We all feel insecure from time to time in our relationships; it’s completely normal. However, some people feel like this most of the time, to the point where it becomes overly consuming for both partners. Knowing how to handle and manage insecurity in a relationship is something that can truly make a difference between a relationship’s flourish and failure.
Signs of Insecurity In a Relationship
Insecurity in a romantic relationship can feel like:
- The constant fear that your partner will leave you
- Feeling you don’t have enough to offer
- Ruminating about all the times in the relationship when you looked or behaved imperfectly
- Feeling like a fraud destined to be exposed
- Seeing yourself as boring, overweight, stupid, ugly…
- Feeling like you don’t deserve lasting love
- Experiencing guilt and shame often
- Being hungry for attention and reassurance, but even when you get it, it rarely seems convincing enough
- Switching between doubt, anxiety, anger, and guilt back and forth
- Consuming jealousy that leads to unhealthy thoughts and actions such as obsessively questioning your partner’s whereabouts, privacy violations, controlling behaviour, etc.
These feelings can especially exacerbate when we are in a relationship with someone we have intense feelings for. The more important the relationship is to us, the more we think we stand to lose. This is where our insecurities become super uncomfortable – they spike anxiety, fear, suspiciousness, anger, and other unpleasant and unhealthy emotions.
What Causes Insecurity In a Relationship?
At its core, insecurity usually comes from a deep sense of inadequacy. The frequent underlying belief is that we are not enough the way we are. That we are flawed, ugly, or unworthy of love. Often, this sense of “low worth” comes hand in hand with one or both of these unhealthy patterns – a harsh inner critic and the belief that others will love us only if we are behaving a certain way.
Acting strong, fun, compliant, agreeable, beautiful, hard-working, always there for others, whatever the set of criteria is, we may believe that it’s the only way to make our partner stay. Sometimes, this can even feel like tricking our partners into loving us. Maybe not explicitly, but somewhere between the lines, we may fear that the moment they discover our true colours, they will leave.
On the other hand, we may feel powerless before our inner critic that throws insults at us all the time. It may become so embedded in our daily self-talk that we are not even aware of how much of an impact it has on our overall self-esteem.
The Impact of Our Past to Our Current Relationships
All these beliefs are usually the product of our early experiences. They come from the ways we interpreted and incorporated those experiences into our belief system the best we could with the limited resources we had. Some examples of those early experiences may be:
- attachment styles we built with our primary caregivers, that we, later, transfer to our other relationships
- main messages we received from our environment that tailored deep beliefs about ourselves, other people, and life in general
- observing relationships around us and “learning” what we absolutely should and should not do to avoid ending up hurt
- hurtful experiences, like being rejected, neglected, or humiliated by someone we cared about
While it can be easy to blame our partner’s behaviours for our insecurities, the truth is, most of the time, insecurity in a relationship really comes from inside of ourselves. Indeed, being in a relationship with someone who regularly judges most of what we do can surely shake our confidence. Putting up with repeated criticism and rarely getting affection or appreciation from our partner can increase our self-doubt. But pay attention, the word is increase, not create. It may be good to remember that other people cannot make us feel or behave in a certain way. Only our thoughts and beliefs can.
Can Insecurity Damage a Relationship?
It is completely normal to feel insecure once in a while. In small amounts, it can even be beneficial at times, because it may motivate us to put more effort into our partnership. It is chronic self-doubt that can negatively impact our mental health and interfere with our relationships.
One of the key elements of successful romantic relationships is an authentic connection between partners. Deep connection comes from authenticity, and authenticity requires us to be open to showing our vulnerable side. To do that, we need to believe that, even with our vulnerabilities, we are still beautiful and worthy of love. In other words, we need to be comfortable with who we are, at least to a certain extent. Chronic insecurity can stand in the way of engaging with your partner in an authentic way by preventing you to be completely yourself.
Constant worry in a relationship can be mentally exhausting, robbing you of peace and happiness. Instead of enjoying the journey and having a good time with the person you love and care about, obsessive doubts can turn your head into a truly uncomfortable place to be. And like if that’s not enough of a pain, if you let your insecurities get out of hand and impact your behaviours, it can lead to a set of unhealthy interactions with your partner where you’re both unsatisfied and the relationship suffers.
