right now!

            So I have one more question. I understand you are not a sex therapist, or that doesn’t seem to be your area of expertise, but here’s my question:

            Can you change your arousal template or this fixed?

            I think this is the main source of my fears and anxiety. That my wife just doesn’t fit my template, does not get me aroused enough, and that there’s nothing I can really do to change that. This is not to say I have never been aroused by my wife – I have. But it’s a struggle. For instance, it’s very hard for me to orgasm without letting my mind wonder to thoughts or images I find more arousing. I will be up front – this is not a case of where I’m secretly homosexual and in denial – I’m not. I realize this is something that does not change.

            I would appreciate your thoughts on this if you can speak to it. Thanks again.

            Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Is my doubt about my relationship an offshoot of my own anxiety or is it a warning that I’m with the wrong person?

Many people wonder what “relationship anxiety” is and if they are, indeed, suffering from it. They also desperately want an answer to that million-dollar question.

The answer to this question is contained in the assessment. Fill in your information to receive an immediate answer (and a lot of reassurance just from going through the material).

Categories

Struggling with Relationship Anxiety?

Sign up for our free assessment

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest