There are times when we all feel like we are not good enough, or that we do not deserve a meaningful and loving relationship. In my 20’s I spent many wasted years (and opportunities) submitting to what I believed to be the way things were always going to be. The insecurities and the anxiety produced by earlier distressing experiences in relationships took their toll and I simply could not understand what others saw in me or accept that something was going to last.
Over the years a number of relationships ended because of what was going on in my head. In my mind, it seemed easier to let these new and established romances fizzle out. I went into them expecting them to end and often took subconscious and self-sabotaging measures to create a saddening reality. Constantly expecting rejection built an unwavering wall of distrust, anxiety, negative thought patterns, and beliefs. I wondered, how could anyone sustain a healthy relationship (especially a new one) while this was haunting his or her everyday thoughts.
There is a point I believe where everyone has had enough. A point where even years of ingrained beliefs have to be questioned and confronted. This for me came around the age of 30 when I realised I wanted a good, healthy and lasting relationship, a family and someone to share my life with.
I am of the opinion that a good relationship is about meeting someone with similar values at the right time in both of your lives. It is about sharing ideas and enjoying moments together, to lift each other up and get excited about the early days when you are still getting to know each other. Together you grow and apart you retain your strong and healthy individuality, interests, relationships and personalities.
There may be real times when you will be mistreated, lied to, cheated on, abandoned or used. When someone really does treat you badly it is quite reasonable to feel some of the emotions I mentioned above; sadness, insecurity, anxiety – this is a natural and temporary response. In my experience, it is best to treat new relationships as a fresh start, avoid judging the present on the past and try not to look too far into the future.
When, however, you are in or beginning a generally good relationship with someone whom you seem to click with there are some steps I have found very helpful in lessening the battle with relationship anxiety and the associated struggles. The following strategies help me control my negative beliefs and allow me the confidence to give someone the chance to get to know me without the hindrance of a constant internal fight.
Firstly, realise that there is no such thing as the perfect relationship.
If you are forever seeking out that misguided movie romance, that perfect love story or the relationship that has no struggles you will be sorely disappointed. Don’t spend your life looking for the perfect companion or expecting your current partner to be just that…. perfect. This endless search and unrealistic expectation will drive you mad and leave you constantly feeling let down. You will feel insecure in what is likely a very healthy relationship because it doesn’t live up to your false fantasies.
Wanting a ‘special’ relationship that feels amazing all the time is natural but after a while you must realise that the perfect person does not exist. Everyone has their imperfections and it’s all about finding that imperfect person who gels with you in a complementary way.
It takes a lot of living and experiences in life to realise that you yourself are not perfect. Once you allow yourself to be fully aware and understanding of your flaws you are more qualified to select potential partners and recognise a good relationship for what is it. You will notice the imperfections in your partner and how they balance yours out. You will meet and grow with the person who is incompletely complete for you.
You are NOT a mind reader.
Communication in a relationship is paramount. Most relationship anxiety stems from poor conversation and expression, which by nature for those of you who have these battles, turns into an attempt to read the mind of your significant other. The act of assuming what someone is thinking is often the fastest route to worry, stress, feelings of insecurity and panic.
When you find yourself in a good relationship or even friendship, and someone says something or doesn’t say something, don’t assume what they have said actually means something else. Don’t take their silence or avoidance of a topic as a horribly negative event. On that note, try not to make your partner read your mind, mean what you say when you say it!
It took me a while to learn that it is actually not our business to know everything someone else is thinking and to let go of the anxious need to understand every thought and resulting action. When you begin to stop attempting to read minds, take comments and conversation at face value and put trust in what your partner says you will feel a new level of freedom and peace. No longer will you analyse their comments or wonder what they ‘actually’ meant. You will enjoy being calmer around them and be truly open to unbiased listening and understanding.
Leave your baggage outside.
We have all been hurt, it’s a fact of life and part of being human. If we hadn’t we would not own a lot of the strengths that we use to keep ourselves safe. Bringing this hurt and resulting thoughts and emotions to a new relationship, however, is never a healthy idea. We can all note times that we have judged someone based on a memory of someone else in your past who treated you poorly, again, this is natural. Unfortunately, some will carry these judgments far into their new and established relationships. In the past you were treated with unkindness – this is not to say your current relationship will be a repeat. In fact, you have grown since your last bad experience and you now hopefully have a better understanding of yourself and more trust in your current partner. Try reflecting on all the positives that can be found in your current romance, all the supportive gestures and kind words and actions. When your mind wanders to feelings of past mistrust, gently bring it back to the present and review your internal list of current positive qualities and possibilities.