We Fetch For Clues To Confirm Our Toxic Beliefs
For example, insecurity in a relationship can sometimes cause you to misinterpret some situations or to exaggerate problems. It may not sound intuitive but we, as humans, are constantly in search of clues to confirm our beliefs. This gives us a sense of structure and control. We have all kinds of beliefs, and most of them are accurate and help us organize and interpret information. However, some of these beliefs can be unhelpful and unhealthy. But our brains can be stubborn and instead of letting go, they seek to confirm those beliefs too.
In the context of relationships, this means that, if you believe your partner will hurt you, leave you, or betray you, there is a high chance that you will, consciously or unconsciously, try to find proof for your fears. This is a natural response to anxiety – you’re trying to feel prepared if the worst-case scenario happens. However, this causes your anxiety to spike up. Not only that, but this may even lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where you start behaving in a way that induces the exact reaction you wanted to avoid. Simply put, you may start finding problems where they don’t exist. This not only fuels your insecurities further, but also leads to unhealthy behaviours like putting your partner down, jealousy, accusations, and constantly asking for reassurance, just to name a few. All those behaviours push your partner away and disrupt intimacy and trust in a relationship.
How Do I Stop Being So Insecure?
Depending on where your self-doubts come from, there are several strategies and steps you can take to tackle them down.
1. Tame your inner self-critic
People with a strong inner critic know how hard it is to suppress the annoying voice that’s putting them down. Sometimes this little voice is so persistent and so convincing, that we accept it as our reality. Since it can be so loud sometimes, and so embedded in our thought patterns, the solution is not to shut it off; it’s often impossible. Instead, pay attention to what the voice is saying and then actively stand up for yourself. Treat your inner critic like a misbehaving child that you’re trying to teach how to be civilized and stop firing insults. This way, you’re becoming mindful of your self-diminishing thoughts, taking a step back, and then take an active effort to reframe them. It allows you to reject unhealthy attitudes toward yourself and accept a more realistic approach as an accurate reflection of who you are.
In the beginning, this kind of self-talk can feel a little bit unnatural, like you’re faking it. However, with persistence, it usually starts feeling less and less like labour, and more and more like something authentic.
2. Make a list of your strengths (short-term solution)
As an emergency boost to your self-esteem, it can be helpful to make a list of all your positive traits. This list represents what you bring on the table in a relationship. This is not the time to be modest – get creative and write down every positive detail you can think of. Maybe you have a gorgeous smile or you’re a good kisser. Maybe you don’t have a smokin’ hot body but you’re supportive and make your partner feel appreciated. Or maybe you’re not that funny but you’re trustworthy and, on top of that, a great cook. Nobody is perfect. But it’s important to know that it’s not necessary to be perfect to be loved. Imperfections are what make us human. Learn to love your uniqueness.
One important thing to have in mind is that this list does not represent the reason you deserve to be loved. It should just serve as a reminder of how many positive traits you have, because during the times of strong self-doubt, they are easy to forget. You, with all your quirks and experiences and scars and mannerisms, you as a unique human, are loveable. Let that sink in. Sometimes this is hard to accept.
3. Let go of conditions you imposed on yourself to deserve love
The underlying belief: “They will only love me if I am this or that” is what can often be seen behind insecurities in relationships and what fuels self-doubt further. On some level, when you hold this belief, you send yourself a message that you are not truly loveable at your core, for who you really are, but that you need to deserve love by doing certain things and behaving in certain ways. But you don’t. We choose our partners and our partners choose us.
Of course, you need to invest in a relationship for it to be healthy. It’s necessary to put work in your partnership to thrive. It’s good to do nice things for your partner, to show respect and affection, to build trust and make them feel safe and appreciated. But you don’t need to do certain things to be the person worthy of love. There is a difference between the two.
If we feel worthy of love only if we meet certain criteria, that feeling stands on an unstable ground simply because we will sometimes fail. Inevitably. Everybody does. This is why it’s important to start loving yourself for who you are and not for what you do. To recognize that you are enough. To realize that your partner is with you because of you (even if you’re super not sure about it right now). Self-compassion can be incredibly helpful with this!
4. Communicate with your partner openly and effectively
It’s important to get clear about what you and your partner both need in a relationship and discuss realistic and reasonable ways you can help each other fulfill them. Be aware that this kind of talk requires both partners to ditch defensiveness and assumptions, and be kind, honest, and open with each other. Intimate connection creates a safe environment in which you can work to overcome insecurities and meet each other halfway. Sometimes this is not easy, especially if there are perpetuating problems and frustrations in a relationship, but with mutual effort, it can be done.
