This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.
"Stop Overthinking our relationship," a former girlfriend once told me when I was about 25 years old.
I was upset that she was spending the weekend with girlfriends on a skiing trip, without me, on our first-year anniversary.
I explained my position, telling her we should do something special together to commemorate this special anniversary.
She said, "Look, you need to calm down and stop overthinking everything. You're going to drive me crazy if you keep this up."
I just looked at her and said, “Okay,” because I knew she was right — at least about the driving crazy part.
Then I got dressed for work and left without saying another word.
I had to stop myself from doing that in the future, but it took me several more failed relationships to get there.
What Exactly is Overthinking in a Relationship?
Overthinking in a relationship is a common complaint, often leading to fractures in relationships.
But what does overthinking actually mean in a relationship?
Overthinking means we have a perceived problem. And instead of taking practical steps to solve the issue, we turn it repeatedly in our minds, trying to figure out what’s wrong with us, him or her, and the relationship.
We look for evidence to confirm our beliefs and we create stories in our head about why things are happening a certain way.
We then use these stories as justification for our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
For example, in my vignette above, I assumed my girlfriend was losing interest in me because of her decision to not be with me on a date that coincided with our first-year anniversary.
(There could have been many other explanations for this decision, other than my assumption that her affection for me was waning.)
In specific terms, overthinking is the process of thinking too much about something in a way that causes negative emotions, such as anxiety or depression.
It often involves making a mountain out of a molehill and worrying about things that might not even happen.
Overthinkers tend to be perfectionists and set very high standards for themselves.
If they make a mistake, they will beat themselves up over it for a long time.
They also often ruminate on the past and can’t let go of things that have happened to them.
They may also worry about the future, even though these things haven’t happened yet and might never happen at all.
You can see that overthinking is potential kryptonite in a relationship.
"I’m tired of being inside my head. I want to live out here, with you." - Colleen McCarty
Is it Okay to Overthink in Relationships?
Well, if you're looking for permission here to overthink your relationship, I regrettably cannot give you the "green light" to do so.
Overthinking is a habit that's hard to break.
When we're worrying about something, it can feel natural to want to think about it over and over, as if mulling it over and over will somehow magically solve the problem.
But this isn't how it works. If anything, the more we overthink our relationships, the more likely we are to find fault with them, or to invent problems that don't exist.
This puts stress and strain on the relationship, which in turn lowers our overall happiness and sense of connection.
Obsessing on something will never make you feel better - it will only leave you feeling jittery, nervous and vulnerable.
The key is learning to identify when we’re ruminating and forcing ourselves to stop thinking about whatever it is that’s bothering us.
Inevitably, the thoughts will return - probably several times a day - but each time they do, we must stop them in their tracks before they become "rumination devastation".
What are the Primary Causes for Relationship Overthinking?
You don't have to be a relationship expert to know that overthinking can affect many aspects of our life, including relationships.
Overthinking in a relationship can cause miscommunication and less emotional connection between you and your partner.
It's important to identify the causes of overthinking in your relationship so that you understand how to overcome it.
Here are some of the most common causes of rumination in relationships:
Lack of communication - Not being able to share and discuss issues with your partner can lead to overthinking and imagining what they might be thinking or feeling.
This is especially true if you're experiencing conflict with your partner.
Doubts about relationship strength - If you find yourself questioning the strength of your relationship, it may cause you to feel insecure about where things stand with your partner.
The more time you spend thinking about a negative situation, the more likely it is that you'll amplify its importance.
Comparing yourself (negatively) to others - When false facts are introduced, compared to reality, alongside feelings of intense jealousy, love can be completely morphed.
We look at ourselves and compare ourselves to others — in a negative way — which leads us to overthink and become controlling where we should be trusting.
Unable to let go of the past (especially the pain) - Letting go of the past is necessary in any healthy relationship; but that’s easier said than done.
When we get hurt from a previous relationship, it’s hard to believe that this time will be different. Overthinking every interaction is common and leads to a vicious cycle of anxiety.
You've developed the bad habits of obsessing and worrying - There are many theories about overthinking in relationships, but it underscores a tendency to obsess and worry.
This leads to over analyzing the situation. The worrying and obsessing is usually rooted in past hurtful experiences with other people, or anxiety stemming from self-esteem issues.
How to Tell You're Overthinking in a Relationship
Warning: if you overthink every little thing in your relationship, you may be falling into some bad habits.
If you're constantly worrying about your partner's actions and possible hidden motives, your relationship may be heading for turbulence.
What are the signs and symptoms of overthinking in a relationship?
Determine if you experience any of the following:
"Overthinking, also, best known as creating problems that are never there." - David Sikhosana
If you recognize any of the above overthinking relationship signs, stop and take a breath.
Overthinking in relationships is a silent killer. It can lead to your relationship breaking up, and nobody wants that.
You will not find a better person for you out there if you spend all your time trying to figure out what’s wrong with the person you’ve got or what's wrong with you.
