Psychologist and therapist Sheryl Paul has built her entire professional career around her belief that relationship anxiety exists, and can be cured. Her website Conscious Transitions was created to help people understand these specific feelings of doubt and anxiety and offers online guides and one-to-one counselling for people who, like me, find themselves constantly questioning their relationship.
“We’re not talking about a phobia of commitment, or the belief that your partner is an inherently bad person, but a regular pattern of asking yourself, ‘Do I love my partner?’ ‘Does this feel right?’ ‘Will it last forever?’
Sheryl’s words resonated with me; “For some, the doubts may have been there from day one. For others, they come as a total surprise, months or years into a great doubt-free relationship. The common factor is that these doubts fester and develop into intrusive thoughts, which cloud the mind and become really difficult to sift through, deal with and let go.”
Interestingly, Sheryl believes that how we’ve come to culturally view love is fundamentally what breeds relationship anxiety and makes it so debilitating.
“Almost everyone I work with admits that the fantasies of love they hold are drivers of anxiety. The fantasy of marrying the perfect spouse, a man or woman without flaws, one’s soulmate and ideal partner, which comes largely from the massive dispersion of false information disseminated by our culture through magazines, films, books and advertisements… If the fantasy doesn’t match the image, we wonder what’s wrong with us.”
I’ve gradually learned that the celebrity world is a major catalyst for my personal brand of relationship anxiety, because of its endless opportunities for comparison. The fact is, I’ve got no idea what Kim and Kanye’s relationship is like, but seeing the romantic photos and reading these soundbites of romantic perfection makes my own doubts escalate. Social media is the same; for every romantic holiday sunset shot, there’s someone else seeing it on screen, gripped with fear that their own feelings don’t match up.
Dr Boag assures me that feeling anxious within a relationship doesn’t mean the only choice is to pack it in and get out. “All relationships go through ups and downs and it’s completely normal to feel anxious. The issue comes when people feel too fearful to confront their anxiety or question where it’s coming from.”
So, what can we do?
“Firstly, try to recognise that you might be struggling with relationship anxiety. Sometimes identifying the root cause of your worry may well be enough to settle your mind and focus on the positives,” explains Boag.
“Sitting down and talking to another securely-attached couple can help to get a sense of perspective; people don’t tend to want to admit their relationship takes work or has bad days but the more open you can be among friends, the more you’ll be able to work out what is irrational anxiety and what is real cause for concern.
“And don’t be scared of couples counselling. Far too many people see it as a last chance saloon but it can be helpful for anxiety sufferers to air their doubts in a neutral way and allow you to work through them together.”