Being an overthinker can make life incredibly complicated, especially in a romantic relationship. Relationships are a source of love and affection and create an intimate space with another person that lets us be more free and vulnerable than we usually are in other aspects of our lives. Habits that challenge our relationship well-being, such as overthinking, can be deeply frustrating. So, by now, you are probably wondering how to stop overthinking in a relationship.
Before explaining why overthinking is so destructive in relationships (and other areas of your personal life) and how you can stop it, understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you tend to think a lot about things. This is your life, and it is wonderfully beautiful and complex, and a lot of it is worth thinking about. Still, also understand that sometimes your mental habits can get in the way of living your best life. It feels crucial or necessary, but there are times when thinking just does not cut it. Sometimes not thinking or simply getting out of our heads is the best way to move forward and grow.
Signs You Are an Overthinker
Ask any relationship coach or family therapist, and they will tell you that some of the most common signs of relationship overthinking include:
- You frequently re-read your and your partner’s text conversations.
- You are hypervigilant about your partner’s body language and mood.
- You lose sleep at night worrying about several catastrophic scenarios at once.
- You fuss over what you should say to your partner instead of speaking from your authentic truth.
- You project your insecurities from past relationships onto your new partner.
- You regularly doubt your partner’s true feelings for you.
Is Overthinking a Sign of Anxiety?
Overthinking is a classic symptom of an anxious attachment style. There are four main attachment styles, and each type reflects the quality and dynamic of a person’s child-caregiver relationship when they were young. We learn an attachment style when we are young. It influences our thoughts and behavior, and then we carry that learned way of relating to the world into our adult relationships, according to renowned 20th-century developmental psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
Bowlby and Ainsworth suggest that there are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied (insecure), avoidant-dismissive, and disorganized. Learning about these attachment styles offers profound insight for anyone who wishes to learn about their deep-rooted relationship patterns and habits. For now, let us focus on the anxious-preoccupied attachment style.
Overthinking and the Fear of Abandonment
Overthinking never feels like a choice—if it were, why would we do it? The most common reason people overthink is that they believe that something terrible might happen if they were to think less.
For example, an overthinking partner might pay extra attention to their partner’s energy and behavior in a relationship because they are worried about abandonment. Their finely tuned observation skills and eye for detail serve as a threat response. They believe that if they can notice the signs of potential future rejection early, then they can intervene and prevent that rejection from happening in the first place.
Tips on How to Stop Overthinking in a Relationship
So you are an overthinker. You have a vivid imagination and a habit of predicting the future, but those powers seem to work against you more than for you. You can notice the smallest details, from the tone and facial expression to the infinite potential hidden meanings in a sentence. People probably tell you that you think too much and that you should just relax or let it go, but they do not understand how hard that is.
The good news is that if you wonder how to stop overthinking in a relationship, that is already a good sign. It means you have already noticed that your mental habits are unhelpful, both for yourself, your partner, your relationship in general, and all their relationships in your life. So, you have already started step one: self-awareness.
Practice the following tips and advice as much as possible, but do not just follow what we have to say. Reach out to trusted friends and family members who might understand. Some of them may have gone through exactly what you are going through now and can offer some relationship advice. They do not need to be a relationship expert in offering some objective advice on your situation.
1. Identify Your Overthinking Patterns
The first and most crucial step to take if you are an overthinker is to acknowledge when your unhelpful thinking habits kick in. You probably overthink everything all of the time—that would leave you too exhausted to cope.
Learn Your Triggers
You sometimes overthink when your anxious habit gets triggered. So, to help yourself break the habit, learn your triggers. Notice when your overthinking starts and try to remember how it started. Was it something your partner said? Was it a message you read? Was it a canceled date? Did you see them talking to a new person, but they did not mention that person to you? There are many potential triggers for the overthinker, but the more familiar you become with yours, the easier it will become to regain control of your thoughts.
Notice Your Reactions
Once you notice that overthinking has begun, what happens next? What behaviors do you engage in? Do you become obsessive and re-read your partner’s texts to you repeatedly? Do you feel stressed and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking or smoking to re-regulate your nervous system? Do you feel compelled to invade your partner’s privacy and check their phone when they are not looking?
Keep a Journal
It might help to keep a trigger journal. This is a simple notebook that is just for you in which you write about your triggers and reactions. You take note of the times you overthink and investigate when and how it started, the types of thoughts that come up, how long it lasts, what you feel driven to do during that time, and what happened to make it stop. This type of reflective journaling can offer profound insight and understanding regarding the relationship anxiety you experience.
2. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
When you find yourself obsessively thinking, contemplating, or making up stories in your head for which you have no objective evidence, how do these stories usually go? Are they prophecies of rejection? Are they confirmations that you are not enough or inherently unlovable? Is there an inner voice that tells you that you are not doing something right?
There is no time like the present, so starting today, learn to listen with curious attention to what your inner voice and your negative self-talk are trying to tell you when you start overthinking. You might figure that it is best to ignore those thoughts, and friends who want to offer advice might tell you to do just that. However, the more you ignore or suppress a thought, the more power it gains. You can regain that power by paying attention to those thoughts and hearing them out.
