Picture this: a 20-something columnist with red hair and emotional intimacy issues is lying in bed next to the nicest boy she’s ever been with. He’s rough around the edges, but he makes her feel wanted, and he owns a motorcycle, so it’s not the worst coupling on the planet. He’s given no indication to this columnist that he’s particularly shallow or manipulative, but she still rolls to the other side of the bed stuck in a mental spiral that would make Hurricane Katrina blush. The boy can tell that something is wrong, but every time he asks her about it, she smiles and in a suspiciously high octave replies with, “Nothing. I’m fine.”
In reality, she was not fine — she was incredibly anxious.
As with any mental struggle, it becomes particularly complicated when one considers how anxiety can strain a relationship. Despite the problems anxiety can cause within a coupling, hope is not lost entirely. If one can learn to recognize the signs of anxiety-induced tension and fully process and communicate it, a person can go on and have plenty of smooth sailing, long-term relationships.
Anxiety is like knowing the world is going to end tomorrow without any evidence, and no one believes you because for them, it’s just a normal day. While it is not an experience that only affects my love life, it is something that wreaks a certain level of havoc on every relationship I’ve ever been in.
Everything will be going fine until I hear a tone change in how someone says something or there’s a slight disagreement. The small pattern violation will feel like a personal attack, sending a million and one signals to my brain to detach and put my guard up.
Take my experience as a warning. If you allow your insecurities and anxieties to call the shots in a relationship, there won’t be one to fix later down the line.
According to Dr. Lisa Firestone of Psychology Today, the first thing a person who suffers from anxiety in a relationship can do is to identify the insecurity your anxiety stems from.
Generalized anxiety can come from a myriad of different places, but when it begins to permeate a relationship, studies have shown it comes from insecurities that exacerbate low self-esteem.
These insecurities can be anything from a fear of being cheated on to abandonment, and they tend to stem from the working models for relationships formed around our early childhood caretakers.
Once the specific insecurities are identified, the next important step is to vocalize those feelings to your partner. I’m not saying you have to tell them your life story and every aspect of your deep childhood-trauma, but a simple, light moment of communication can go a very long way. Not only do these conversations help to get your own feelings of turmoil out, but they also quell the suspicions your partner may have been feeling as a result of your anxious behavior.
An example of how to communicate this is as simple as:
“Hey, I know I’ve been acting kind of weird lately. It has nothing to do with you. I’ve just been feeling really anxious and insecure lately, and if it’s OK with you, I’d really like to talk about it so that we can be on the same page from here on out.”
After a person communicates these things, it gives less power to all the worst-case scenarios bumbling around in one’s head. It also allows the other person to understand where you are coming from and even allow them the fluidity to communicate their thoughts and feelings with you as well.
Anxiety is difficult to deal with on its own, but in a relationship it can feel insurmountable. The best advice I can give, as one who has ruined a good amount of relationships out of fear, is that no amount of security makes up for loneliness. If a person is interested and willing to be with you, you have every right to communicate your feelings and thoughts with them. There is always the risk of conflict, but there is an equal chance your partner will understand and love you more for the little quirks and idiosyncrasies that make you a person.
Perhaps if I had taken my own advice, things with motorcycle boy could have been better. However, one can’t live in the past, and at the very least, I have learned it’s better to be open and honest than anxious and distant.