Coping with insecurity in a relationship can be tough because it requires you to deal with your core beliefs and take an active effort to break the patterns that influenced your thinking for years. Still, with consistency, self-reflection, and effective communication with your partner, it is possible. And please remember that it doesn’t have to be a lonely battle. Support and help from someone you trust, like a friend or a therapist, can make it a lot more bearable. Learning to manage your insecurities will increase not only the quality of your mental health but the quality of your romantic relationships as well.
P.S. If you like this article or know someone who may find it useful, please don’t hesitate to share it on your social media.
Support is one of the most important aspects of successful relationships. Knowing that our partner will comfort us and be there for us through difficult times enhances the feeling of connection and value of our relationship. However, for different people support can mean different things, and that is where big trouble in paradise may arise.
“I wish he could be more supportive”.
“She complains and then when I try to help her she doesn’t appreciate it”.
Very often, too much of the wrong kind of support and too little of the kind of support we need can lead to misinterpretation, frustration, anger, resentment, and damage of intimate connection.
The most common example is when one partner is reaching out for emotional support while the other is trying to fix the problem without validating their partner’s emotions. Soon they both become frustrated – one for not feeling understood and listened to, and the other because their advice is dismissed and their efforts unappreciated.
But how to break this cycle?
Let’s clarify a couple of things first.
What people who complain actually want?
For some this will come as a surprise, but what people most often seek when talking about their problems is not the solution. It is understanding.
People want to feel like they are not alone in this problem, that someone gets where they’re coming from and what they’re experiencing. It’s not only understanding but also validation of their emotions that they’re looking for. As counterintuitive as it may sound, a person complaining wants to hear how her situation really is hard and how things do suck and how she is right for feeling frustrated, angry, or sad.
Having someone who carefully listens and understands what we’re going through feels cathartic. It takes off the burden of having to deal with the situation alone and tells us that it’s okay to feel the way we feel. Emotional support lessens the pressure, which gives some clarity and, finally, makes space for taking an action toward resolving the problem.
However, what many don’t realize is that, by giving advice, they are rushing a person to this final step, which is counterproductive.
Why offering advice is not the best strategy?
People who offer advice usually have the best intentions. They are moved by the desire to be helpful and want the other person to feel better. And while it can be nice to hear someone else’s perspective, what usually happens with advice without emotional support is exactly the opposite – a person with a problem feels worse.
Part of why receiving advice feels so unfulfilling is that the person didn’t ask for it in the first place. They received something they don’t need and haven’t got what they actually wanted. Some may even understand unsolicited advice as a sign of disrespect to their ability to deal with their own problems.
An additional reason is that the person who receives advice instead of emotional support feels rushed to “stop complaining”. They want to feel understood and heard, but instead, the underlying message they receive is: “I feel uncomfortable listening to your negative emotions and want to make this stop as quickly as possible”. It can feel like the person who gave advice put their needs and wants first – to feel helpful and to end the uncomfortable situation.
The frustration that results from a mismatch in the way partners understand emotional support is mainly a communication problem. Thus, to get on the same page with your partner, you need to talk to each other openly and without judgment, get clear about your needs, and discuss how to overcome differences and give each other the right kind of support.
“This is how I feel, and this is how you can help me”
Often, when we come to our partner with an issue, their automatic reaction is to try to help us fix the issue practically. It makes sense – if we remove a problem, our negative emotions will also stop. And sometimes that’s exactly what we need – a fresh perspective and possible options that will help us solve the problem. But more often than not, we need a much different kind of support, an emotional one.
So, how to get emotional support instead of advice? Ask for it.
Expecting support from your partner is okay. It’s the foundation of a good relationship. But assuming your partner knows what kind of support you need (and even worse, refuses to provide it to you) is the way of thinking guaranteed to lead to bitterness, disappointment, and unhappiness. No partner should be a mind reader. If you feel your partner is not in tune with your need for support, stating clearly how they can help you instead of waiting for them to figure it out could save you both from dissatisfaction and resentment down the road.
Sometimes we don’t even know what we’d like to get from our partner but only that we’re not getting it. Funny enough, it doesn’t prevent us from becoming irritated with our partners. It may be a good idea to ask yourself beforehand what kind of support you need and what your partner could do. This will help you be much more clear and direct in communication.
