How To Stop Stressing Over Your Relationships

This is excerpt from You’re Overthinking It: Find Lifelong Love By Being Your True Self by Sabrina Alexis Bendory, published by Thought Catalog Books (January 2023).

One of the biggest relationship mistakes I see women make is stressing over their relationship, whether it’s in the dating stage or in a more established relationship.

The stressing is tied to a fear of losing the guy, and what that will mean to her. It almost feels like a way to protect ourselves from getting hurt but it doesn’t have the intended effect and instead we may set the stage for the exact scenario we fear to come to life.

When you stop stressing out over the relationship, you are free to really be in the relationship. You can see the other person for who he is, and you can give yourself to him freely–no strategies, no game-playing, no manipulation. You won’t feel a need to control anything. You can just be, and there is no greater feeling than that.

But how do we do it? How do we stop our minds from spinning into overdrive, sending out waves of unpleasant thoughts and sounding alarm bells?

1. Realize Stressing/Overthinking Gets You Nowhere

First, you need to realize that getting all wound up over the state of your relationship serves no purpose, ever. It causes problems within the relationship but more importantly, it takes a huge toll on your sense of self and self-esteem. When you care too much, you inevitably become attached to a certain outcome. You invest mental energy in making sure things go a certain way. And if they don’t, then you suffer on many levels.

I have been guilty of stressing over past relationships. It was always the same pattern. Things started out fun and light, I got excited about the possibilities…and then became scared that my imagined future wouldn’t come to be…and then panic set in. From then on, the relationship was no longer enjoyable. Every interaction and conversation became a test to see exactly where he stood and how he felt.

Anyone who has dated long enough knows exactly what I’m talking about. The problem is that our minds trick us into believing there is some sort of payoff to this type of thinking. Like it will somehow lead us to a place of confidence and clarity. It won’t. It will lead you in the opposite direction and cause you to feel even more uncertain and insecure.

2. See a Relationship for What It Is

Let’s talk about what a relationship is and isn’t. We’ll start with what it isn’t. A relationship isn’t a measure of your worth or worthiness in this world. It is not there to serve you and give you things like happiness and self-esteem. It is not there to make you feel good about life and about yourself. This isn’t to say a relationship can’t do these things, it’s just that these aren’t the elements upon which a healthy relationship is built.

A relationship also isn’t some sort of milestone, a sign that you’ve “made it,” that you will be OK, that you are now a member of some elite club. It isn’t something you work to acquire. It is not a goal to achieve.

A relationship is an experience to be had and shared. It is about discovering how compatible you are with someone else, and if there is enough chemistry and compatibility to form a lifelong partnership. The only work you have to do is to make sure you are your best self and get to a place where you can give and receive love. No amount of plotting or analyzing will change whether you and someone else are compatible. You either are or you aren’t. The dating process is more of a discovery process to find out if it’s there.

So you enter into the relationship as your best self and then one of two things happens: it works out, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, you’re OK because you know that it just means you weren’t a match with that person. It doesn’t mean you’re flawed or damaged or bad or unlovable. It just wasn’t a match. Sometimes you’ll be able to see this, and sometimes the other person will have that clarity. Either way, if it doesn’t work, it’s because it wasn’t the right fit. That’s all!

If you can realize this, really realize it, then there will be absolutely nothing to stress over.

3. Set a Freak-Out Deadline

A lot of us make the mistake of prematurely freaking out over something that really turns out to be absolutely nothing. For example, let’s say you start seeing a new guy and things are going great. You talk regularly, go on fun dates, it seems to be going really well. But then you don’t hear from him for a day or two and immediately hit the panic button.

And then the devastation starts to creep in, followed by the doubts. What did I do wrong? Was it something I said? Something I did? Why do the guys I like always leave me? You feel a sense of dread deep in your gut and you know, you just know, that he’s never coming back.

Meanwhile, in boy land, he’s been really slammed at work and has barely had a minute to come up for air. In his mind, the relationship is going great, he’s happy to have met a great girl like you and he can’t wait to finish this big project so he can see you again. He’s happily going along doing his thing while you are knee-deep in heartbreak mode, mourning the loss of what could have been and trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

And just when the agony is at its peak, he calls or texts! And everything is fine! You’re relieved, but at the same time, you are so in it now. You cling to the relationship even tighter because you remember how miserable it felt when you thought you’d lost it, and you vow not to do anything to screw this up.

