- Go slowly in the initial stages of a relationship.
- Calmly express how and why certain behavior is causing tension.
- Don't overdo, overshare, over-accommodate, or over-work to win approval.
Many people come to therapy when they feel their basic relationship needs are being neglected or that their efforts are going unnoticed by their current partners or romantic interests. They say:
- “My partner calls me clingy when all I am trying to do is ensure that he doesn’t leave me. I fear that my partner will abandon me.”
- “I always feel the need to work extra hard to keep my relationship going. I fear that my relationship will come crumbling down on me if I reduce my effort.”
- “My partner thinks that I suffocate him with love. I don’t know why he would say that because, in my head, it is my dream relationship.”
If these examples speak to you, then it’s likely that you are letting your anxiety run the show.
Individuals with high levels of anxiety and or anxious attachment styles can become fixated on their romantic life to the point that it becomes self-sabotaging. They often have a crippling fear of abandonment, especially when they are partnered with someone who is more emotionally independent or is prone to giving mixed signals.
According to a review article published in Nature, inconsistent partner behavior – such as sometimes responding with love and support and other times responding with anger or rejection – can heighten fears of rejection in anxiously attached individuals, and can also create a strong yearning for love and acceptance. This combination of fear of rejection and a strong hunger for love drives people high in attachment anxiety to constantly seek reassurance and react with intense distress when things go wrong in relationships.
In fact, highly anxious individuals often try even harder to pull their partner closer when they notice them pulling away, making it difficult to experience happy, fulfilling relationships.
Here are three things to practice to overcome these self-sabotaging tendencies.
1. Don’t fast-track your relationships, take it slow
The beginning of a relationship can be tricky in terms of figuring out what to divulge and what to conceal. Most individuals attempt to showcase their strongest qualities. Anxious individuals aren’t an anomaly in this situation; they try to create an image of wanting something long-term by displaying universally desired partner qualities such as being communicative and understanding their partner’s problems.
However, it is crucial to understand that a strong bond cannot be sped up by acts of oversharing, losing one’s boundaries, spending every moment together, or putting one’s life on hold. Doing this creates a standard that is impossible to maintain in the long run, and leads to disappointment when the veil is lifted.
Therefore, consider taking things slow in the initial stages of a relationship. This will give you a clearer window into whether someone has the qualities you are looking for, such as good control over their emotions, a long-term perspective, and a willingness to accept you for who you are (anxiety and all).
2. Learn to honor your needs from the start
If you are dating someone who appears uncommitted, inconsistent, or whose company makes you feel unsettled, take a pause to reflect on what is happening.
Patterns of emotionally neglectful behaviors often become more pronounced as time goes on in a relationship. Therefore, if you feel that your partner’s behaviors don’t align with yours, muster the courage to talk to them about it. It is definitely not easy but precaution is always better than scrambling to find a cure.
Calmly express how and why their behavior is causing tension in your relationship and ask for what you need. How your partner responds to these basic requests will give you clarity on where you stand.
For instance, if your partner is apologetic or has genuine justifications for their behavior, consider proceeding gently with your relationship. However, if their behavior persists despite your best efforts, then trust your gut and consider disengaging.
3. Don’t feel pressured to overdo things for their approval
A fear of abandonment is likely to make you behave in counterproductive ways. You feel that if you go out of your way to be with your partner, the relationship will turn out as perfect as can be.
From the very start, anxious individuals struggle with a tendency of ‘overdoing’ – oversharing, over-accommodating, and over-working to win their partner’s approval.
This amounts to nothing more than exhaustion. It might also lead to feelings of resentment towards your partner if they don’t reciprocate.
Thus, instead of pulling the weight of your relationship all by yourself, it is important to control your anxiety-induced overdoing urges. Remember, if your partner is with you because you ‘overdo’ then it may actually be a relationship of convenience or dependence more than one of love.