20 Expert-Approved Ways To Stop Overthinking Your Relationship

Turn off the “what ifs.”

by Kristine Fellizar and Carolyn Steber
Originally Published: 
How to stop overthinking in your relationship.
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Meeting someone that you hope to be with long term is exciting. It can also be nerve-racking, especially if you get in your head about it. Once you start overthinking in a relationship, it can feel like you're holding up a magnifying glass in an effort to find and prevent potential problems so that everything turns out perfectly. But experts say overthinking in this way actually does more harm than good.

"All of us overthink from time to time," Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW, a marriage and family psychologist, tells Bustle. "The key is distinguishing when it’s a once-in-a-while occurrence from when it’s becoming a serious problem — [one that] can shatter even the strongest relationship."

If you're constantly obsessing over "what if" scenarios, Smerling says, and then base your actions on events that haven't even happened, consider it a sign overthinking has gotten out of hand. The same is true if it feels like you're never living in the moment, but instead thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

When that's the case, you're no longer focusing on your relationship, which is one reason why overthinking in a relationship could drive you and your partner apart. With that in mind, here are 20 effective ways to turn off the "what ifs" in your head, and instead connect with your partner.


Send Texts & Move On

Should I say "hey," "hi" or "hello"? Is the kissy face emoji too much? I want to seem casual. Should I wait five minutes to text back? Or 15?

While it can happen to anyone, agonizing over what to text a partner is most common in the early days of dating, Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "It’s totally normal to be excited and anxious about a new potential relationship," she says, "but overthinking can also lead to its destruction."

Not to mention, if you say "hi" instead of "hey" and it results in a breakup, they weren't someone you needed to be with anyway. So take a deep breath, send the text, and move on with your day. As Thompson says, "Allowing yourself to balance your life and this new person will help you not overthink it."


Stop Rereading Their Texts

While there are times when it's necessary to read into a partner's text and craft the perfect response — like if you're arguing — everyday texts definitely don't require a reread. So if you catch yourself combing through them or looking for a problem, stop.

If a certain text is really bothering you, call your partner to talk, instead of trying to "figure out" how they feel by overthinking.


Don't Overanalyze Their Body Language

The same is true in person, where you might catch yourself looking for signs of trouble in your partner's intonation or body language.

If that's the case, "you might be overthinking your relationship because you have unclear communication," Megan Stubbs, Ed.D., a relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Maybe your partner speaks in generalities and that can leave you wondering what they specifically meant."

To find clarity, work on improving your communication with each other, Stubbs says. That way you won't have to invent answers because you'll already have them.


Enjoy The Current Phase Of Your Relationship

"Instead of always thinking about what the future holds and the end goal of the relationship, take time to enjoy whatever phase you’re in currently," Alisha Powell, Ph.D., a couples therapist, tells Bustle.

If worrying about the future has become a deeply engrained habit, it might take some time to adjust. But keep correcting yourself and soon you'll be more focused on what's going on around you instead of what may or may not happen down the road.


Stay Grounded

Overthinkers often struggle to trust that what they see and experience is the whole truth, intimacy coach Xanet Pailet tells Bustle. It's why you have underlying anxiety and/or wonder whether your partner really likes you, or whether the relationship will "work out."

Again, it can help to remember to stay grounded in the moment. "Grounding helps you stay in the present and will reduce the anxiety and tendency to allow your thoughts to spin," Pailet says. So remind yourself to live in the present rather than dwelling on the possibility of negative outcomes.


Challenge Your Assumptions

Overthinking about the possibility of cheating or other toxic situations is so easy to do. But keep in mind obsessing over "what if" scenarios rarely prevents them from happening. In fact, the anxiety and lack of trust actually tends to drive couples apart.

"When you’re anxious and overthinking, you’re not in the moment, so you’re not able to truly enjoy time with your partner," Smerling says. "And if you’re not present, how can you possibly grow in your relationship?"

The next time your partner doesn't text back right away, flip the script from "Oh, he's probably cheating on me" to "I'm sure he's just busy with work." This process will begin reprogramming your brain so you stop assuming the worst.


Focus On Personal Fulfillment

A partner can certainly do things to make you feel insecure or unsure about your relationship. But if all is well and you still feel uneasy, consider taking that overthinking energy and reinvesting it in yourself, Emmy Brunner, a psychotherapist, tells Bustle.

Find ways to remain fulfilled, possibly by hanging out with friends, starting a hobby, taking a class — basically working to feeling good about your own life as an individual. If you start to feel comfortable with yourself, you won't be as phased by normal ups and downs in your relationship.