I’m not saying the relationship will be doomed after this point, but I can guarantee it will cause a major shift in the dynamic and it will definitely ruin your ability to actually enjoy the relationship anymore.

Rather than reflexively panicking when something seems amiss, set a deadline. For example, if you started seeing a guy and don’t hear from him for a day or two, say, “I will not panic about this right now. If I don’t hear from him by this day at this time, then I am allowed to be upset,” and then just take it out of your mind.

This also works if you’re in a more established relationship. Let’s say you don’t see your partner as often as you’d like. Maybe you’d like to go on dates more regularly or see him a few times during the week. Tell yourself that you will be fine with things for the time being, and if nothing changes in two weeks, then you can be upset about it and deal with it. Or let’s say you’re in a serious relationship and there has been talk of getting engaged, but he hasn’t popped the question yet. Instead of getting angry about it, just give yourself a deadline. If he doesn’t propose in the next month, then I will be upset and I will deal with it. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the relationship and not let this bother me.

This little exercise will help you train your mind to stay calm and avoid spinning into a frenzy. It will help you gain control over your thoughts and your mood, and this will be of major benefit to you and your relationship. And the funny thing is, whatever problem you wanted to get really upset about right away usually resolves itself before the deadline you set! I’m telling you, it really works.

4. Be Present

The biggest problem with stressing over your relationship is that it takes you out of the relationship and into a place that’s not real. When you get stressed and anxious, you’re no longer interacting with the person sitting in front of you, you’re interacting with the thoughts in your mind. You fixate on an imagined future and worry about how and if you’ll get there with him. Stop doing this!

Instead, just be present. Be right here, right now. When you go on a date with a guy, whether it’s the first or the fiftieth, all you should be thinking about is enjoying your time with him and building a connection. If you’re in the early stages of dating, the only thing to decide is whether you want to go on another date with this person (and save that consideration for after the date). Don’t size him up and look for signs that he’s the one and this is it. Don’t scan him to determine how he feels and if he likes you. Just enjoy it for what it is and let the process unfold organically. No stress!

When you worry about where this is going and if there’s a future, you blind yourself to what’s in front of you and hinder your chances of forming a real connection. You can’t connect with someone who isn’t there with you in that present moment. Most people don’t see other people, they only see their concerns of the moment, and they clutter their minds trying to figure out how he feels, what he’s thinking, and so forth. The concern and worry and doubt feels like it’s serving a purpose, but it’s not! It’s actually taking you further away from where you want to be. A relationship is what’s in front of you, that’s it!

Now I’m not saying you should never think about the future or discuss where things are heading, there is a time for that. Discussing the relationship or the future isn’t the problem, the problem occurs when the mindset you have about the relationship revolves around what you want and are afraid you won’t get, instead of what you have. When you’re full of anxiety and fear, and you panic thinking about what will or won’t be in the future, you have an unhealthy mindset. The best way to fix this is to try to just be present.

5. Stop Fixating on What Things Supposedly Mean

As women, we’ve all been programmed to see having a relationship as some sign that we’ve made it, that we’re worthy. Being single is seen as something to be pitied and being in a relationship is something to covet. As a result, a lot of us measure our worth by our relationship status. If a guy leaves, that means we’re unworthy and we weren’t good enough to have this thing that we’ve been told we need in order to be good enough. It’s hard to undo years of faulty programming when it’s been so firmly ingrained into our psyche, but it is possible.

Remember, only you can determine your own worth. You won’t get a sense of your own value from a bottle or from a man or by splurging on the latest trends. You set the standard for how valuable you are. You do this by living a rich, fulfilling life filled with things you love. You do things that make you happy, you work on improving yourself, you develop your talents, you take care of yourself, you do things that tap into your essence and allow you to express your true self. This is how self-esteem is built. If you wrap up your identity in what men think of you, or what your relationship status is, you will never ever feel satisfied.

In any relationship, you need to have faith in yourself and trust that no matter what happens, you will be OK and you can handle whatever life throws at you. Anytime you start to panic, anytime your mind starts spinning and you worry that he’ll leave, that he’s losing interest, that he’s not that into you and what are you going to do if he leaves? How will you go on? Remember: you’ll be fine! You were fine before you met him and you’ll be fine if he decides to leave. You are OK. Everything will be OK. Say it to yourself as many times as you need to, until it really penetrates!

About the author

Sabrina Bendory

Sabrina Bendory is a writer and entrepreneur. She is the author of You’re Overthinking It, a definitive book on dating and self-love.