The Sex Column: ‘How do I conquer my relationship anxiety?’

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I’m finding myself constantly checking my phone and overthinking‘ (Picture: Neil Webb)

‘I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a teenager. I’m 32 now and still get anxious when I meet new people or when I’m in some group situations.

I also get really anxious in relationships and I’m in a fairly new one after being single for a long time.

I’m finding myself constantly checking my phone and overthinking. I love so much about him but I think I was happier when I was single.

I do my best to manage my anxiety with mindfulness and exercise and I’ve had CBT before. I just want to be happy and relaxed in a relationship.

What do you suggest?

Anxiety rarely propels us anywhere healthy or helpful.

‘You want to be happy and relaxed in a relationship but your anxiety is whispering “leave”,’ says James McConnachie. ‘That solution can’t possibly work because if you’re not in a relationship then you have zero chance of being happy and relaxed in one.’

Nothing triggers our insecurities like a romantic partner and this new union is magnifying what you are already living with – a persistent fear of rejection and an underestimation of your ability to cope with that threat.

‘Anxiety will be motivating you to look for guarantees but there are few when it comes to relationships,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin. ‘So the first step is to acknowledge that anxiety is going to be an inevitable travel partner on your journey into this new one.’

This means that you will need to start seeking safety within and start reassuring yourself, rather than seeking reassurance from him.

‘It sounds like you’re in a habit of not trusting people, not feeling safe in relationships and not believing that you deserve love and support,’ says Rupert Smith.
You’ve mentioned that this anxiety began in your teens, a time when familial issues often start rising up to the surface. 

‘When people are avoidant, distrustful and dismissive of their own needs, it can be an indication that their earliest relationships in childhood were unreliable and unhappy,’ Smith continues. ‘Working with a counsellor will help you explore the connections between how you’re feeling now and your early experiences.’

When you’re with your boyfriend, it will be difficult to engage genuinely and completely if you’re constantly pulled away by anxious chatter. ‘So do your best to stay grounded by focusing on what he’s saying and by asking questions,’ says Rudkin. ‘When you’re not with him, focus on what you bring to a relationship rather than what you can’t, and monitor your thoughts to ensure they don’t become biased towards what he doesn’t do.’

Things will gradually shift as you progress through the first stages of getting to know and trust each other. ‘You will learn how to be happy and relaxed but at this point, it’s like asking you to feel relaxed while climbing Mount Everest,’ says Rudkin.

This anxiety is only one part of you and as you continue to seek within, you will meet so much more of yourself and so will he. 

The experts

Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor

James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)

Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychologist

Got a sex and dating dilemma?

To get expert advice, send your problem to lisa.scott@metro.co.uk


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