Relationships are the best — they can be full of fun, with lots of laughter and late-night conversation and extravagant dates. But they can also be major sources of fear and worry, and there are actually some very common causes of anxiety in relationships, as it turns out. Though knowing your anxiety triggers in a relationship may not solve the feelings themselves, it’s always a good thing to identify a problem, since once you know what’s up, you have a shot at changing things.
As such, I talked to 15 relationship and love experts about the things they see in their daily practices that most frequently bring up major anxiety and fear in relationships, and what you can do if you’re seeing some of these issues in your own partnership. It seems as though there are some boldface matters that can bring up painful feelings no matter what else you have going on a relationship, which include things like money, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, and the like. As it turns out, even just downright falling in love in general can be super stressful! Here are 15 causes of anxiety in relationships, so you can flag what’s going on in your own life.
1. Falling In Love
“Anxiety in relationships fluctuates,” Dawn Maslar, aka “the Love Biologist,” tells Bustle. “A couple will have more anxiety at the start of dating.” As time goes on, it dissipates. “The anxiety drops dramatically once they fall in love,” she says.
One you’re posted up with someone, you chill. “A part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for registering anxiety, deactivates when a couple falls in love,” she says. Truly love this! “But this deactivation is temporary and after a year or two the anxiety can return.” Oh, drat.
“The biggest cause of anxiety is becoming vulnerable to another person,” she says. “We have competing issues — one for safety and one for love.” But safety and love can absolutely be one and the same. That said, “in a relationship, you can go back and forth” between feeling like you have to stay safe and feeling like you are able to let yourself go to love, especially if you've been hurt before. Go slow — and when it feels safe, let yourself feel everything.
“Money is a major cause of anxiety in relationships,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “People are not usually honest about money — until there is a problem.” And then it’s already too late.
“It can be the discovery of an incompatibility in saving and spending, or a hidden job loss — people are ashamed of this type of loss — or a hidden bank account or regular expense,” she says. Whatever the case may be, it’s ugly.
“In addition, lots of couples think that love conquers all, until they marry the penniless poet and realize that the expense of replacing the hot water heater is stressing them out and that penniless poet they love is looking like a drag without a real job,” Masini says. “Things change. Money in relationships is a constant. Deal with it or face anxiety.”
“Jealousy is one of the biggest causes of anxiety in relationships,” life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. “Jealousy stems from a lack of trust, and a lack of trust typically comes from low self-esteem.” So build up your self-esteem, and you’ll have a better shot at sidestepping this one. “In theory, the best way to work on jealousy is to work on building up your own self-esteem,” Rogers says. In practice — it works!
4. Yeah, Seriously: Jealousy
[Jealousy] brings out our greatest insecurities, and can turn a healthy relationship into a toxic reality in a very short time,” certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle. “The jealous partner gets overwhelmed with anxiety expecting and fearing the worst.” Instead of assuming the best, they always look for the worst possible outcome.
“The object of the jealousy is put on the defensive fending off accusation and being asked to justify their behavior on a continuing basis,” she says. “The outcome is a dark cloud over the relationship that will take its toll on both partners. Jealousy needs to be addressed through therapy or coaching unless it is proven to be factual and handled accordingly." And if jealousy is actually based in fact — well, that’s a whole other matter.
5. Fear Of Losing Love
There’s a popular incorrect belief that often comes up in relationships: “If I'm not ____, then she or he will stop loving me,” psychologist Erika Martinez tells Bustle. “It's a common one that I hear in my office often, and it keeps people so much inside their heads that they're not paying attention to their partners or enjoying the relationships.” Danger zone. Paying attention to your partner and enjoying your relationship is how you ensure both — your partner and your relationship — are healthy and happy.
“[When you stop,] that's when relationships start to go south,” she says. Stay present.
6. Fear Of Abandonment
“One of the major causes of anxiety in a relationship is the fear of rejection or the fear of abandonment,” Darren Pierre, educator, speaker and author of The Invitation to Love: Recognizing the Gift Despite Pain, Fear, and Resistance , tells Bustle. “Our own insecurities are often mirrored back to us by our partners.” It’s natural to worry about such things, but instead of keeping it to yourself, talk about it.
“Rather than allow those insecurities to incubate anxiety, name those things with your partner so they can support you in those spaces of growth that are there for you,” he says.
7. Separation Anxiety
“Separation anxiety, or the worry that your partner is going to leave you when he or she gets angry with you — fear of abandonment — is one of the most common causes of anxiety in relationships,” Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child, parenting, and relationship psychotherapist tells Bustle. “Anxiety is one of the bad habits that interferes in relationships and age you.” Terrible combo: Interfering with your relatinoships and aging you!
“People who absorb things they see and hear about on the news that penetrate them to the core suffer from ambient anxiety and generally have not yet developed enough of an internal psychological and emotional barrier,” she says. “There is not enough internal protective layering for traumatic information to avoid internal shake-ups. The antidote and objective is for these women to develop a stronger identity and sense of self. Once we have a clear awareness of who we are, including personal views and opinions on life, relationships, religion, politics, morals, ethics, character, and values — only then can we set firm boundaries.” And boundaries are the key to keeping anxiety at bay here.
