Chronic Relationship Anxiety: Equal opportunity for men, women?
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
In our previous articles about differences in how women and men worry, we talked about the fact that if you’re a woman, you’re twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, due to genetic, psychological and environmental causes.
Cultural factors also contribute — women are twice as likely to seek therapy (and thus get diagnosed), while men experiencing anxiety are much less likely to seek the same help. There’s a saying that goes, “Guys stress about work while women worry about every other damn thing.”
When men get past the learned fear, shame, and “paying good money to spill their guts mentality” and make it into therapy, research shows that not only are the issues that men worry about in the 21st century similar to those of women, but men can benefit from therapy just as much, if not more, than women.
One such issue: Chronic relationship anxiety. Read on to determine if you suffer from this type of anxiety.
What is Chronic Relationship Anxiety?
Do you experience the following symptoms and behaviors when you’re in an intimate relationship? Extreme or constant worry, excessive or inappropriate jealousy, too needy or clingy, emotional volatility, constant need for reassurance, frequent unfounded suspiciousness, approach-retreat interactions, hyper-focus on the possible bad “what ifs.”
If these behaviors above describe your most typical responses when interacting with an intimate other, and leave you (and your partner) feeling frequently unhappy, scared, depressed and confused, you may be experiencing Chronic Relationship Anxiety.
Chronic Relationship Anxiety is not really a stand-alone official medical or mental health disorder. However, the symptoms and behaviors associated with this phenomenon do exist within the framework of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and can greatly impact close relationships.
Worrying in relationships is pretty common. Figuring out how to feel OK, and even curious about taking a leap of faith — trusting our vulnerabilities with someone who is imperfect (like us) — is really hard and feels very uncomfortable at times.
People who suffer from Chronic Relationship Anxiety experience love like anyone else, but the feelings, emotions, and thoughts can be more intense and scary.
We know that people with GAD worry 300 minutes/day – over 5 times as much as those without an anxiety disorder.
They often have more trouble in their romantic relationships because they worry more often and endorse the viewpoint that “if it feels bad, then it must mean it’s bad” as absolute truth.
Any distressing thought, uneasy sensation or feeling of discomfort or distress is viewed as strong and indisputable evidence that something is “wrong” in the relationship or that something “could be” potentially problematic with themselves or their significant other.
Chronic anxiety floods the relationship with (a) fears and doubts (about the authenticity of anything that feels good — love, respect, and joy); (b) urgent and chaotic searches for “the truth” (that there is no such thing as genuine love, respect, joy); and (c) a desperate and unending need for reassurance.
Relationship Anxiety often leaves in its wake depressed self-confidence, distrust, impatience, unreasonable expectations, lack of intimate communication, and emotional distancing.
This emotional reactivity (an automatic, usually unconscious response to negatively perceived events, situations, or people) makes it hard to be ourselves, and can lead to symptoms similar to Panic Disorder.
The worst part: It deprives us of understanding that the complexities involved in connecting with others is what makes those connections so important and meaningful.
Help for Chronic Relationship Anxiety
The good news is that Relationship Anxiety can be managed very effectively, resulting in improved relationship quality with those we love, as well as an improved relationship with ourselves.
Through a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness, Communication Skills Building, as well as education from reliable self-help books, you can learn how to: make uncomfortable feelings and sensations less important; tolerate and accept reasonable uncertainty in your close relationship; widen your search for more truths about the existence of love and joy; and invite in opportunities to spend less time self-protecting, worrying, arguing or avoiding, and more time engaging in open and honest communication, reasonable and thoughtful solutions, kindness, patience, and gratitude.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. They own the Center for Anxiety & Chronic Worry in Incline Village. Barry may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org; visit anxietytreatment-inclinevillage.com to learn more.
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