Relationship Anxiety: Stopping The Cycle

Relationship anxiety is excessive worry about either forming or keeping a relationship. And it is considered one aspect of social anxiety disorder which affects women much more than men and manifests in four distinct types. The treatment is the same for all four types of relationship anxiety.

Four Types of Relationship Anxiety

Researchers at Case Western University uncovered these four types of behaviors associated with relationship anxiety:

    1. Intrusive: constantly contacting someone to allay feelings of anxiety
    2. Exploitable: self-sacrificing to an excessive degree; pleasing
    3. Cold: emotionally distant, removed – someone who avoids intimacy
    4. Nonassertive: an inability to express wants, needs, or desires.

Interestingly, this study showed that the same four types of behaviors were present in generalized anxiety disorders and depression -- and they didn’t vary by how severe the anxiety was.

It is quite possible that you can see yourself in one of these four ways anxiety creeps into relationships.


All of the above types share a common attribute in relationship anxiety. They are all worries, either of a personal nature (“I’m not worthy”) or about the relationship itself. They are all fears that either an existing relationship will “go bad” or that no real relationship will ever be possible.

In a familiar way anxiety tends to create self-fulfilling prophecies, these behaviors can ruin the very relationships they are meant to protect. So the nonassertive, mousy type that always defers to their partner can eventually build up enough resentment that they explode with anger or cannot bear to continue the relationship.

Some relationship anxiety can be traced back to earlier failed relationships, violence or being exploited. However, history isn’t destiny, and these can be overcome.

On top of this basic fear comes the anxiety about being anxious. Here is when many patients come to realize they need help to escape the vicious cycle.

Stopping The Cycle

Therapists are very familiar, not only with anxiety in general but the types that present themselves in relationships. The current recommendation is a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (directed at the anxiety) and relationship therapy. There are specific needs that should be addressed in relationship anxiety that don’t necessarily manifest in other types of anxiety – but that’s actually good news.

Because there is a target for treatment (and a way to measure progress), custom solutions can be developed to help each patient and the problems they present. For one, it may be working on limiting contact and practicing anxiety-reducing techniques to overcome the worry. For another, recognizing they must learn to open up and share their feelings might be the key.

One of the most valuable things therapy brings is the expert advice of a non-judgmental third party. Something as simple as pointing out how often your conversation includes cues to your inner anxiety is very illuminating. From there, a plan of action can be developed that simultaneously helps you work on your relationships while reducing other symptoms of anxiety.

Photo: Pexels

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