Do Not Suppress Your Thoughts
It may seem counterintuitive, but when you hone in on what those thoughts are saying, you can accept that they are there and move through them, not away from them. For example, if your partner does not reply to a text as soon as he or she typically does, a negative thought might go something like: ‘She’s sick of talking to me—I must be so boring.’ Or perhaps it is, ‘That’s it. He’s met someone better, and now he doesn’t want me anymore.‘
Questions to Ask Yourself
Allow these thoughts to exist and accept them. Instead of suppressing or ignoring them, challenge them. Ask yourself:
‘Do I have any real evidence that it is true?’
If I didn’t reply to a text immediately, what would be the potential reasons?’
‘Is this thought helpful to me right now? Or is it destructive?
Though negative thoughts can feel powerful and can make you doubt your partner’s intentions, they tend to crumble when challenged. They gain their power from your lack of questioning. When brought under the spotlight for investigation, their evidence for these thoughts is lacking. Then, you realize the difference between your projected fears and their version of truth or reality.
3. Let Go of What You Cannot Control
It is a fact of life that some things are simply outside our control. That is not great news for the anxious among us who fear the unknown, but it is important to accept it. Sometimes life and even the people closest to us can let us down. Likewise, sometimes we will let others down, even when we do not intend to.
Manage Your Expectations
There is great peace and happiness to be found in letting go of the expectations of others. Sure, you do not want your partner to abandon you, meet someone else and have an affair, or do anything that could be considered betrayal. Relationships are a vulnerable and intimate space, and we want to know that our partners have our best interests at heart.
Still, if it turns out that you are with a partner who is ultimately going to hurt you, then that is their problem—that is their karma to deal with, not yours. It hurts to be hurt, but as long as your intentions are genuine, loving from an authentic place, and doing your best, you are still a good person no matter what someone does to hurt you. You are still worthy of love and respect, and no one can take it away from you. The more you understand and believe, the better the quality of the relationship you and your partner can enjoy.
4. Work on Your Self-Esteem
If you do not see yourself as someone good enough or worthy of love, then it will be almost impossible to accept that someone else could see you that way. People out there love you deeply, whether they have met you yet or not, but you will not be able to see and accept their love if you have low esteem.
Shift Your Priorities
If you spend so much time overthinking, wondering why someone loves you, or getting suspicious about their intentions, you will have less time to enjoy the love and care they want to give you. One of the most important, healthy, and compassionate things you can do for yourself and those who love you is to work on your self-esteem.
Build your confidence and do whatever it takes to clear away the mud and let your authentic self shine. Take up a hobby, try positive self-talk, set small but meaningful goals. You can also do things that will help you feel like a more confident and capable person because when you feel that way, you will not feel the need to obsess over the tiny details of your relationship.
5. Ground Yourself in the Present Moment
Despite all of the advice above, most of which appeals to the rational mind, overthinking is still an anxiety symptom, and as you may know, anxiety does not care much for a reason. It can arise from even the most insignificant triggers that do not make much sense to anyone but you, which is perfectly valid. You are the one experiencing it, no one else, and your lived experiences are relevant and matter.
So, when your habit of overthinking wakes up and starts to bother you, it is helpful to have some grounding tools ready to go. Grounding is the practice of bringing your mind and body into the present moment. When you overthink or feel anxious, the mind dashes between the past and the future. Stories and negative experiences from the past resurface and make a case for your lack of worth.
Imagine catastrophic events in the future, such as your partner leaving you or betraying you, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. When you ground yourself, you leave the past in the past, and you stop trying to control the future. You practice letting yourself rest in the here and now. A crucial part of letting go of the past and future is to allow yourself to rest.
According to Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, overthinking calls for a much-needed break. Levin writes, ‘During the course of your day if you feel like you are overwhelmed, or that you just need a break…you probably do! Give yourself a time out.‘
Breathing techniques, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, dance, and exercise are excellent grounding tools. There are so many ways to come into the present, and what works for some may not work well for others. So, experiment, try some different techniques and ask your friends how they cope when they start to overthink. You can try:
- Guided body scans, guided visual meditations, and breath-work follow-along videos on YouTube.
- Attend a yoga class once or twice a week and practice what you learn at home.
- Take up a new sport, even a solo sport such as running or swimming, and focus on progression.
6. Spend Time with Those You Love
Those with an anxious attachment style tend to get lost in our relationships. The connection we create with our intimate partner becomes our entire world, and nothing compares to that blissful joy of being with them.
We want to maintain connection so dearly that we fear it might fade, so we begin to spend all of our time with our partners or at least think about them. The problem is that it makes us forget about our own lives, such as the friends and family who love us unconditionally—those who were there before our relationship and those who will be after that.
So, if you want to stop overthinking so much about your significant other, whether they love you or what they meant by that last text, shift your attention to others. Check-in with friends you have not spoken to in a while, or visit family members if they live close. Be interested in what is going on with them. Take it a step further and find some way to help them with a problem. Acts of service have a profound ability to take you out of mind and into the present.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be that you do not have to feel bad about yourself if you are overthinking. It is not the most helpful and productive habit, but you are human, and it is normal to overthink things from time to time.
Above all else, have compassion for yourself, and remember that if you are overthinking (an anxiety response), then some inner part of you is trying to protect you from a perceived threat. While there may not be any threat to protect yourself from, be grateful that part of you is looking out for your well-being.