The beginning of a relationship is often full of butterflies and excitement. You know the feeling when you first get together with someone new. That nervous but excited anticipation. Though, as romantic as that all sounds, sometimes these feelings aren’t a reaction at all. Instead, it’s an uneasiness that stems from something called early relationship anxiety. It’s a sensation rooted in the anticipation of the unknown.
“Relationship anxiety refers to the feelings one often associates with getting to know someone for the first time on a romantic level,” says licensed psychotherapist Siobhan D. Flowers. She goes on to say that It’s “an innate desire to be ‘liked’ and ‘accepted,’” she says. Adding that it’s a “very common” anxiety.
What does early relationship anxiety look like?
Often, Flowers says, individuals experiencing early relationship anxiety will measure their sense of self-worth based on whether someone reciprocates romantic interest in them. This is often expected in the form of constant communication throughout the day. Usually via text or social media.
Indeed, the signs that someone is experiencing early relationship anxiety are a little more apparent thanks to social media and smartphones connecting us constantly. According to Sanam Hafeez, an NYC-based neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, neediness in the form of sending multiple texts, holding your breath until you get a response, and then overanalysing what they said is a sure sign that you’re deep in the trenches of early relationship anxiety. “Checking their social media constantly to see who they recently friended on Facebook and what comments were made,” Hafeez says, is also a manifestation of this anxiety. It’s one that never existed prior to 24/7 connectivity.
Other ways this anxiety can show up in your actions includes questions about love. About moving in together. Constantly bringing up the idea of a holiday together or some event months from now. All designed to test their commitment. Basically any ongoing discussion on subject matter having to do with the future can be a sign of early relationship anxiety. It’s a way of putting out feelers to test how the relationship is going.
Hafeez says things like resenting your partner for having a night out with their friends. Or for giving up a routine or something important to you like doing a gym class after work is another way early relationship anxiety can show itself.
Where does this anxiety come from?
There are a few reasons anxieties might flare up at the start of a relationship. It often comes down to a combination of circumstances and how you react to those circumstances. For example, let’s say you meet your partner at a bar or on a dating app; you don’t know what to expect because every single thing is new. You haven’t had a chance to establish any real connection yet.
In that instance it’s really normal to have some feelings of anxiety because you don’t have a history with this person. You simply don’t know if it will work out or if they have the same sort of feelings toward you. Since there’s no prior history between you, you can also feel unsure that the person is who they say they are. Those anxious doubts start to surface so you feel you need to test them out.
How you respond to the unknown of what’s to come of your relationship is generally a reflection of one of three things:
You’ve experienced trauma in the past.
When entering a new relationship, it’s normal for that little nagging doubt in the back of your mind to surface and dredge up relationship baggage from the past. We do this out of fear that history will repeat itself.
2. This new relationship, in particular, is making you feel insecure for some reason.
If it’s not past relationship issues wearing you down, it might be that there’s something about this relationship, in particular, that’s putting you on edge. Maybe you feel insecure around your new partners friends or family. Maybe something about your partner’s behaviour grates on or makes you feel unappreciated. Sometimes it’s not even something obvious. It might be an unconscious reaction to something that’s happened in the past.
3. You and your new partner’s attachment styles don’t add up.
Attachment theory is rooted in the idea that your experiences with love from a young age (i.e., how your parents showed you affection, how you were shown love in past relationships, etc.) will ultimately determine how you love now. There are three types of attachment style: secure attachment (in which a person is confident in their relationship and stays bonded) Anxious attachment (where someone needs constant reassurance from their partner that everything is all good), and avoidant attachment (where you avoid intimacy at all costs).
Interestingly, people with anxious attachment styles often partner up with people with avoidant attachment styles, which, as you can imagine, might create all sorts of challenges. You might not even do this on a conscious level, and in new relationships this is often the case.
But you might be physically attracted to someone who it turns out has this attachment style, which can then create all sorts of problems on an emotional level. The anxious partner gets more anxious, the avoidant more avoidant. So in that sense, they are totally reacting to each other, and although they’re definitely bonding, it’s not in a healthy way. You can probably see where I’m going with this, it creates co-dependent relationships. There is a need for each other, but not in a healthy way. You can’t be with someone, but then can’t be without them. It’s not a great mix.
