"There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we are open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully be open to our ability to love others.” ~ John Lennon
People who suffer with relationship anxiety have a difficult time sustaining long-term romantic relationships. Unlike those who have chosen to remain single, the majority of people with relationship anxiety would prefer to be in a committed relationship. However, the stress and anxiety they experience while in a relationship is too overwhelming for them to handle. As a result, their romantic relationships are either short-lived or non-existent.
Relationship anxiety is not formally recognized as a disorder. Therefore, the term cannot be found in psychology books or in the psychiatric DSM. In its mildest form, it is sometimes referred to as “love shyness” and at its most severe, borderline disorder. It is impossible to know how many people suffer with this condition but it is believed to affect men and women in equal numbers.
In relationships people with this condition tend to exhibit certain common behaviors, these include:
- Excessive or inappropriate jealousy
- Either being overly needy or clingy, or
- Being aloof and disinterested
- A constant need for reassurance from their partner
- Testing their partner
- “Push pull” behavior (a pattern of disrupting and reestablishing closeness in a relationship without appropriate cause or reason.
- Emotional volatility or impulsivity.
There are a number of factors that can cause someone to develop relationship anxiety. The most common are:
- Negative early dating experiences going back to adolescence.
- Insecure attachment with primary caregiver during infancy.
- Self-loathing (a particularly extreme form of low self-esteem)
- Fear of intimacy (anxiety over allowing oneself to be emotionally vulnerable)
- Fear of rejection.
In addition, people with relationship anxiety are more likely to suffer with other problems including anxiety disorders, depression, and alcoholism or substance abuse problems.
The issues that contribute to relationship anxiety do not generally go away on their own. Therefore, relationship anxiety tends to be chronic lifelong condition. If an individual fails to address it then it is likely they will remain forever single drifting from one short-term relationship to the next.
No matter what the specific cause of one’s relationship anxiety, there appears to be a common theme that dominates the internal dialogue of these individuals, and that is the conscious or unconscious belief that they are somehow unworthy, defective, or unlovable. And until the individual is willing to confront and acknowledge the absurdity of those feelings then they will continue to struggle in their romantic relationships.
So, while there is no quick fix for this condition there is hope for those who suffer with relationship anxiety. Like so many other conditions that plague the human psyche the answer lies in unconditional self-acceptance and love.