Relationship worries, like the five below, are often symptoms of a fear of abandonment, which manifests in different ways. You might even be subconsciously reacting to something that happened years ago. Read on to see if any of these fears sound familiar — and how you can stop random freak-outs in their tracks:
“Thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies,” says Michelle Skeen, PsyD, author of Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment & Building Lasting, Loving Relationships. “When you let your fears and worries get out of control, you regularly communicate those messages, and they become toxic to your relationships.”
1. “He’s going to leave me.”
If you’re constantly fretting that he’ll split without warning, that fear can rear its ugly head via “chronic anxiety about the closeness and distance in the relationship,” says intimacy expert Sheri Meyers, PsyD, author of Chatting or Cheating: How To Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship. More specifically, you’re “hypersensitive and reactive to [your] partner’s need for space.” For example: He innocently wants to spend some time with the guys on a Friday night, and you worry he’s pulling away.
“This fear can have you avoiding relationships altogether, clinging to the other person as if your life depended on them, pushing the other person away or the classic ‘push/pull’ — alternating clinging with rejecting behavior,” Skeen says.
2. “We’re getting too close.”
A fear of being vulnerable can cause you to keep your guy at an arm’s length. “You stay so busy, distracted, unavailable, preoccupied by all the to-dos, that there is very little quality time left over for closeness and connection with your partner,” Meyers says.
The issue goes deeper too. You might subconsciously think that you, at your core, are defective: AKA, “If I get too close, he/she will see me for who I really am and he/she will leave me,” Skeen says. “Another way to look at this is the belief that you won’t get what you need emotionally from the other person. This can get triggered as you get closer to someone.”
3. “He’s cheating.”
He tells you he’s going on a work trip; you immediately assume he’s got a side piece in Chicago. He comes home from the office late; you’re certain he’s been sidling up to the cute administrative assistant. It’s exhausting for you… and for him. “If this is a frequent thought with anyone you date, even if they have given you no reason to believe that they would cheat on you, then you probably have a mistrust/abuse core belief,” Skeen says.
4. “I’m not good enough for him.”
A continuous loop feeds through your head: “I’m not pretty enough, sexy enough, smart enough, organized enough…” Because you feel like a failure, you find yourself “needing your partner to continually validate your worth in order to feel good,” says Meyers, and that puts stress on your relationship.
5. “He’s not good enough for me.”
He can’t do anything right, whether it’s foreplay before sex or loading the dishwasher. “It is a sabotaging thought that is often a defense against your own feelings of defectiveness or failure,” Skeen says. “In this situation, you react by rejecting before you can be rejected. You leave before you can be left.” Signaling “chronic disapproval to motivate change” in your partner isn’t productive, Meyers says. Instead, it shows up as complaining and blaming.
What you can do to silence your fears:
If you recognize any of the above thoughts, that’s the first step to change, Skeen says. Simply be aware that you’re feeling this way, and then you can mentally wriggle your way out of that negative place.
“Stop yourself and bring yourself to the present moment,” Skeen says. “As soon as you have that thought and feeling, you are immediately transported back to a past experience that has you viewing the present through a distorted lens. Don’t react immediately. Allow yourself time to get control over your thoughts and feelings… Once that emotional storm has passed, and you can recognize that this is a present-day situation that has nothing to do with your past, then you can respond in a way that is helpful — not harmful — to your current relationship.”
Further, put in work to create a secure, intimate and loving relationship with yourself, Meyers says, and that will best set you up to give and receive love from other people.
“Name three very specific actions that facilitate a feeling of safety, trust and love. For example: ‘I need more loving attention, appreciation and affection in my life.’ Great. Do it! Give yourself a megadose of the three A’s daily… By understanding ourselves and becoming emotionally responsive to our needs, our fears diminish, and our ability to give and receive love grows.”