Learn the right way to ask for support
Stating clearly what kind of support you need is great, but asking for it in the right way is even more important. When our partner keeps offering advice without acknowledging our emotions, it’s easy to follow the same resentful pattern where we think, or even say things like: “You always do this”, “You never listen to me”, “Why can’t you, just for once, understand my feelings?!”.
Criticism most probably won’t lead to a satisfying solution. Instead, a criticized person feels the need to defend themselves and their point of view, which likely won’t end up in changing their behaviour. In their need to protect themselves they may start finding flaws in your behaviour (“I’m trying to help you, can’t you appreciate it?”, “You don’t understand”, “Nothing I do is good enough for you!”), and before you know it, you might end up in an argument. Not the most constructive thing, right?
So, it may be a good idea to ditch the criticism and use I statements. Instead of: “You always do this and never do that”, saying something like: “I feel like this and I would like you to do that. It is what I need and it would really help me to feel better. Would you please?” could be much more productive. It gives your partner a clear idea of how they can ease your pain, which is what they want to do in the first place. Also, it decreases the possibility of them feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
Talk openly and come up with a mutually acceptable solution
As mentioned before, problems that arise from a discrepancy between partners on how they like to give and receive support stems mainly from poor communication on the issue. Your partner and you may be different, and that’s okay. Talk with each other about how you like to give and receive support and in what ways the right kind of support helps you feel better. Find out the differences and commit to finding a mutually acceptable solution. Teach your partner what feels best for you, and learn what kind of support they want.
If you both come from the place of mutuality where you truly care about each other, you can be open to learning ways of supporting your partner the way they need you to. Keep anger or defensiveness aside and stay connected to caring feelings you have for your partner.
Additionally, whenever you notice your partner does something that emotionally supportive, tell them and show your appreciation. Telling your partner what they are doing well will encourage them to keep that behaviour in the future, but also will grow intimacy in your relationship.
Again, open communication and mutual understanding is the key. But if, after all your efforts of asking for emotional support clearly and in a loving way, your partner still doesn’t provide it, then that’s the issue that probably goes beyond this topic.
If you find this post helpful, please leave the comment below and share it on social media – maybe others will find it helpful too!
Research on what makes a marriage work shows that people in a good marriage have completed these psychological “tasks”:
1. Emotional Independence from Primary Family
Separated emotionally from the family you grew up in; not to the point of estrangement, but enough so that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings.
2. “Together” Space and “Me” Space
Build togetherness based on a shared intimacy and identity, while at the same time set boundaries to protect each partner’s autonomy.
Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship. Work together to protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations.
4. Staying a Happy Couple With Children
For couples with children, embrace your roles as parents and absorb the impact of a baby’s entrance into the marriage. Learn to continue the work of protecting the privacy of you and your spouse as a couple.
5. Together Through the Good and Through the Bad
Confront and master the inevitable crises of life together. Learn to cooperate when times are hard instead of blaming each other.
6. Your Marriage is Your Safe Place
Maintain the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity. Marriage should be a safe haven in which partners are able to express their differences, anger, and conflict.
Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
Nurture and comfort each other, satisfying each partner’s needs for dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support.
9. Keep the Spark
Keep alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time.
I’m eager to share a link by Brendon Burchard, who is one of the leading speakers and experts in personal development and motivation. In his video, titled “How To Improve Your Relationship”, he discusses a few great points, which I’ll outline below.
One of the first key points he makes is that it’s easy for people to fall in love, but very quickly, they lose the intention of working together in the same pure way which drove the couple together in the first place.
To help us, he identifies 3 intentions we can make on a regular basis:
We are social creatures! Life is so full of distractions. We have conditioned ourselves to habitually disregard those around us. We are engaged with our phones, iPads, and everything else around us that so few of us have real connections.
One of the most heartfelt ways of giving attention is to be fully present. Give that person you’re with your full attention. Lock your phone away and Make eye contact.
As he says, take a few hours and learn to be human again!
“You have to have the intention to give extraordinary amounts of attention.”
2) Give more appreciation
Learn to make your partner feel appreciated. Giving compliments and practicing gratitude are great habits for relationships. Appreciating the things they do, as well as the things they don’t do. Unconditionally appreciating the person you’re with rather than showing appreciation with gifts.
“The magical part of a relationship is having someone you can pitch and catch with.”
Show more attention and appreciation to that person you’re with. It’s a give-and-take. As you both start to turn towards each other (phrased from Dr. Gottman), you’ll work together as a team, and feel more magic in your relationship.
As a bonus, here is an awesome video about how to improve your relationship: