Each time she embarked on a new relationship, she began to worry – about everything. She worried about the way she dressed. She worried that she wasn’t funny enough, smart enough, sexy enough, thin enough.
Every element of the relationship was subject to scrutiny – in her own head. (And as her friend, those details were often the topic of our conversations.) Naturally, her worry bubbled over into behavior. She was more tense, more uncertain, and I imagine – more needy.
Worry was ruining her relationships.
Serious Relationship, Serious Worries?
This girlfriend eventually outgrew the worry habit. I can’t say whether it was maturity in general or the number of failed romances of relatively short duration.
Of course, the more serious the relationship, the more serious the potential for worry – and likely the more serious the worries themselves: You’ve invested more trust and time in the relationship; you share friends, family and possibly a “public” life; you may also be financially interdependent.
If you’re cohabiting, married, or have children – let’s hope you aren’t still sweating the small stuff – which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t pay attention to telling clues and details!
I recall an old friend, long married, with one child. A lovely girl, she nonetheless had some learning challenges. Special attention was a constant; as adolescence approached, worry for both parents grew.
As an outsider looking at their relationship, here is what I saw: They continued to find ways to enjoy each other; they communicated well, they did not allow worry to overshadow their relationship. They also succeeded in tag-teaming parenting responsibilities, which allowed them to manage their challenges, and not the other way around.
In fact, this tag-teaming led to opportunities. Both had careers, but they took turns in being home-based for an extra eye on their child. The father consulted from home for a number of years while the mother transitioned to full-time in her field. Their holistic approach to family needs was both admirable and smart, in keeping with the concept of “congruent careers” as described by talent management strategist, Dorothy Dalton.
My Marriage, Myself
In my marriage, there was an explicit “no sharing” rule. In other words, whatever problems we may have had, they were to stay between us. Period.
In principle, I agree with the concept, especially in an oversharing world. Unfortunately, taken to an extreme, it means never being able to confide in a close friend, which is isolating as the years pass. I now view it less as respecting privacy and more about control. Unfortunately, it then becomes all too easy to internalize blame and easier still for fears to grow.
After all, you can’t compare your concerns with those of others – to know if your issues are common (and readily solved), or substantial enough to require intervention. You may perceive all worries as equal – the quality of your communication and complaints about dust on the baseboards; your activities in the bedroom and how often the kids’ jeans are washed.
My worries? I worried about the amount my spouse traveled. Didn’t he want to be home and spend time with me? If he was gone so much, should I be worrying there was someone else? Was I somehow not good enough, though I was when we married?
Looking back, had I felt free to discuss marital issues with a friend, would I have seen which worries were typical – and which were red flags?
Most Common Worries in Marriage
Ironically, I never worried that my marriage would end. I was certain that my ability to do “whatever it took” would keep us intact as a family. That wasn’t hubris; it was determination. But it takes two who mesh and wish to do the work; looking back a dozen years after divorce, I see more clearly what couldn’t be fixed.
There are many worries in marriage of course, and disagreements can take their toll on the relationship. Among them – how to handle children, how to manage two careers, and of course – money. If you add a major life event – for example, unemployment – you may be subject to a ripple effect when it comes to worries degrading the relationship.
Incidentally, the most common worries in marriage include the first two I just mentioned, as well as fears of infidelity. I believe more of us should be concerned with managing multiple careers and what happens if life deals an unexpected blow.
This source enumerates a number of typical marital fears, including several I wouldn’t have thought of. They are:
- fear he will leave if you become sick
- fear of losing yourself in the marriage
- fear that your sex life will fizzle over time
- fear (for women) that as you age, he will leave for someone younger
Is It Common to Worry About Your Relationship?
Curious to see if this is a common theme – in particular, second guessing your appearance, your behavior, your judgment, your partner’s actions – I searched to see if it’s usual to worry about relationships.
Lifehack offers its viewpoint on unnecessary worries, many of which I find to be legitimate – so what gives?
Among the items they cite:
- My partner is cheating
- My partner wants to leave me
- His friends and family don’t like me
- I am not good enough
- We don’t have enough sex
I agree that worrying about being left is pointless. If you communicate well, if your sex life is good, if your values mesh – it seems to me the foundation is solid. Can someone suddenly meet the (latest) love of his life? Sure! And if you ask me, there’s not a thing you can do about it.
As for worrying about infidelity, I’d say that’s pretty basic. Some men (and women) may give you cause for that worry; others will not. I also think worries over one’s sex life are both normal and rational. If you’re concerned about it, you likely have reason to be – whether it’s frequency or quality, sex is glue in millions of relationships.
Worry Is Unhealthy
When I think of my friend who worried incessantly over every new boyfriend, it’s easy to see that she created stress that was not only unhealthy for her, but ultimately contributed to ruining her relationships. She couldn’t help but bring her insecurities and neediness to the fore. That tends to make others back away.
When I think of the married friend who so wisely found ways to deal with a long-term source of challenges, I realize that with awareness, communication and common purpose, couples can manage worry rather than the other way around.
As for common worries like being left or not being good enough, esteem issues (especially for women) run through many of our sources of stress. In today’s economy, don’t we worry about some of these issues in our jobs?
Well-founded or insignificant, worrying is stressful, and stress is unhealthy. It eats away at our pleasure, at our sleep, at our performance, at our libido, at our self-confidence – the consequences of which will surely erode our relationships.
How NOT to Worry
Just say no.
Easier said than done, I realize. Perhaps with time and experience we gain skill at knowing when to go with the flow, and when to take notice and address an issue.
He wants to hang with his buddies on the weekend? If it isn’t every weekend, I’d say that’s an opportunity – not a slight.
Your sex life has flat-lined? I’d say that’s a topic worthy of open communication.
These days? Sure, I have my worries, but nothing compared to what I faced in marriage, and I chalk that up to a combination of factors – my children are raised, the man in my life is a committed communicator, and I have changed some of my own behaviors.
Worry is a part of life; excessive worry can be avoided. It may also be a sign in and of itself that there is something amiss in the nature of the relationship.
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