How do I stop being so doubtful and fearful about relationships?
April 17, 2010 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Relationships cause me anxiety, from ones I hear about in songs to ones I see on tv to my own. How do I overcome this?

This isn't the only thing that causes me anxiety but it is the biggest.

Basically, listening to love songs causes me dread and anxiety. Watching movies or tv shows about love and relationships causes me anxiety. The other day I almost started crying because of the terrible feelings watching a couple on tv evoked. My own relationship, with my utterly wonderful partner, causes me anxiety.

I honestly and truly don't think it is my own relationship that causes these feelings but rather the idea of relationships. My own relationship is fine (minus all my doubts). There are no major problems except my anxiety. My anxiety is not some gut feeling telling me to break up.

However I often find myself doubting my feelings for my partner, doubting we should be together, thinking maybe we should just break up now because how do I know if we should really be together, questioning whether we would both be better off with someone else, doubting if I'm good enough for him and if he deserves someone better etc. etc. etc. ad naseum. But mostly doubting my feelings and thinking we should break up for no rational reason. I can relate to this a lot.

Like I said, I know MeFites tend to say DTMFA when someone's relationship causes them such anxiety, but I do not think it is my partner or the relationship. I think it's me. I don't want to lose him just because of my anxiety. He is really wonderful and when I am actually spending time with him I don't think this way, unless I start to question why I'm not currently thinking that way and then I start it up.

FWIW I don't have a good relationship with my parents and they definitely do not at all have a good relationship with each other.

So, has anyone ever felt this way before? How do I overcome it? It got much worse after my relationship went up a notch in seriousness. Not even we-just-got-engaged or we-just-moved-in-together seriousness, but the amount of seriousness most relationships get to within like 6 months.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Anonymous said: "How do I overcome it?"

CBT. It's amazingly useful for this kind of thing.
posted by Solomon at 6:46 AM on April 17, 2010

The cure to your problem is very simple. Very simple. Take each day as it comes and enjoy each moment of the day. If you learn to do this your worries will diminish and you will grow.
posted by doost at 6:48 AM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

The other day I almost started crying because of the terrible feelings watching a couple on tv evoked.

You can control your stimulus here. Get an iPod, fill it with music that doesn't upset you and stop watching relationship-porn.

If you've got a limited amount of dealing-with-relationships in your day, don't blow it watching TV.
posted by mhoye at 6:53 AM on April 17, 2010

I don't blame you. This is a very understandable reaction to the way these media saturate our perceptions with idealized images of what a relationship is like. Love songs are particularly bad because not only are they the most idealized form (lyrics about endless devotion accompanied by ecstatic music), but you can't just decide not to listen to them unless you never go out in public.

However, it's also understandable that love songs are like this. They're not reflecting reality; they're idealized precisely because they don't reflect reality. There isn't much commercial success to be had from creating songs or movies that tell the audience that relationships are just as mundane and flawed as they seem to be in real life. Movies and especially TV show us symbols more than show us reality. For instance, the way to depict a "date" is to show the classiest possible restaurant, with soft candle-lighting, and so on. This reassures us that all is right with the world -- our reaction is "ah, yes, that's what people do when they do that." In real life, there are many other things that constitute a "date," and the fine-dining ideal would get really boring. By the same token, the way to create drama is to establish people's relationships as idyllic at the beginning of the movie, then introduce some conflict that threatens to tear everything apart -- usually bouncing back to an even more idyllic situation by the end. You know intellectually that real life isn't like this, but these images have seeped into your concept of what relationships are supposed to be like.

Your question reminded me of this AskMe thread, which shows how hard it is to come up with any example of someone in a movie or TV show making a mistake that's not integral to either the plot or character development or a joke. In real life, people make meaningless mistakes all the time, because life isn't perfect. Normal relationships involve arguments, miscommunications, shortcomings -- but you're not going to see a relationship with normal flaws like these in the movies or TV unless it's foreshadowing for some disaster that's going to happen. If the couple is normal and healthy, they'll be depicted as perfect, which, of course, is not reality.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:14 AM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Check with a doctor to see if the anxiety may be a medical issue. If you're getting anxious about *everything*, it may not be an issue of what you're anxious about, but how your brain is processing it.
posted by matildaben at 7:15 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my own experience, it will never go away, but it can get much, much better. With therapy I realized that all of those other relationships were making me anxious because I was imagining how I would react if _I_ were in the that position, how I would feel (anxious, of course!) if That were Me. Once I became aware that that was what was bothering me about those other situations, I was better able to let it go and realize that that Isn't me, my relationship is different and better and calmer. I am not doomed to be in those other relationship situations.

So, in summary, good boundaries really help. Sometimes suggestions like the above avoidance of stimuli can be big part of that. But the answer for me was therapy for anxiety, which got in to the self-esteem and self-definition that showed me that other people's relationships and problems were not my own.

Good luck enjoying your own relationships!
posted by ldthomps at 7:23 AM on April 17, 2010

I just want to say that I used to be like this and still am to some extent, but much, much less. (At age 20, I broke up with someone because "I didn't know how to love" which is practically a direct quote in your link). A combination of personal therapy, couples therapy, and some self-help books, not all at once but spread across 12 years or so, has really helped a lot. So, it's not one of those "you're screwed forever" situations. I don't think there's a quick fix we can give you here, though maybe. But for me, it's been a matter of having the right conversations with a therapist at the right time, and then going out in the world and trying something new based on those conversations. Good luck. I'd love to know what works for you.
posted by salvia at 10:08 AM on April 17, 2010

Relationships should cause anxiety if you're doing it right. By which I mean intimacy with someone outside of your control, an actual separate person, is a scary thing. Many people sidestep the anxiety by relating to an internalized image of the other instead
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:54 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

For dealing with anxiety issues, I suggest you look into Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy(a branch of Cognitive Behavior Therapy). This book was particularly helpful to me. The basic premise of REBT is that it is not the "problems" that are causing us trouble, but our opinions of these problems.

For instance, if your opinion was that, "it would be awful if I stayed with my partner even though we may not be best for each other!," then that opinion would cause you anxiety and discontent for as long as you stayed with your partner.

On the other hand, your anxiety would be lessened a good bit if you took on a more rational opinion of the situation, such as, "while it would be unfortunate if I stayed with my partner even though we might not be best for each other, it certainly wouldn't be awful! No couple can ever be perfect for each other, yet this doesn't stop many others from being happy in their relationships. And supposing I found that we truly weren't right for each other, I will have gained some valuable lessons to help me in finding someone I might like better. It's not the end of the world!"

That's just a basic example of how the author will help you to dispute your irrational beliefs, and he does a fantastic job of helping you to realize just how senseless it was to believe the things that were causing you emotional difficulties. I can't say enough good things about the book; it changed my life.
posted by Ryogen at 3:06 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it was just your relationship, I'd be worried about how it's going. Since it's relationships and you're constantly ruminating over the entire topic and having doubts that intrude on your life, I'm going to suggest getting a really sharp therapist with a focus on OCD/ anxiety disorders and a psychiatrist who also specializes in OCD. You seem to be most of the way there on that topic yourself, having linked what you did-- another term you might find helpful to look up while you make your decision is "purely obsessional OCD."

Seriously, if all it turns out to be is a quirk of brain chemistry-- as I'm finding out is true for me with other problems-- and professionals can help you cope with and address that, you'll be much happier than you will be constantly trying to control your exposure to something as unavoidable as relationships.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:10 PM on April 17, 2010

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