As we have adjusted to life at home over the past few months, virtually all of our working and living habits have been impacted by physical distancing. If you are quarantining with others -- such as family members or a significant other -- whom you are not used to spending this much continuous time with, it may feel like the extra time together is taking a toll on your relationships. We may find ourselves constantly thinking about the state of our relationships, and during such an uncertain time this can make us feel anxious.
“It is absolutely normal to have relationship anxiety appear or increase during this time in quarantine,” says Nicole Brown, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Our world is currently in flux. What was once sure and understood is now confusing and ambiguous.”
You may have been experiencing relationship anxiety even before the impact of COVID-19, but major changes to your living situation during this time may have mitigated or exacerbated your previous worries.
Relationship challenges can seem especially daunting due to the indefinite nature of the current situation, but MyWellbeing is here to support you in figuring out how to navigate relationship anxiety and support those in your life who may be dealing with it.
According to Medical News Today, “relationship anxiety involves feelings of intense worry about a romantic or friendly relationship.” It can involve excessive fear about the future of a relationship, and your actions can be greatly affected by a fear of rejection.
Especially when it comes to romantic relationships, “relationship anxiety often presents as a gripping, agonizing fear that your current relationship is unstable and could end at any minute,” says therapist and MyWellbeing community member Julia King.
One of the main signs that you may be feeling relationship anxiety is if you are constantly seeking reassurance from your partner. This can turn into a cycle of seeking assurance that you are loved, being assured, temporarily feeling better, and then starting all over again, King explains.
One example she describes is repeatedly texting and calling your partner when they are not responding because you believe they are angry with you, even if there is no reason that they would be. To you, it may seem like they were ignoring you on purpose, while in reality they could have been busy with some other task or placed their phone on silent.
Furthermore, this cycle can sometimes lead to conflicts in relationships. “It is not uncommon for a partner paired with someone struggling with relationship anxiety to not understand why they must again reassure their partner that they are loved, that they're not angry, that they're not leaving the relationship,” says King.
Quarantining apart from a romantic partner can exacerbate this anxiety further, because you may feel the need for even more reassurance that your relationship is stable. Quarantining together with your partner can lessen these types of worries since you are aware of what they are doing at virtually all times, but may also lead to other anxieties about the long-term potential of the relationship.
Being unable to see your significant other in person for an indefinite period of time may increase your worries about your relationship’s legitimacy and prompt you to seek reassurance even more. If unanswered texts or calls made you feel very anxious before lockdown, you may feel that even more since so many of us are at home and supposedly “on-call” any time.
In a world that is constantly changing, it may be tempting to cling to a relationship or the reassurance of another person for a sense of stability, explains Brown.
However, it is important to remember that, even though they may be at home all day, your partner likely still has other obligations such as family or work that keep them from answering your texts or calls at certain times.
If you are someone whose partner struggles with relationship anxiety, it may be helpful to communicate clearly that you remain committed to the relationship but would like to set certain boundaries. For example, you might explain that certain hours of the day are very busy for you with work, and it may take you longer to respond if you are being contacted at that time.
“Relationships have morphed from how we once knew them,” says Brown. “That is okay. That is normal. What is important is being open and honest with our partners when this [reassurance seeking] is triggered and [having] empathy for each other and how difficult this time can be.”
If you are currently living with your partner, your relationship anxiety around not being able to get a hold of them may have subsided. However, it is important to “be aware that the increased interaction may serve to provide reassurance for the insecurity by default, because you don't have to explicitly ask for it, and may reappear when our more natural schedules resume,” says King.
On the other hand, being in quarantine 24/7 with someone whom you are not used to spending extended periods of time with -- in this case, weeks or months -- can be a real challenge. As noted in The Atlantic, many people are becoming frustrated with their partners during quarantine in regards to how they each handle stressful situations.
Additionally, it could even be your partner’s everyday quirks that are now getting on your nerves for the first time, because you did not have to constantly see or deal with them before.
Quarantining with someone can feel like a real eye-opener to how being in a relationship with them in the long-term may be, and these new revelations might seem scary. However, Shimmy Feintuch, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member, advises against making major relationship decisions at this time.
“Because [we are all under a lot of stress nowadays], we can be a lot more irritable and have less patience for each other. Now is not the time to draw conclusions about our relationships, and unless there's a dire situation, now is generally not the time to make big relationship decisions,” he says.
Feintuch emphasizes the importance of taking some time for yourself during quarantine rather than only focusing on your relationships with other people.
“Everyone needs [alone time], some more than others,” he says. “Be sure to take some ‘me’ time and encourage others to do the same.”
Feintuch also recommends using video chat to stay in touch with people you do not live with, as doing so will relieve the social commitment of those you do live with.
Additionally, staying connected with friends and other people can remind you that you are loved and cared about in more contexts than one.
Practicing mindfulness can be extremely beneficial for people experiencing anxiety, because it teaches you to “‘distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit,’” says Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Getting into a regular mindfulness practice may help you be better able to discern between issues in your relationship that need to be immediately addressed versus worries that may not be founded on evidence.
While there are a variety of types of couples therapy that can help with relationship anxiety, working through individual therapy can also help you address some of the root causes of relationship anxiety.
Therapy can be extremely helpful in working through feelings of insecurity, learning to radically accept yourself, and making connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, according to therapist and MyWellbeing member Zoe Reyes.
If you find yourself often seeking reassurance and validation through a relationship, going to therapy may help you learn to better recognize your own inherent value. This in turn can help you feel more confident in other areas of your life, including relationships.
It is natural that learning to live in a world that is constantly changing may have taken a toll on your mental health. Feeling anxious about change and the future is completely normal, but it can also lead us to fixate on details in our interpersonal relationships that in turn exacerbate the anxious feelings.
Learning to break this cycle with the support and open communication of your partner is very helpful. However, it is most vital to make time for yourself and work towards recognizing your own worth and capability.
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