So, how do you work through early relationship anxiety?
It’s time for a bit of self-reflection folks. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do, instead of judging and criticising your emotions. It’s normal to have doubts and questions about a new relationship so don’t beat yourself up for having these internal thoughts and questions.
The first step in overcoming these deep-rooted emotions and how they are affecting your behaviour is to put them into perspective. To do this, try writing your feelings in a journal. That can help you get clarity on your thoughts and feelings. Or you could talk to a trained professional to help you identify the source of your doubts and anxieties and process feelings regarding it.
Does your anxiety stem from negative experiences in past relationships? Or are they tied to something particular about this relationship and this person? If the former, it’s totally fine to acknowledge your fear of being hurt again. This can actually help you at least understand and accept your feelings of anxiety. If the latter, it’s worth considering whether the relationship you’re in is really giving you enough joy to outweigh the negativity. Just ask yourself, is this relationship really the right one for me, right at this time.
Be open and honest with your partner about how you’re feeling.
If you’re experiencing early relationship anxiety, your feelings are valid and are often trying to give you valuable information. It can be helpful to tell your partner how you’re feeling. For a start, it’s important to set a precedent of honesty and transparency between the two of you. Also, it’s a good idea of getting in the habit of asking for reassurances when you need them. This can help you overcome any anxieties and doubts you might be having. However, it’s also important not to be too overbearing when seeking reassurance. Constantly needing reassurance is not a healthy sign and may be off putting to your partner. Just be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings. Your partner might be having the same thoughts and talking openly achieves clarity and brings you closer together.
If your partner responds poorly to your need for reassurance—or if you don’t feel comfortable asking for it from this person for whatever reason—then that’s another reason to think through whether the relationship you’re in is really the right one for you. After all you want to find someone who complements you and who brings out the best in you. This is the basis for a strong and healthy relationship.
Before talking to your partner, it’s important to think about how much attention and affection you expect from the people in your life and be realistic with yourself about those expectations. It’s also really important to get your needs for connection met in a variety of places. This could be from your friends and social network. It’s not possible or healthy for just one person to be your everything.
Focus on the present moment and not the “what ifs” of the future.
Sometimes when you enter into a new relationship, you might try protecting yourself from reliving past hurt by doubting yourself and doubting the intentions of your partner. Maybe it’s worth exploring talking to a professional who will help you work through any relationship issues you may have. A professional can help you develop some self-awareness. Once you have this you are in a far better place to begin a new relationship or build on your current one.
You could try dealing with some of those anxieties you might have before getting into a relationship. With self-awareness comes strength. With strength comes confidence. I don’t mean strength in terms of what you can bench press at the gym. I mean real inner strength and understanding of who you are and what you really want. This leads onto confidence and assurity. These qualities are extremely attractive to the right partner.
In other words, getting clarity and understanding of your own self gives you the assurance to move forward with confidence and enhances your life in the present moment. It can also enhance the bond you have with a new partner. It’s easier to be truthful and honest with others when you are this way with yourself.
If you’re feeling anxious and insecure in yourself, you’re then too focused on everything you’re not getting from your new partner. It can be easy to get consumed by anxiety, longing, and frustration.
Maintain a practice of focusing on all the good stuff the new relationship is adding to your life. Don’t focus on what you’re not getting. This can help dispel that negative energy that’s being created. This then allows you to enjoy all the positives this new relationship has to offer.
The bottom line:
Early relationship anxiety can feel stressful, and distinctly different from giddy butterflies or the like. However, it’s a common phenomenon that you can address as long as you identify your triggers and are able to work through your emotions in a healthy way.
If any of this resonates with you, and you need some support just reach out and I’ll be there (yeah I know, I nicked that line from the four tops!) But in all seriousness, if you’re having anxieties about a new relationship or getting into one, I’ll help. I’ve been through it all. Lived the experience and bought the T-shirt. I got help and it transformed my life. I can help you do the same. Just contact me here or send me a message below.
If you’re looking for support specifically around relationships then I can help. I also offer specialist relationship coaching and you can find me by clicking the link below.