The thought of a partner cheating or wanting to break up can feel almost as painful as those things actually happening. And sometimes, it’s hard to stop overthinking, ruminating on relationship what-ifs and worst-case scenarios. But overthinking can damage the connection you share with your partner, and the problems you anticipated may be more likely to actually come true. Before you sabotage everything, use these tips to stop overthinking in your relationship once and for all.
- Work on building trust. A relationship that lacks trust is a breeding ground for overthinking. This is especially common in the early stages of dating when you’re still getting to know each other. Trust takes time to develop, but it should be a priority between you and your significant other. On the other hand, if your overthinking stems from a betrayal that already happened in your relationship, be honest with yourself about your ability to forgive and forget. If an unreliable partner is the reason your head is constantly spinning, the problem may be less about overthinking and more about unrepairable trust.
- Separate thoughts and feelings. This is one of the most helpful ways to stop overthinking in your relationship. Romance stirs up a lot of emotions, from the happy to the hellish. And while your feelings are always valid and worth paying attention to, they don’t always have a direct cause. Next time you feel nervous, for example, accept that you feel that way. Take appropriate action to self-soothe, and refrain from trying to assign a reason or problem to your nervousness.
- Replace “should” with “want.” Sometimes, we overthink our own actions. We get stuck in “shoulds,” wondering, “Should I ask them out? Should I break up with them? Should I ask for more space?” But instead of thinking about what you should do, be honest with yourself about what you want. You may want to break up, but you worry that that’s somehow the wrong thing to do, leaving you overthinking your relationship and dwelling on what you’re missing out on. Be honest with yourself about your desires. They often hold the truth to what you really need.
- Give up your need for control. Relationships can stir up a lot of anxiety because they require us to be vulnerable with someone who may or may not let us down. But the more we try to think of ways to control the relationship and manipulate the other into doing what we want them to do, the more we suffer. As scary as it might be, accept that relationships won’t always go as planned, and some disappointment is inevitable. Relationships are about two people choosing to act based on their own agency and freedom. And while that can create a lot of uncertainty, it’s also what makes a relationship so fulfilling when nothing is forced, yet both people choose to work together towards the same goal.
- Catch yourself before you catastrophize. A lot of toxic overthinking comes in the form of catastrophizing, where you imagine the worst outcome before it happens. And when you’re stuck in catastrophizing mode, it’s like you’re watching a movie filled with all your worst relationship fears, distracting you from the actual relationship you have. When your mind starts to wander to worst-case scenarios, stop and notice it. Instead of believing the catastrophic thought, call it out and challenge it. That way, you can stop compulsive overthinking and start to get a handle on your future tripping.
- Know what (or who) is driving your thoughts. When we overthink, it’s usually not about our current circumstances or relationships. Overthinking is almost always driven by something or someone in our past. It’s like that ex who hurt you hijacked your brain and is now controlling how you view your new relationship. Identify what from your past is influencing your racing thoughts. Then, knowing the root of your overthinking, look for differences between your current reality and what happened before. Were there red flags in your last relationship that aren’t present in your current relationship? Was your ex super avoidant, but your new beau is open and affectionate? Get back in the driver’s seat, and remember that the relationships of your past don’t have to determine the relationships of your present and future. Once you do this, it becomes much easier to stop overthinking in your relationship.
- Distract yourself. If you just can’t seem to shut off your brain, distract yourself to take a break from overthinking. Try active hobbies, read an engrossing book, or study a new language. And when you’re spending time with friends, avoid discussing relationship worries or asking for advice. They may only fuel your overthinking more.
- Stay present. No amount of thinking will ever allow you to predict—or prevent—the future, nor will it change what happened in the past. No matter what stage of your relationship you’re in, embrace it and stay present. All you have is now, so focus on what currently is and not what could be in the future or would’ve been in the past.
- When in doubt, ask. You don’t have to be a mind reader. If you’re unsure about your partner’s feelings or you don’t know what their text really meant, just ask! Though asking for clarification can feel a little awkward, it’s almost always better to deal with a little social clumsiness than drive yourself crazy trying to guess.