argument-intimacy cycle

How to Stop Overthinking and Stressing Out about Your Relationship

Do you spend more time worrying about your relationship than you do enjoying it?

argument-intimacy cycle
Overthinking can make you behave in a way that makes things worse, but you CAN stop the cycle.

If you do, you will be more upset when even little upsets happen. You will also tend to overreact to your spouse’s words and behaviors. You will be watchful and try to figure out the deeper meanings behind them.

Anxious thinking creates a vicious cycle

As a result of your anxious thinking, you are more likely to complain, criticize, argue and interrogate. The reason you do these needy behaviors is to get reassurance so you will be less anxious.

And, because of your needy behaviors, you will be less enjoyable to be with. Your spouse will enjoy you less than before and prefer to do other things. Your spouse may also be more careful about what he or she says for fear you will twist the meaning, take it the wrong way, and become accusatory.

Your spouse’s distancing and guardedness will make you more anxious and stressed and suspicious and distrusting. This cycle that begins with anxious thinking which leads to needy behavior which leads to your spouse’s distancing and back to making you have more anxious thinking can be described as a downward spiral. Unchecked, it will not end until your relationship does.

Our lives have many cycles in them that we don’t notice, but keep us doing the same things day after day. They help us to maintain a consistent self-view and world view and keep us emotionally stable. Unfortunately, some of these cycles also prevent us from having success.

Cycles and downward spirals can be ended

One way for the anxious downward spiral to end would be for your spouse to do everything exactly in a way that does not cause you to doubt or need reassurance. But, if you try to stop the downward spiral that way, by working to get your spouse to say and do things exactly right, you will soon be disappointed. You married a person just as fallible as the rest of us. And, if you have kids, you are never going to get them to say and do exactly what you want either.

There are two good ways you can stop this downward spiral

One is by stopping the anxious thinking so it doesn’t lead to needy behaviors. Your spouse will enjoy you more, your relationship will improve, and you will be less anxious. This is a counseling approach.

The other is to stop the needy behaviors, even if you feel anxious. Your spouse will enjoy you more, your relationship will improve, and you will be less anxious. This is a coaching approach.

Whether you think less or behave better, it will result in an improved relationship for you and your spouse. Taking actions which help your spouse to enjoy you and lead you to behave even better with your spouse is an example of an upward spiral. Creating an upward spiral will restore a positive and stable relationship–without you ever needing to try to change your spouse directly. It is no-conflict relationship building, which I use to help my clients build their relationships.

Just imagine how much more you would enjoy your life and relationship if you behaved in a way that made your spouse want to spend more time with you. There would be more to enjoy and less to think about.

Four ways to decrease overthinking and be more enjoyable

1. Have realistic expectations

Do you know the main reason people get upset?

The main reason people become upset is because their expectations do not match reality.

Suppose a man’s wife is habitually late getting ready to go somewhere. He tells her they need to leave at 7:00 p.m. to get to where they are going on time. She says she will be ready.

Which would be a realistic expectation for the man: That his wife will be on time, or that she won’t?

If he expects his wife to be ready at 7:00 and she is not, he will be upset with her and either call her out on it, behave irritably, or internally stew in his anger and frustration. He may overthink her tardiness–concluding that his wife is a liar and does not care about him, his feelings, or his needs.

Maybe he will think that she doesn’t really want to go or that he is not very important to her. He may accuse her of not caring about him. Unrealistic expectations and overthinking have led him to thoughts or behavior that will actually make him less enjoyable.

On the other hand, if the man expects his wife to be late, because that’s the way she typically has been as long as he has known her, he will not be as upset when she is late again. He won’t like it. It will be an annoying behavior, but he won’t take it personally. It’s the way she is.

Does your spouse do anything habitually that is making you upset every time? Stop overthinking by expecting the behavior.

How to have more realistic expectations

Examine the evidence. How frequently do your spouse’s unwanted words or actions occur?

If your spouse is late half the time, then expect your spouse is going to continue to be late half the time. It is the way he or she is.

If your spouse only wants to spend time with you twice a week, then expect your spouse is going to continue to only want to spend time with you twice a week.

If your spouse wants to have sex after every date, then expect your spouse to continue to want sex after every date.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your spouse, your kids, your mother, or even yourself–having realistic expectations will accomplish three things:

  1. You will be less upset when it happens, and
  2. You can prepare for it, and
  3. You can plan how you will respond instead of being reactive.

Learning to respond to your spouse in a different way can create a closer relationship that in turn leads to better behavior from your spouse. Sometimes that will mean being nicer and sometimes it will mean using a boundary.

A personal example

I know every time I see my ophthalmologist, I will be taken to an exam room and told the doctor will be there shortly, but will actually not arrive for more than thirty minutes. If I just believed what the assistant tells me every time, then I would be upset every time. Instead, I expect I will be sitting in the exam room at least half an hour. Because of my expectation, I allow enough time for my appointment and I bring a book. When the doctor shows up, I am friendly and in a good mood.

