It’s normal to have relationship anxiety and anxious attachment, and most couples have it at some point in their relationships. However, sometimes it causes problems, but oftentimes couples find ways to work through them together.

You can’t change your partner or their past, but you can use the information below as a starting point for how to manage anxiety and move forward with understanding from both perspectives.

It is important that partners are able to speak openly about their feelings without fear of judgment or rejection because this post will allow for more constructive conversations on the topic. It may help couples share some time apart if they need space and then come back together when they feel ready (rather than feeling pressured).

What is an anxious attachment style?

A person with an anxious attachment will have a lot of worries about their relationship and constantly seek validation and attention from their partner. They are usually very sensitive to small things their partners do or say and question their partners’ truthfulness.

Their past experiences with parents or other relationships might have been very inconsistent, which is why they have this attachment. They can also be very affectionate and caring in the relationship, which can make their partner feel special and loved. However, it can also make their partner feel overwhelmed and smothered at times.

In the 1950s, attachment styles were coined by psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby. Psychologists continue to believe that a person’s attachment style originates from their relationships with their earliest caregivers.

In order to view children’s attachment styles, psychologists would examine the reactions of children when they were separated and reunited with their primary caretaker.

Children with anxious attachments would cry and cling to their caretaker when they would try to leave and not be able to console themselves. These children would then respond with animosity or apathy upon their caretaker’s return. Children with avoidant attachment styles would treat both scenarios with little to no emotional response. Finally, children with secure attachment styles would be visibly upset when their caretaker left but be able to console themselves. Securely attached children would also be filled with joy upon their caretaker’s return. 

People with anxious attachment styles in later life might have experienced a caretaker or caretakers who were inconsistent with the way that they attended to their needs. Sometimes their caretaker would respond well to their needs and sometimes they would ignore them. This confusion and unpredictability would create anxiety about which side of their caretaker they would experience. How does this relate to later life experiences in relationships? Many psychologists believe that your attachment styles when you’re younger carries onto relationships later on in life. 

Not only can anxious attachment styles interfere with one’s ability to form romantic relationships, but this type of attachment style can negatively affect other relationships such as those with friends and family. People with an anxious attachment style are more likely to report experiencing many highs and lows in their relationships, such as jealousy or obsession over their significant other. They tend to seek long-term relationships more than most people and struggle to let relationships go even when they logically can recognize the relationship is not good for them.

Anxiously attached individuals tend to have a higher tolerance for instability within the relationship and struggle to recognize a healthy relationship, often feeling bored when things are stable. Individuals with anxious or avoidant attachments have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In high amounts, cortisol can have negative consequences on health such as high blood pressure, weight gain, extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety, and intestinal problems. 

What does anxiety in relationships feel/look like?

Relationship anxiety is a type of anxiety that is targeted towards romantic relationships as well as platonic relationships. To the person in a romantic or platonic relationship with the individual who has an anxious attachment style, the relationship can feel constricting due to their partner’s constant desire to be around them. To the person with relationship anxiety, the relationship can feel unfulfilling and can cause them a lot of pain and worry. However, this article focuses on romantic relationships.  

Signs you have relationship anxiety/an anxious attachment style

  • You often worry about whether your partner loves you 
    • Even if they have verbally told you they love you 
    • Even if they are consistent with how they show up and their follow through on things within the relationship
  • You worry about whether your partner means what they say
    • You tend to think there are underlying meanings to the things they say  
  • You worry about whether your partner will break up with you
    • Even if there is no evidence that they will do so 
  • Small things your partner does (such as forgetting to text you back) make you excessively worry about the relationship 
  • You often get jealous easily when your partner spends time with other people
  • You often feel like the future of your relationship is uncertain 
  • You try to spend as much time with your partner as possible
    • You would prefer if they did not leave you alone 

How to talk to your partner about your anxiety… 

  • Communicate your thoughts and needs in order to feel comforted 
    • Own your attachment style and work to accommodate it to create safety for yourself
    • Tell them if you want them to tell you they love you more often
    • Be direct: make sure they understand what you need instead of assuming they know 
    • Whether you want more quality time with them or words of affirmation, let them know 
    • Let your partner know what you need fairly early on so the anxiety does not build-up 
  • If your partner has an avoidant attachment style, they may have a hard time understanding your attachment style 
    • It is easier to date someone with a secure attachment because you can learn to develop a secure attachment with them 
    • Discuss the hardships that may come with dating someone with a different attachment style than your own
    • Troubleshoot how to overcome each of these hardships
    • Honor, where each of you has come from and recognize your childhood experiences, don’t have to be your adult self’s future

How to be there for your partner if they have relationship anxiety

  • Listen to their needs and concerns 
  • Let them know how you feel about them more often 
    • Though an individual with an anxious attachment style/relationship anxiety might be unsure whether you mean the words you say, they also need confirmation that you are there for them and love them. 
  • Be consistent with your attention towards them 
    • Since anxious attachments typically originate from an inconsistent parent, it is important to give them the consistency that they need. 
  • Be patient
  • Validate their current feelings while challenging the storyline that led them to feel this way if it is their anxious attachment style that led them to view something in the relationship in a worrisome way. Kindly point out faults in their thinking or evidence showing them that you are a stable partner.

Possible reasons for relationship anxiety

  • Infidelity 
    • If your current partner has cheated on you or a past partner has cheated on you, it can cause you to have relationship-related anxiety. 
  • Fear of being emotionally vulnerable 
    • Due to past failures in relationships 
    • Due to previous gaslighting
    • Due to an inability to trust yourself
    • Due to an inability to trust the other person due to anxiety
  • Negative view of relationships 
    • If your parents or caretakers had a really negative relationship, this can cause you to be more apprehensive about opening up. 
  • Insecure attachment to parents 
  • Poor self-esteem or sense of self

Though attachment styles seem permanent, your anxious attachment can become a secure attachment. By acknowledging and understanding your attachment style, you are already on your way to changing your attachment style. Identifying irrational thoughts about the relationship can help you change the behaviors that result from your anxiety.

With the help of a clinician at The Better You Institute, you can learn to develop a secure attachment. Call today and make an appointment and talk with a couples therapist for anxiety treatment in Philadelphia at 267-495-4951. Whether you want to come in for individual counseling or you would like to do couples counseling, a clinician on our team can help you face relationship anxiety. 

If talking to a therapist in a one-on-one setting is not something that you think that you can do, we also offer online therapy and counseling for those located in the Pennsylvania area