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How To Stop Overthinking In A Relationship Before It Becomes An Addiction

overthinking relationship anxiety

Has this ever happened to you? 

  • Your partner is late coming home after work, and you start to think they must be cheating on you. 
  • Conversation has dried up the last week, and you assume it’s because your partner finds you boring.
  • Your partner has seemed stressed the last couple of days and you think they’re going to break up with you. 

Overthinking is something most people are familiar with. Whether you overthink your job, personal life, or relationships, we’ve all done it. We jump to conclusions rashly on flimsy claims and follow our thoughts down rabbit holes that only lead to anxiety and panic. 

If you overthink your relationship, you’re not alone. Dating is tricky, and it doesn’t always get easier once you’ve taken it long-term. Overthinking in a relationship can be a form of self-sabotage and, when it gets out of control, can wear down our relationships to the point of breaking or becoming an addiction. 

But your relationship is not doomed because you overthink. With the right insight, therapy, and work, you can break free from overthinking and find peace and stability in your relationship. 

So, let’s dive into what overthinking is, how it may be affecting your relationship, and what we can do to stop overthinking for good

Am I overthinking a relationship?

The trickiest and often cruelest part of overthinking is that it feels so logical. When we’re catastrophizing (thinking of the worst-case scenario), we’re rarely thinking “This is ridiculous.” More often than not, we’re thinking “This could really happen.” In cases of past traumas or hurt, maybe the worst-case scenario already did happen, and you’re afraid it might happen again. 

So it’s important to recognize when we’re overthinking and when we’re just thinking.

Your overthinking might become a problem if:

  • The thoughts about your relationship keep you up at night or prevent you from completing work or leisure activities. 
  • When you tell others about them, they tell you not to worry. 
  • Your thoughts spiral into progressively worst-case scenarios.
  • You start getting paranoid, looking for clues that your fears are founded. 
  • You jump from one conclusion to another based on a hunch or without any proof

The above are signs of rumination, a symptom of anxiety, which can also appear in relationship anxiety. Relationship anxiety is when our anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are centered around a relationship. Most often this is with a significant other, but it can also be with a family member, friend, or coworker. Managing stress in a relationship is hard. There’s a lot of pressure to have a “good” relationship without much information about what defines “good”. Also, past experiences can have a big negative impact on how we see and interact with current relationships. If you’ve been burned in the past you’re more likely to overthink relationships today. 

In her book, Stop Overthinking Your Relationship: Break the Cycle of Anxious Rumination to Nurture Love, Trust, and Connection With Your Partner, Alicia Muñoz describes 5 kinds of relationship rumination

  1. Blame: Inward-facing or directed towards your partner. Examples: 
    1. “I can’t believe they would do this to me.” 
    2. “This is all their fault, if they hadn’t stayed late, we wouldn’t be having this fight.” 
    3. “I can’t believe I let this happen, I’m so annoying.”
  2. Control: Fixated on future scenarios and believing you have the best way to solve them. Examples: 
    1. “I know what’s best, so my partner should follow suit.” 
    2. “Because I’m more experienced, I should take the lead on this decision.” 
    3. “I just want to protect them, so they should follow what I say.” 
  3. Doubt: Not trusting your decisions or perceptions about the relationship or your partner. Examples: 
    1. “Am I making a mistake by dating them? What if there is someone else better out there?” 
    2. “I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it really is. I’m too sensitive.” 
    3. “They said they loved me, but did they really mean it? They were probably just trying to make me feel better.”
  4. Worry: A constant cycle of worst-case scenarios and catastrophizing. Examples: 
    1. “We’re going to break up and I’ll never find love again.” 
    2. “If I lose my job we’ll have to move back home and our relationship will crumble.” 
  5. Self-Pity: Embracing the role of the victim in hopes your partner will come to rescue you. Examples: 
    1. “Why does this always happen to me? There’s no hope.” 
    2. “I can’t do anything to fix this problem, we’re doomed.” 

Through reflection, communication, and changing some habits, you can break free from these cycles of rumination and create healthy, solid relationships.

Why do I overthink my relationship?

The root cause of overthinking in a relationship is usually a deeply held hurt or misconception about yourself, your partner, or the world. Examples include: 

  • Control issues: If you are unable to let go of control, you won’t be able to trust your partner. 
  • You feel threatened: We often use relationships to feel safe from our insecurities. If something is threatening that safety—like an old ex, a triggering memory, or something your partner said—you might start to ruminate.  
  • Past traumas or relationship hurt: If previous relationships have ended badly or were unhealthy, you might carry that trauma with you into your next relationship. 
  • Self-sabotage in your relationship: We self-sabotage for many reasons, but a common way to self-sabotage a relationship is by overthinking it. 
  • Attachment issues: The four attachment types have long since been associated with relationship satisfaction and outcome. Avoidant and anxious attachment types are both prone to overthinking relationships. 

Overthinking is caused by some deep hurt and a wrongly held belief about yourself, your partner, or the world. For example, you might think “They’re going to cheat on me,” because you were cheated on by your last partner. While this is a valid pain, projecting that assumption onto your current partner is a form of relationship overthinking. It isn’t a true thought but instead a reflection on your past hurt. By healing from that hurt, we can learn to let go of our ruminations. 

