Relationship anxiety is a pretty normal feeling. Worries that your partner might not be telling you how they really feel, or that you’re losing your relationship to your kid, or that you might not be having enough sex, top the list of concerns that Dr. Dana Dorfman, a New York based psychotherapist and relationship therapist, sees all the time when she works with couples. But the good news is that these anxieties are totally natural. That doesn’t mean that you should let them run amok: they need to be dealt with, talked through, and handled before they hurt your relationship with your wife or spouse. But you shouldn’t feel awful for having those fears, either. Here, Dorfman discusses the eight most common relationship anxieties she sees in her work — and how to work through them.
1. That You’re Not Able to Financially Provide
The worry about whether or not they can provide their family something many men wrestle with after they start a family. Dorfman says she hears this often from new fathers, which is not a surprise: Work takes on new meaning when you have more mouths to feed and a nagging anxiety of what might happen if I lose this job, these benefits? comes with the territory. Many men are also conditioned to see themselves as providers and feel responsible when they aren’t bringing home the bacon. This worry leads to men overworking, stressing about work when they’re not there, and being mentally unable to take their brain off the clock — which can strain a relationship that’s already burdened by children.
The only way to work through that anxiety — and not have it take over your life — is, per Dorfman, by talking through it. “As cliche as it sounds, men are socially conditioned to avoid exposing emotional vulnerability,” she says. “There is great value in a relationship of unconditional acceptance, particularly when vulnerabilities are exposed. Just talk about the anxiety.”
2. That Your Only Value Is As a Breadwinner
One struggle that men face, often after having kids, is that their value might only be in their ability to financially provide for their family, above any and all other qualities they might bring to their relationship.
There’s a strong evolutionary component to that, even with contemporary values and paradigms, says Dorfman. Couples, she adds, need to address this soon and wives and partners can help soothe their husbands by validating other parts of the relationship — their role as a dad, their importance as a romantic partner, etc. — that are equally, if not more, important.
3. That You’ll Lose The Emotional Support of Your Wife
Kids change everything, particular the nature of a marriage. Responsibilities build up and roles change. This gives rise to a lot of anxieties men have about becoming less important to their partner. “If a partner is a new parent, they worry that their own needs are not going to be taken care of,” says Dorfman.
Men often go to their romantic partners for the bulk of their emotional support, and after baby, new moms are often occupied by their new kids. That sometimes can’t be helped, notes Dorfman. It’s important for new dads to, when they find they can’t get the emotional energy they need from their partner, look elsewhere at times.
“It’s important to spread the wealth. Men should get support from other men and other fathers to replenish their emotional inventory, and to have a place to express it,” says Dorfman. In other words, getting out of the house every once in a while to play pick up basketball with your buddies might actually help you gain perspective on those early years of parenting.
4. That You’ll Lose Your Romantic Relationship With Your Wife
With or without kids, long term romantic relationships constantly need to be attended to, worked at, and intentionally maintained. When the relationship starts to feel stale, or disconnected, men might get anxious that their relationships are going down the tubes or that there is no longer a spark. Dorfman recommends what she calls relationship refuelers: “Whether it’s a walk, vacations alone, or dinners out of the house — that can provide a great replenishment for a relationship and a reassurance of the romantic connection,” she says.
5. That Your Sexual Desires Won’t Be Met.
Men and women often experience intimacy different in relationships — and whether or not they’re parents, they can struggle to maintain intimacy over the long course of a marriage. Men, Dorfman says, have a lot of anxiety about this. “They wonder: will they continue to have their sexual needs be met? Will their own sexual desires be met by a partner?” When these anxieties start to come to the fore, Dorfman recommends couples sit down and reaffirm what makes them tick. “A lot of times, men need sex in order to feel close; and women need to feel close in order to want sex.” Knowing that can help couples move forward with intimacy in mind that makes sense for both — not just one — of them. (Sex schedules and no-phone zones help make time for intimacy, physical or not, as well.)
6. That You’ll Cheat
In Dorfmans’ work, she’s found that a lot of men actually worry that one day, they might cheat on their partner. “Men need to know that thoughts are different from actions. Being attracted to another person is not problematic,” she says. It’s okay to mention that you have these thoughts to your partner: especially if you know you’d never ever want to act on them. The point is that vocalizing these thoughts will help you feel less guilty, and make you realize how nuts they are in the first place.
7. That Your Partner Might Cheat
The anxiety that one’s husband or wife might cheat can actually be more intense and damaging than worries that you might cheat instead. What starts as a natural, small-time anxiety can start to become a big, all-consuming problem in a relationship if not dealt with quickly. “Owning the anxiety can be really helpful. Ensure the anxieties are reality based — not something historical or psychological, if the person has infidelity in their own past,” Dorfman says. And ensuring that you engage and own these anxieties will, ideally, stop you from repeatedly accusing your partner of infidelity or worrying about it — two things that can seriously harm a relationship.
8. That You Don’t, Or Won’t Have Time For Yourself Anymore
“Men become anxious about their time and energy,” says Dorfman. Sometimes, relationships, marriages, and raising children can lead to a lot of personal schedule creep and men can find they’re unable to have time alone or doing the things they love, like hobbies. “Schedule time out,” says Dorfman. “State very explicitly that the boundary is not a rejection — it’s more of an emotional, solitary refuel,” she says. Whether it’s an hour-long run on a Saturday or time spent in woodworking shop, making sure that you have time to engage in the things that you love outside of your relationship is healthy for any relationship and can help tamper down feelings that you might be losing yourself to your partner, your responsibilities, or your kid.
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