Any relationship, regardless of who it is with, takes work.
Romantic relationships seem to take a bit more work than others because when you have strong feelings for someone, you’re always trying to put your best foot forward.
So, you do all the things: you talk about each other’s love language, you check in periodically to make sure the relationship is in a “good place”, and you do your best to make sure you’re available for your partner.
You’re both doing all of the above and everything is going great! No pink flags, no red flags — all systems go! Then it happens: anxiety sets in.
And not just any anxiety but relationship anxiety. Maybe it starts with not getting that daily “good morning” call/text, and your brain starts to wander, eventually settling on the thought that you haven’t heard from them because overnight they lost interest in you.
Perhaps showing up late to an important date means they don’t care about what’s important to you, you’re dispensable, and they’re probably spending time with someone else.
Stepping out to take a phone call means cheating … and down the rabbit hole, you go.
But you don’t have to go there.
Relationship anxiety can be a relationship killer if left unchecked and can solidify all the negative thoughts spiraling down in your brain.
Katie Gleason LCSW, a therapist in Tucson, AZ, says it doesn’t have to be that way and offers up these tips to help you stop the spiral down, and keep the love flowing up.
1. Facts Over Fiction
Relationship trauma can cause a lot of upheavals — not only in your heart but also in your mind. It can cause you to make up entire catastrophic stories about your partner, based on one innocent statement.
Example: you ask your partner to come by for dinner and they decline without giving a detailed explanation as to why. You immediately fall into a negative headspace, telling yourself that they’re not attracted to you anymore, they find you boring, and this is the precursor to the impending breakup.
Gleason says this is the perfect time to pause. “Fiction, a lot of time is based on the past – it’s not about what’s happening in the here and now. So, it’s about past betrayals, trust violations, or traumas that have happened in past relationships”.
She says it’s important to recognize that if you’re having an emotional or physical reaction to something in the here and now, you can’t just rely on that as an indicator for what to do next. “When you do that, you’re making decisions based on people that you’ve encountered in your past and not the person actually in front of you”.
2. Stay In The Present, Baby
Who doesn’t love daydreaming about building a future with the person of their dreams? You think you’ve finally met “the one”, you’ve told all of your friends about them, and maybe on your lunch break, you secretly google custom, lab-created diamond engagement rings. On its face, this is not bad future-casting. It’s fun!
But it can quickly go bad if you spend so much time future-casting that you lose sight of and become dissatisfied with the present. Or if it leads to you creating a reality that isn’t, because you’ve been triggered by something.
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Gleason says there are a number of questions you can ask yourself when you find yourself future casting with harmful results.
“When triggered it’s important to ask yourself, ‘So how does this land for me? [How do I feel] When I’m feeling triggered… when I’m feeling scared? What happens in my body? What do I experience? How can I support myself in ways other than focusing on the future, all the possibilities, what can happen, and what am I going to do about it?
Also, anchoring in the here and now. Mindfulness practices can be about centering (yourself) in your environment, finding things that are helpful, and supporting your nervous system so that you get through the activation without having to make any decisions.”
The downward spiral is usually not the best time to make decisions regarding your relationship.
3. Put Down That Trigger-Finger
Triggers and patterns go together like peanut butter and jelly — you typically cannot have one without the other. It usually looks something like this: your partner innocently says (or does) something that brings up a negative feeling or memory for you.
Their words or behavior immediately takes you out of the present moment and you respond to them as if they were the original offender. And this happens every time, in every relationship. Trigger and pattern. The cycle becomes exhaustive and for too many people it leads to the belief that there are simply no good people left in the world.
You can choose to believe that, or you can decide to work on recognizing your own triggers and patterns and move accordingly. Gleason says this is key.
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“I think for most people, starting to identify and recognize their patterns, and also the patterns of relationships that they’ve been in in the past (if they do have relationship anxiety), is important. This way they can figure out what the triggers are, and what some of the red flags are.
You can slow down and start to recognize that you can have more agency, and start to respond in ways that aren’t based just on fear or reactions. Notice the triggers and ask yourself ‘what are some of the beliefs that are coming up? What am I seeing in other people that may be red flags and may not be?
Starting to try to move a little bit more slowly through that, where you don’t have to make any snap decisions or judgments goes right back to asking yourself, “how does this land for me?”
There are so many people in this world just waiting to give love and have it returned — and you can get in on that if you commit to less spiraling down so you can get more loved up.
That means staying present and in your body when with your partner, quieting the negative inner voice spinning stories of unworthiness and disposability, and recognizing your triggers so you can tie them to your patterns, and make the conscious decision to break the chain.
It’s hard work, but love, even if it’s just a renewed love for yourself, is just on the other side. And it’s so worth it.
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Adiba Nelson is the mom of a beautiful daughter with Cerebral Palsy, and she is a disability rights and inclusion advocate. She is also a freelance writer for various online outlets, such as The Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, and My Brown Baby.