“Boundaries are required to stop unwanted information and behaviors from coming in and penetrating us to the core,” she says. From there, you’ll be calmer and happier.
8. Fear Of Rejection
“Most arguments over jealousy, family, work, social media, and money take some form of rejection as foundation,” zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. The underlying fear during these fights is that of being outright rejected.
“For instance, if you are having a heated discussion about how much time she spends with her sister or he spends with his buddies, it's really about ‘why don't you want to spend that time with me?’ for the most part,” she says. “Rejection is our feeling, but our behavior that follows it is defense or opposition; when we relax into our relationships we feel less rejected and thus, defending ourselves or acting oppositional falls away naturally.” Again, the more you can be present and relax in your relationship, the happier you shall be.
But when anxiety does come knocking, answer. “I'm a zen therapist, so my focus is on welcoming anxiety,” she says. “If it knocks on the door, you can open the door, address it, look at it, and then take an inhale and close the door, knowing you are informed. Do not open the door, invite it in, and make it coffee. It's there to keep you alert, not to be your friend.”
9. Ex Communication
“One major cause of anxiety in relationships is ongoing communication with an ex,” author, life strategist and speaker Carey Yazeed tells Bustle. “This not only causes anxiety but can lead to anger and eventually a breakup.” No good. “If you have to communicate with your ex, it should be explained to the new person you are dating why the communication is necessary.” And if you don’t have to do it, don’t — especially if it makes your current boo uncomfortable. Onward and upward.
“Distance coupled with a lack of communication can be a huge contributing factor for anxiety in a relationship,” sex and relationship expert Megan Stubbs tells Bustle. “When your partner is physically far away from you, it can be difficult to feel reassured or sustained by them.” Even if you’re talking and FaceTiming, you can still feel off.
“It is really important to rely on your words to convey what you are feeling when you cannot express yourself physically,” she says. “So to combat the anxiety which could easily be dissipated with a kiss, a hug, a look, or a touch, you have to use your words. It may be a challenge at first, but it is something that is totally doable. Don't feel bad telling your partner what you need from them. Closed mouths don't get fed.” A good mantra for us all.
“Doubt is a major cause of anxiety,” Gestalt life coach Nina Rubin tells Bustle. “It can be paralyzing because you're constantly reviewing every move and wondering if this is the best place for you to be.” Not a good look. “You might not think you should date him or her one day and the next day everything feels wonderful.”
If you’re deep in doubt, try to release yourself by allowing yourself the freedom of not having to make any decisions about your relationship for at least a month, and relaxing into what is instead.
12. Fear Of Finances
“According to this article by the American Psychological Association, three quarters of Americans are stressed about finances,” Shamyra Howard-Blackburn, sex and relationship therapist and owner of Conquest Counseling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tells Bustle, agreeing with Masini. “I see couples in my Baton Rouge, Louisiana, practice who report they are generally anxious about finances.” What’s more, it’s a slippery slope.
“I've found that anxiety relating to finances can cause other issues in the relationship,” she says. Work through money problems stat — before they work through you.
13. Worrying Your Partner Will Leave
“A fear of abandonment, in one form or another, is a major cause of anxiety in relationships,” Boston-based clinical psychologist Bobbi Wegner tells Bustle, echoing Pierre. “Our need for attachment to other people is hardwired and when someone perceives being left, it creates a lot of anxiety.” But it may not be based in reality.
“As children this necessary — babies and small children depend on others for their survival and learn very quickly how to get the attention of people close to them,” she says. “Although people grow up into adults, their style of attachment remains and follows them throughout adulthood.” So if you have an anxious attachment style, it’ll follow you around.
“When a person feels he or she is being abandoned — such as being broken up with, emotional withdrawal, lack of attention and attunement — anxiety rises very much like it did in childhood,” she says. As a result, you can feel really anxious and scared.
14. Aaand — Back To Money
“One huge cause of anxiety in relationships is money, as this is the number-one predictor of divorce according to a 2013 study from the Huffington Post,” executive editor and founder of Cupid's Pulse Lori Bizzoco tells Bustle. “Money provides for a comfortable future, which is why financial troubles are so hard on relationships.” But if you really love your boo, allow yourself to put money fears aside and see what happens next.
15. A Health Crisis
“A health crisis of yours or your partner's will create major anxiety, especially a major health issue,” relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. “Not only is your partner freaked out by a diagnosis or issue, you will also be worried and distressed.” If you or your partner has fallen ill, you’ll both automatically feel extra anxiety.
“This health crisis may take over the whole relationship, affecting your physical relationship and communications,” she says. “A partner may close down emotionally and you want to discuss every little detail.” Stay calm.
“To help your partner, allow them to pull away or cling closer depending on their needs,” she says. “You may also work on communications — especially with medical staff — to assist your partner.”
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (15)