What if the doctor shows up on time? Then, I enjoy the unexpected short wait, but I still bring a book the next time. I don’t change my expectation because of some random occurrences. Accurate expectations don’t prevent improvement, but false hope will make us upset every time.

An overthinker in this situation would expect the doctor to show up on time, every time. An overthinker would think about how that is the doctor’s responsibility and if the doctor really cared, then he would show up on time every time.

Then, when that didn’t happen, he or she would feel both disappointed and angry. The overthinker might express that to the doctor or stew on it. Neither would be enjoyable for either one of them, and neither one would result in the doctor subsequently showing up on time.

An extreme overthinker in this situation might even guess that they have done something wrong to make the doctor treat them this way and may even ask the doctor if they have done something to upset the doctor, and if not, then ask why the doctor is late all the time. That would be a good way to become a person the doctor actually does not like.

On the other hand…

If the doctor is unusually late, then I inquire to make sure I was not accidentally overlooked. I assume there’s either a good reason or a simple human mistake–like the kind I often make. This helps me to remain calm and friendly and on good terms with my doctor and his staff. You might ask why I would continue to go to see a doctor like this? It’s because he did an excellent job restoring my vision when I could hardly see.

Your spouse may be lousy in one area, but totally make up for it by being wonderful in another. Sometimes we need to use boundaries to deal with that lousy area, but most of the time, we can just chalk it up to having married an imperfect human–just like us.

I expect my wife to have bad moods and to make mistakes sometimes. It doesn’t make me love her any less, but it helps our relationship a lot. It helps me to continue to be positive toward her, and to be a man she enjoys being with. I don’t need to figure out why she does what she does or to try to fix her. I can just focus on being a good husband responding in a good way to whatever she does.

2 Decrease overthinking by having a temporary perspective

Having a perspective that everything in our life is temporary–relationships, job, health, attractiveness, and even life, can seem pretty depressing, but actually it helps us value the good that we have and to be less satisfied with the bad. It leads us to do important things.

When we live our lives as if they will go on indefinitely, we often neglect the things and people that are most important. I encourage you to either love your spouse as he or she is, work to create a better relationship, or end your marriage. You are not doing your spouse or God any favors by staying in a marriage and behaving unlovingly toward your spouse.

Knowing life is temporary doesn’t mean we live in fear. My faith in Jesus Christ allows me to live mostly without fear of dying. It helps me to enjoy my life more.

3 Decrease overthinking by being okay with being upset

Many overthinkers think it is such a bad thing to be upset that they spend a lot of time and energy trying to make sure everything goes right. Are you worried about being worried? Sad about being sad? Mad at yourself for feeling mad at others? If so, then you are just adding fuel to the fire. All of us have feelings of anger, sadness, and worry at times. It is part of being a human being.

We can realistically expect that we are going to feel this way sometimes and that others are going to feel that way, too. You aren’t always going to feel like you are in love with your spouse or kids, and they aren’t always going to feel that way about you. That’s okay. Accidents and illnesses are going to happen sometimes, and we are going to mess up not just some, but many times. Some people in life are going to try to cheat us and yet others are going to treat us better than we deserve. That’s okay, too.

That’s all part of the human experience. Give yourself permission to experience your sad or mad feelings, to be hurt when cheated or mistreated, and make sure you keep a first aid kit handy. Intolerance of others means expecting them to be better than they actually are. Intolerance of oneself is expecting ourselves to be better than we are. This intolerance robs us of joy in our relationships and even makes us feel bad about ourselves. Expect others and yourself to behave like humans.

Go easy on yourself–you might be the only one that does.

4 Stop overthinking by only taking responsibility for your part

Every day when I get out of bed, I look out the window and say aloud:

This is the day the lord has made. Today I will trust Him, do my best, and enjoy my day.

I don’t need to figure everything out. I don’t have to solve every problem. I don’t have to worry about things outside of my control. I just need to do what God expects of me in my relationships, my work, and my stewardship of what he has given me to take care of. He doesn’t expect me to do more than I can. He just expects me to do my best. I can count on Him to help me with everything and to pick up the part of the load I can’t carry. I also know God loves me and wants me to enjoy what He provides for me.

And, whether I do my best or not, I know that God will keep helping me up as long as I keep holding out my hand for his help. That really takes a load off my mind not needing to be perfect (which I can’t), and not needing to figure everything out (which I can’t), not needing to take every precaution (which I can’t), and not needing to make everyone happy (which I can’t).

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.–Psalm 55:22 NIV.

You can stop obsessing, and start loving

Do your best and let God do the rest. See the humanness and frailty of your spouse, yourself, and others. Don’t expect overnight change and realize how important and short your relationships really are. Get to know God if you haven’t so that you don’t need to live in fear of dying, and can really start living and loving.

If you have realized soon enough that relationship improvement is in your hands. I recommend my book, Overcome Neediness and Get the Love You Want as a good way to start your personal growth. If things have become pretty bad already, you are going to need some help. If you want to work with me and get some upward spirals going, you can check out my coaching services at

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