Is it normal to overthink my relationship?

To an extent, yes. Especially if you are young or are in the early stages of your relationship, you likely will be overthinking. Everything is bright and new and you’re just getting to know your partner. Overthinking in the early stages of your relationship is normal and not a reason for concern. 

However, if, after a few months, you still find your mind racing with worst-case scenarios or rumination, then you might have an overthinking problem.

Can overthinking become an addiction?

There’s a safety to overthinking: if you intimately know all the worst-case scenarios, you can prepare for them. But this logic is flawed. You can’t possibly prepare for every single worst-case situation, and you can’t live a healthy life constantly overthinking. If you are always living in the future, you stop enjoying the present. You become lost in your head, fixated on futures that will likely never come to pass. Still, overthinking is a safety net, and, in the chaos of every day, we can cling to it like a safety net. While we can’t become addicted to overthinking itself, we can become addicted to the perceived safety it provides. The key to ridding yourself of overthinking a relationship is to find safety in other healthier options.

How to stop overthinking a relationship

The first step to stop overthinking a relationship is to know why you are overthinking. Is the cause a past trauma? Is it because you feel safer knowing all the worst-case scenarios? Do you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style? 

Do some reflection to determine the exact cause of your overthinking. If you’re struggling with this introspection, try talking to a friend, journaling, or reaching out to a therapist

Here are 5 steps you can take to stop overthinking in a relationship. 

  1. Be mindful 

One study found that mindfulness in a relationship is linked to higher levels of partner acceptance and relationship satisfaction. Have you tried to be mindful together? When you’re eating a meal, take the time to point out the intricacies of flavor you enjoy. Go for walks together and notice the changes in the seasons. Be specific about what you love about them, and ask them to do the same. 

  1. Talk to your partner about your insecurities.

It can be scary, but a lot of our rumination and overthinking can be put to ease when we talk about it. When you bring up your overthinking thoughts, try not to just ask for reassurance. “Do you still love me?” will give you a quick burst of serotonin but won’t do anything to address the deeper issue. Instead, sit down with your partner and have a conversation about how you worry they will stop loving you one day. Brainstorm ideas to help you feel more stable in the relationship. 

  1. Examine your attachment style, and help each other out. 

Insecure and avoidant attachment styles typically have a negative impact on relationship satisfaction. But attachment styles can be changed through introspective, processing past and childhood relationships, and therapy. If you are someone who has an insecure or avoidant attachment style, it doesn’t mean all your relationships are doomed. One study found that gratitude towards your partner can actually mediate the detrimental effects of an insecure or avoidant attachment style. It’s not always perfect, and you will still have to work at forging a secure attachment style, but gratitude can be a way to forge a strong, healthy connection regardless of your past experiences and current attachment style. 

  1. Journal

As helpful as your partner can be in this journey, the change is ultimately one you have to make on your own. Journaling is a great way to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper, where they can seem less scary. If you don’t like handwriting things, try typing or doing voice-to-text. 

  1. Practice positive self-talk

Cognitive distortions are often the root of overthinking. Cognitive distortions are negative, untrue thought patterns that impact our emotions and behavior. For example, catastrophizing is a common cognitive distortion. So is confirmation bias, where you only look for facts that back up your assumptions. Black and white is another common cognitive bias that can cause overthinking in relationships; this is when you have an all-or-nothing approach. For example, you might think you’re either going to marry your partner and be with them forever one day and be convinced they’ll break up with you the next. Positive self-talk is one way we can disarm cognitive distortions. Practice saying kind, true things to yourself throughout the day. Even if you don’t believe them, the practice will eventually erode the lies cognitive distortions tell us.

Reach out for help when you need it.

Overthinking in a relationship is often a sign of anxiety, and that anxiety can affect other parts of your life. If anxiety has made it difficult for you to sleep, work, or enjoy life, an anxiety therapist can help. An individual therapist can also help address any self-sabotage, too. 

Also, couples counselors are always a great way to deal with relationship issues together. If you are overthinking your relationship, you might want to attend couples counseling with your partner so you can work on building a healthy foundation for the future. 

Lifebulb offers both individual and couples counseling across the US. For more information, give our team a call or browse our directory of therapists.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Overthinking in relationships can be caused by various factors such as past traumas, insecurities, fear of rejection, or a need for control. It's important to explore the root causes with a therapist to develop healthier thought patterns.

 The four attachment styles are secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Each style influences how we form and maintain relationships. Understanding your attachment style can provide insights into your relationship patterns.

 To stop overthinking, practice mindfulness, challenge negative thoughts, communicate openly with your partner, set clear boundaries, and prioritize self-care. A therapist can provide guidance and support in developing healthier coping strategies.

 Yes, Lifebulb offers couples counseling services. Our highly qualified therapists specialize in helping couples improve communication, resolve conflicts, rebuild trust, and strengthen their relationships. Reaching out to Lifebulb can be a positive step towards enhancing your relationship's well-being.

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