You won't even realize that you're in the right relationship for you if you're engaging in the subtle sabotage of overthinking and overanalyzing.
So, later in this article, I will show you how to stop overthinking in a relationship so you can actually enjoy being with someone without worrying about the future!
Is Overthinking a Mental Illness?
Overthinking in any form is not considered a medical condition, based on the Physician's Handbook.
People who tend to overthink are usually more self-aware and conscious of the things around them. While this is a great thing in itself, it can also be seen as a thoroughly negative habit.
They tend to spend too much time analyzing, thinking, and planning rather than actually doing.
Overthinking a relationship, or in any other dynamic, is obsessive and a type of neurosis, more in the psychological domain.
Neurosis is not a mental disorder like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.
These are disorders of the mind where you can't think rationally, and it affects your life in a major way.
Neurosis is more about anxiety and worrying too much about things that are beyond your control. It can affect your daily life, but it does not affect your ability to function normally.
Overthinking is more about rumination which has some similar characteristics as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
This kind of thinking is repetitive and can be very distressing, but it may only be temporary.
Overthinking a relationship can happen to anyone at any time, but once you get over it, you will stop worrying so much about it and focus on other things instead.
How to Deal with a Partner who is Overthinking in the Relationship
People who overthink will take every chance to do it. They may be overthinking about the smallest things, but that's how their mind works.
And if you're in a relationship with such people, you might feel annoyed.
Here are some ways you can cope with the situation:
- Tell them it's alright - Be honest and tell them it's fine if they want to overthink everything. But also make sure they understand some things aren't worth overthinking.
- Don't fight with them - Overthinking is a habit. Imagine fighting with someone with a habit. It will only cause more trouble than it solves.
- Try not to condemn and judge your partner - While it may be difficult for you to be overanalyzed, it's equally hard living with a mind going around an endless negative loop. Try to avoid expressing condemnation and rejection because of your partner's overthinking, even in your body language.
- Be honest with your own thoughts and feelings in any situation - Is there any validity in what your partner says or believes? Take my relationship advice: Listen closely to your partner to objectively see his or her point of view.
- Treat them with understanding, reassurance, patience, and compassion - These loving qualities can only strengthen your relationship and decrease your partner's tendency to overthink the relationship.
- Don't end the relationship just because your partner has a habit of overreacting and/or overthinking - See if you can work this through with your partner.
- Tell your partner, in a non-critical way, when you observe an act of overthinking - You may help your partner gain control over this bad habit by bringing it to their attention.
What if You're the One Who Overthinks the Relationship?
When you obsess over every little detail of your relationship, it’s time to put a stop to it before it drives you (both) crazy.
It’s good to be in tune with what’s going on in your relationship.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to think about the relationship 24/7. If you do, then there’s a problem.
So, if you need some help to calm your mind, here are a few tips on how to stop overthinking a relationship.
1.Write it down - Write everything down and get it off your chest. When you write about something that bothers you, it helps release the negative feelings from your mind.
The practice of journaling is a vehicle for venting because sometimes talking about an issue isn’t enough to calm your nerves. After all, that’s what diaries are for!
2. Understand what triggers your overthinking - This will help you recognize when you're overthinking so that you can take steps to address it in the moment.
For example, if you're constantly reacting and overthinking why your partner comes home late, explore your emotions associated with this issue and determine why your feelings are getting stirred (e.g., jealousy, worries about betrayal, mistrust, etc.).
You may have to see how you're playing a part in this type of angst.
3. Question your negative thought patterns - If you tend to be hard on yourself or others during arguments, try challenging those thought patterns by asking questions like "Is this true?" or "What would someone else say about this situation?"
4. Talk to Your Partner - An important step to overcome overthinking is talking through everything with your partner.
It's important to talk openly and honestly with each other about any concerns that arise in the relationship.
By talking these things out, you can learn more about what makes your partner tick and why they may have reacted a certain way or said something that upset you.
By expressing these thoughts, you can put them out in the open where they won't fester.
5.. Stop looking for evidence to support your worries - When we’re worried, our mind looks for evidence to support the worry.
If you’re worried that your partner might be losing interest in you, your mind will look for any evidence that supports this worry.
You’re also likely to put too much weight on minor things and blow them up into major issues. If you think your partner is losing interest, a simple, seemingly detached text can suddenly become a major issue.
Your mind will also ignore any evidence that contradicts your worry. For example, if your partner says he loves you, your mind will dismiss it as “he’s only saying that because he feels bad for me” or “he doesn’t mean it. He just wants me to feel better.”
So, the first step to stop overthinking is to recognize when your mind is looking for evidence to support your worries.
You can then remind yourself to take what you see with a grain of salt and look at the bigger picture instead of focusing on minor details or isolated events.
6.. Quit dwelling on the past - Stop overthinking in a relationship by dwelling on past relationship problems. There is no perpetual black cloud above you.
"Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?" — Mary Manin Morrissey
You may think that it's good to reflect on your past and how you've grown and changed, but if your reflections are focused only on what went wrong and/or what you did wrong, it can really work against you.
Overthinking creates doubt in an otherwise good relationship.
When you're constantly thinking about past unhappy relationships, what happens is that your thoughts become negative.
You think things like: There must be something I do that's a turnoff, or no one wants me or I'm so unlucky in partnerships.
These negative thoughts seem innocent enough, but they can have a dramatic effect on your current relationship.
When you're constantly thinking these thoughts, it creates doubt in your mind (and sometimes also in your partner's mind) about your relationship.
7. Stop worrying about the future - Overthinking is a habit. It's a habit of creating what-if scenarios or future events that have NOTHING to do with the present.
When you're stuck in overthinking mode, you're not actually solving any problems. You are simply generating anxiety and stress for yourself.
And if you're anything like me, this leads to some pretty negative self-talk.
Many people make assumptions about where their relationship is headed and why something may or may not work out.
But no one can predict the future, so don't let your mind run wild.
It's difficult to pull yourself out of this future-oriented mindset at first.
But once you do, it becomes a lot easier to enjoy the relationship for what it is in the present moment.
8. Be more optimistic and confident - In relationships, overthinking is just a symptom of fear. We doubt the other person's feelings; we doubt ourselves and our worthiness; we worry about looking stupid or vulnerable.
So how can you stop overthinking in a relationship? Be willing to take risks.
You believe you are enough. You believe that the other person loves and cares for you, and will continue to do so, regardless of what comes up along the way.
Low self-esteem is one of the most common reasons people constantly think they’re not good enough for their partner or their relationship is doomed.
People with low self-esteem often have distorted thinking and see themselves as worthless or unlovable.
If this is the case for you, improving your self-esteem will naturally improve your relationship as well.
9. Become more independent and less needy - You’ve probably heard that you need to love yourself first before you can love someone else, and this is true.
When you love yourself, you won’t feel the need to be with someone else all the time or have their constant validation because you’ll be confident enough in your own worth.
When you show that you rely on them for your happiness, they start to feel pressured and smothered by the relationship, which makes them want to pull away even more.
So instead of overthinking things and being needy, try focusing more on being independent and letting your significant partner come to you occasionally.
10. Stop trying to control your relationship, if not life itself - The more you try to control a relationship, the more it will control you.
The more you try to constrain love, the more it will elude you.
Love can only thrive when it is allowed to flow freely from one heart to another, without pretense and without guile.
Repeat you can only control your own actions, feelings, and words; not those of another person.
Embrace the “Serenity Prayer” so that you can become more serene.
11. Talk to someone else and even consider professional help if necessary- Talking about things on your mind will help clear your thoughts and make room for new ideas and experiences.
It will also give you a different perspective on the situation and help you realize that there’s always another way to perceive circumstances.
You may also decide to seek professional help, as overthinking can be a sign of depression or anxiety and these conditions should not be ignored.
You may also consider relationship counseling with a family therapist or any other type of support professional to work out relationship problems and help you limit debilitating overthinking.
Counseling can be enriched with added input and insight from your partner.
12. Accept overthinking as normal - Recognize that overthinking in relationships is normal. Here is a truism: People overthink.
We are all prone to ruminating over past events and worrying about the future.
This serves an adaptive purpose: it allows you to learn from the past so that you can plan for the future, avoiding unnecessary mistakes or danger.
The problem arises when this type of thinking becomes excessive and interferes with your ability to live in the present moment, and that’s when professional help may be in order.
But don’t compound the overthinking process by lambasting yourself, adhering to the belief that you’re crazy and broken.
Thinking and overthinking are just part of being human!
Overthinking in a Relationship - Final Words
There is no doubt, relationships require a lot of work. This applies to all relationships, including friendships.
(You can also overthink friendships, not just romantic partnerships.)
But does thinking about your relationship all the time do more harm than good?
You may find yourself constantly wondering if you said the right thing, whether your partner is happy, or if they will leave you.
You may even overthink what they said the last time you were together, or the last text message they sent.
Analyzing everything like this is draining, and it can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety in your relationship.
A common issue that can lead to overthinking is an insecure attachment style. This means that you have a deep-rooted fear of rejection and abandonment.
If you think about the early years of your life, how you interacted with your caregivers probably has some impact on how you attach to others now as an adult.
Overthinking can also stem from worrying about not being “good enough” for someone else.
It may also come from experiences of heartbreak or abandonment that are still fresh in your mind and influencing how you act in your current relationship.
(Earlier, I discussed other reasons for overthinking a relationship.)
When you feel yourself overthinking something, stop and remember that this is normal.
But recognize that this isn’t productive and choose to let it go.
Remind yourself of all the reasons you love your significant other, and trust that they love you.
You’re now able to override your tendency to overthink your relationship -- at least I hope so, for your sake and theirs.