Work On Trusting Your Intuition

If you get a gut feeling that something is wrong, don't over-analyze it, Brunner says. Instead, trust that your intuition is trying to tell you something, and do something about it right away. In doing so, you'll spare yourself the spiraling — and you'll also hone your instincts to be sharper in the future.


Ask For Advice Less Often

Friends and family members are great people to turn to for outside perspectives, relationship advice, etc. But if you rely on others to help you make every single relationship decision, you'll end up with too many opinions — making it easy to overthink.

Allow yourself to take a break from asking for advice, Anna Osborn, MA, LPCC, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Instead, use that time to pause and evaluate how you actually feel," she says. Over time, you'll learn to trust your own opinion and judgment of a situation.


Base Beliefs On Evidence

Try to base your thoughts in evidence rather than made up facts, Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle.

"We get ourselves very worked up by imagining what other people are doing or saying or thinking about us," she says. "Instead of doing this, please challenge yourself to only believe things you can find actual evidence for."

Worried your partner is mad at you? "Go find evidence," she says. "If there's no (or little) evidence, assume you are not the problem and that he's upset about something else."


Don't Take Things Personally

While this is way easier said than done, practice not taking things personally, Nickerson says. Is your partner in a bad mood? Fine! It's not a reflection on you as a person, and it certainly doesn't mean they care about you any less.


Know That You'll Be OK

"Overthinking takes place when you want to prevent a negative outcome," Yasmine Saad, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. But if you remind yourself things will work out regardless, it can provide a ton of relief.

"Connect to the idea that you will be OK no matter what happens," Saad says, and suddenly the panicked overthinking will calm down.


Change Your Goal

If you kick back and decide to wait for the truth to be revealed — instead of making it your personal mission to obsess and overthink — you'll take a huge burden off yourself, Saad says.


Talk It Out

Let's say you overthink because you're worried the relationship isn't going anywhere. "Instead of fortune-telling — aka assuming — just ask," therapist Christine Altidor, RMFTI, tells Bustle. "Talk to your partner about your fears and/or concerns."

By opening this line of communication, you can discuss how your relationship is going now, and also make plans for the future. That way you'll both remain on the same page, and no guesswork will be required.


Stay Busy

The moment you start overthinking, make yourself busy, Sandra Henderson, a love and dating coach, tells Bustle. Call a friend, go for a walk, do that project you've been putting off. If you're accomplishing something, you won't have time to overthink.


Brush Up On Psychology

Overthinking 24/7? Try reading more about "cognitive distortions, such as overgeneralization, mind-reading, magnification, and personalization," Sue English MSW, LCSW, CADC, a licensed family therapist, tells Bustle.

Knowledge really is power, and understanding why your mind is running away with you can help reel it back in.


Breathe Deep

You can also get out of your head and into the moment by using mindfulness skills, English says, like taking deep breaths, counting all the items around you that are blue, or even playing a favorite song and singing every lyric. These tricks help bring you back to reality, so you aren't hyper-focused on "what ifs."


Focus On Something Positive

If you feel your mind running away, stop and think about something you positive. "It helps to have a few things queued up ahead of time for this," Thomas DiBlasi, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. "Make a list of topics that you like to think about and focus on that topic."

Think about your friend, your pet, a great vacation you went on. Just make sure it isn't related to something you're ruminating about, he says, like your relationship.


Reconnect With Your Values

"When we're caught up in our thoughts, we're often disconnected, distrustful, or avoidant," Ashleigh Edelstein, a licensed therapist, tells Bustle. So instead of letting that vibe take over, refocus on the kind of partner you want to be.

"Get in touch with important values, like compassion, assertiveness, and authenticity," she says. "Think about how you might act if those scary thoughts never showed up and try acting on your values instead of your thoughts."


Reach Out To A Therapist

If the habit of overthinking has become truly overwhelming, consider talking to a therapist. According to Osborn, the tendency to overthink may be a sign you were hurt in a past relationship, and are now on high alert due to lingering fear and anxiety.

It can take time to work through deeply ingrained relationship trauma — and to break these types of habits — but if it results in learning how to stop overthinking, the effort will be totally worth it.


Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW, marriage and family psychologist

Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Megan Stubbs, Ed.D., therapist

Alisha Powell, PhD, couples therapist

Xanet Pailet, intimacy coach

Emmy Brunner, psychotherapist

Anna Osborn, MA, LPCC, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist

Yasmine Saad, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist

Christine Altidor, RMFTI, therapist

Sandra Henderson, love and relationship coach

Sue English MSW, LCSW, CADC, licensed family therapist

Thomas DiBlasi, Ph.D., licensed psychologist

Ashleigh Edelstein, licensed therapist

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