How do you handle your separation anxiety in a relationship?

Bottom line: no one wants to be left behind. Still, people can have an irrational fear of abandonment. This separation anxiety can put your relationship at risk, especially if you don’t recognize and address the problem. We asked relationship therapist Barbara Cremers how to deal with separation anxiety.

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What is separation anxiety?

First the basics: what does separation anxiety actually mean? It is broader than just ‘being afraid of being abandoned’. “It’s the fear of important people disappearing from your life,” explains Barbara. “Because they leave, die or choose someone else. It can also be a fear that someone will interrupt a conversation without warning. When that happens, you can get the idea that you are not good enough or not important to them other.”

And what happens then? “A person with separation anxiety tends to push, control or become very critical of her partner. She often floods the other person with a flood of emotions. A possible consequence is that her partner withdraws or even shuts down completely .Because the person feels so insecure.to start the conversation.The reserved nature is actually reinforced by push from the one with separation anxiety and vice versa.” This actually makes the fear a reality: “The more the one withdraws from contact, the more aggressive the attacker becomes because he or she assumes he or she will be rejected. So the separation anxiety is actually confirmed,’ explains Barbara.

Repeated patterns

Like other issues you may struggle with, separation anxiety usually stems from childhood. “During your childhood, the script for the rest of your life is written, as it were. Patterns from your childhood repeat themselves in your adult life to challenge you. If your parents were not there for you, if you were often alone, or if someone suddenly disappeared from your life, you are more likely to develop separation anxiety. Your brain focuses on the idea that you are alone from an early age. You are constantly concerned with whether someone cares for you and whether you are important enough.”

It is unknown how many people struggle with separation anxiety. Barbara notices in her practice that in every couple there is one person who has a mild form of separation anxiety. “Usually one of the two longs for contact and demands that problems be discussed immediately. ‘If we don’t talk about it now, it’s going the wrong way’, goes the thinking. Often the other partner just brushes it off with “well, we’ll talk about it tomorrow” and then doesn’t come back to it.”

Obligation anxiety vs. separation anxiety

When we think of fear of commitment, we tend to think of men, and when we think of separation anxiety, we think of women. Is this prejudice correct? “I see separation anxiety a little more often in women than in men, but it is too short-term to say that it is ‘typical’ for women. I talk to more than enough men in practice with symptoms of separation anxiety.” Why is it often women who suffer from separation anxiety? According to Barbara, women find communication in a relationship more important than men. “Men often want to, but find it scary or insecure. For example, because talking about feelings was not encouraged or even discouraged in the past.”

What if you’re so afraid of being abandoned that you’re afraid to fully commit to someone? In short: can you also develop a combination of separation anxiety and commitment anxiety? According to Barbara, it could easily be: “People with separation anxiety have learned to always ask for contact with their parents or with a partner. If your – possibly new – loved one then turns around and suddenly gives you their full attention, it can be quite frightening suddenly to receive it. The fear of losing it then becomes greater. The roles can start to reverse and the person with separation anxiety can now become more distant.”

You have separation anxiety, now what?

Rest assured… your relationships are not doomed to failure. You can change a lot in your behavior yourself. The first step is to become aware of what you are doing and why. “Read self-help books (eg Love Scare), go to a relationship weekend or go to therapy. Look at where your struggles are in dealing with others: your partner, colleagues, family and friends. What conflicts arise and what are your own part in this?”

Couples therapy is not always necessary to get over your separation anxiety. You can go a long way by talking to your partner yourself. “Speak calmly, make short sentences, overdose on information, don’t criticize and give the other person a chance to respond later. If your partner wants to respond to your concerns, he or she can accommodate you by, for example, more compliments .You can slowly make positive changes in your relationship by looking at each other’s areas of improvement without judgment. If successful, you can get to the core of your separation anxiety with couples therapy.”

fear of being abandoned

Your partner’s role when you have separation anxiety

In addition to self-examination and possibly therapy, you can do even more. Your partner can play a big role in your separation anxiety. “Rule number one is that he or she doesn’t pay attention to it. Additionally, he or she can hold up an honest mirror to you: naming your behavior and what it does to the other person. You can then explain your feelings. listening and being understanding is very important. For the partner – especially men – it is very useful to learn to listen without immediately coming up with a solution.”

In addition, your loved one’s personality also plays a role. Certain character traits can be a trigger for your separation anxiety. A partner who takes the initiative to talk to you can help you well. This is of course easier said than done, because according to Barbara, we often seek out someone who looks like an important person from our childhood. “If a parent wasn’t there for you enough, you’ll subconsciously seek out someone who isn’t there for you when you need them,” Barbara explains. “You are looking for a partner with whom you will face your challenges. You will experience the same as when you were a child. The advantage is that you are now an adult and can tackle the problem.”

Barbara advises you to discover why you fall for the ‘wrong’ types, so that you consciously choose another partner who ultimately suits you better.

Also read: Lat relationship: how it works (and if not) according to an expert

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