Challenge and observe those negative thought patterns.
This is a big one and a skill that takes time to learn. Our thoughts directly impact our emotions which in turn can dictate our behaviors, good and bad. Constant ruminating and negative thinking can have a devastating impact on our well-being, quality of life, friendships and relationships. Getting drawn into a pattern of negative thinking is like holding yourself captive in your mind. It creates an unreality that is often hard to break out of, I know, I’ve been there.
Thankfully there are some steps you can take to address these negative thought patterns and create more inner peace and happiness.
Firstly you must learn to recognise and be aware of a negative thought pattern. These stick out as being repetitive and easily cause negative emotions and anxiety. Once we are able to recognise these patterns as they are occurring we can begin to select how we react to them.
Secondly, you must step outside of your thoughts. To become free of this repetitive internal stress you must create a conscious awareness. See if you can catch negative thoughts as they appear. When a negative emotion arises shift your attention to what you are thinking about (the root of the emotion). Simply witness the thought play out. Do not fight it or engage it, just observe.
Thirdly you must assume your role as an impartial witness. Observe your thoughts and emotions from the point of view of an impartial spectator. Watch them and shine a light of awareness on what is happening internally. It is common to resist this, to be overwhelmed and to get distracted, but try to face them fully without a battle. Take the approach that you will let these thoughts and emotions just be. It might feel uncomfortable at first but remember, as an impartial witness you do not believe all of your thoughts and do not take them seriously. In time you will begin to view them as mere blips floating along. They come and go and you choose which ones you give your attention too.
Next, you must practice some mindfulness. I suggest you do some research and learning surrounding mindfulness meditation it is invaluable in conquering negative thinking. Most of our less than ideal thoughts are based upon past pains or future fears, you will get lost in these thoughts and lose touch with what is happening right in front of you. Mindfulness will help you return to the present and feel grounded, it will assist you in giving your undivided attention to the here and now. To do this you must become aware of your present environment what can you hear, see, smell and feel. Focus on it, listen to your breathing and stay present. If your thoughts wander that’s ok, bring them back to your breath or the sensations of the world around you. In time you will discover it’s almost impossible to relive the past or fear the future while you’re truly in the present moment.
Lastly, you need to change those negative thoughts. You can choose to replace them with constructive ones. Now that you have some awareness of when you are going down the destructive path you can deliberately acknowledge them and gently swap them out for something more helpful. Try replacing I am not good enough, I will be alone forever, with, I am good enough and I will find a good and healthy relationship when the time is right.
This method WILL require time and practice, you will gain traction then fall back then return to the fight, it’s all a part of growing and learning internally. Challenging long-standing beliefs is difficult but with persistence and support from loved ones, family and friends you will transform from the inside out.
Finally, stop putting the focus on the negatives.
As we discussed above there is no such thing as the perfect relationship. There will be times it seems perfect but they will not last. That’s the honest truth. Embracing imperfection is a beautiful and life-changing thing. The connection between you and your partner will grow as you accept each other and remove your unrealistic expectations.
I am not saying you should accept everyone that comes along into your life, I’m saying that there will always be difficulties and days where you feel unsure or unsteady – this is NOT a reason to jump to the conclusion that your relationship is bad or doomed. Do not let it be a trigger to become distressed and question your partner’s intentions.
Stay away from the all or nothing, black and white thinking, it will degrade your relationships and stop you enjoying all the good things life has to offer. I used to spend much time looking for and analysing signs of what’s not working and what negative things might be coming, instead I now focus on simply, what is.
I urge you to deeply appreciate the special people in your life who show caring and kindness. These people will lead you to good things and peaceful, fulfilling relationships. Take note of the positives, enjoy their strong qualities and encourage them to grow, achieve and learn with you. Every day, even if it’s in silence, allow yourself to acknowledge how wonderful these people really are.
I wanted to make it clear that the above has and does still help me manage anxiety in a relationship. It still rears its ugly head at times and can still become quite overwhelming. With the above tools I have learned that it need not be crippling and if you really are struggling I would advise that you see a professional; I have had great results working with a CBT Therapist.
If you found my article helpful I would love your feedback. Please leave a comment below.
Tim is the Founder and Creative Director at Fuel Media Limited, and the passionate lifestyle writer here at To Whom It May Concern. He resides on the beautiful North Shore in Auckland, New Zealand.