What anxieties do men and women have about relationships?
Starting a new relationship is an exciting but anxious time – from that first passionate rush of attraction and lust, to the nervous butterflies and the vulnerability of opening up to someone new. A certain level of anxiety about any relationship is natural, and men and women alike often share similar worries and concerns. Contrary to popular belief, we actually have far more in common than you might think – although the different ways men and women express their relationship anxieties might sometimes have you wondering whether men really are from Mars after all.
What are men and women anxious about in relationships?
Most relationship anxieties are very common, particularly in relationships where there's a lot of emotional investment. Many people feel uncertain about the future of their relationships – are you both on the same page about your future hopes and dreams? Can this last? Is it going too fast, or too slow? Or perhaps your circumstances are changing, and you're unsure of how the relationship will weather those changes.
If you suffer from low self-esteem or body image – which men do, as well as women – this can be really tough on relationships. That critical voice in your head may tell you you're unworthy, unlovable or unattractive, and this can have a really damaging impact on your ability to be intimate with your partner. Likewise, past experiences of betrayal or infidelity can understandably be transferred into your new relationships, making you feel anxious about being hurt again. Anxiety about rejection may make either party more clingy or needy, while anxiety about maintaining independence can cause you to hold your partner at arm's length.
Sex is, of course, another huge source of anxiety for many men and women. Are you having enough, or too much? Is it too vanilla, or too adventurous? Who should instigate? Is your body attractive enough to keep them interested? Are you doing enough to satisfy them? There's a common stereotype that men are anxious about sexual performance, while women are anxious about their partner's level of commitment – but in reality, partners of both genders share these anxieties, even if they express them in entirely different ways.
How do men and women express their relationship anxieties?
We're more conscious than ever that men and women are socialised differently. As children, boys are taught to be tough and assertive, that "boys don't cry", and to "man up". Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged to be "ladylike" people-pleasers, and are allowed to be more emotional and open about their feelings. It's no real surprise then if, particularly early on in relationships, we tend to express our relationship anxieties in keeping with those gendered roles – women, often, by becoming emotional, needy, or desperate to please; and men, often, by closing up and shutting down.
The key here is communication – talking about your anxieties, with your partner, in a calm and honest way, rather than allowing those concerns to explode in an outburst of emotion or aggression. You may be surprised to find that they've been secretly anxious about similar aspects of your relationship, which you can then work on together, and they'll almost certainly be able to reassure you about whatever awful scenario you've been catastrophising in your mind. Getting these relationship anxieties out in the open can be really hard – no one wants to put themselves out there and feel vulnerable, especially with someone they're really keen to impress – but it can also be the first step towards a deeper and more open bond between you and your partner.
Author: Sarah Graham