Understanding and Conquering Separation Anxiety in Relationships


This article will provide a comprehensive understanding of separation anxiety in adult relationships, offer practical advice for managing and overcoming it, and cover the importance of healthy communication and professional support in dealing with this challenge.

Anxiety in Relationships


The problem of separation anxiety in relationships is often mistakenly associated with childhood. While separation anxiety is a normal part of child development, it is also a condition that can affect adults. As such, it is important to understand answers to questions like “What is separation anxiety in relationships as an adult?” as well as figure out how to deal with separation anxiety in relationships when they involve close family members, partners or spouses, caregivers, or your children.

This article will explore the signs of separation anxiety in relationships, briefly cover the causes and triggers, and provide information on overcoming separation anxiety relationships in adulthood.

How separation anxiety in adults is different

Separation anxiety is a regular part of child development. Young children and toddlers will experience this type of anxiety, but by the time they reach three, it usually passes. While those feelings may become less apparent in older children or adults, some people still experience separation anxiety in adult relationships, no matter their age. 

What is separation anxiety in relationships? It revolves around feelings of anxiety that interfere with your ability to be productive and live a fulfilling life or commit to your personal activities when you are separated from those you care about. This separation can come in the form of:

  1. Divorces
  2. Separations
  3. Being apart from one another because of travel
  4. Long work hours

Separation anxiety in adult relationships can apply to:

  1. A partner or spouse
  2. A child
  3. A caregiver

In some cases, even the thought of being separated is enough to cause severe anxiety.

Distinction between normal dependency and separation anxiety

It is very important to differentiate between normal dependency in a relationship and separation anxiety.

For example:

Under normal dependency scenarios, you might find it uncomfortable to be separated from your spouse for several weeks at a time, but in their absence, you continue with your personal and professional obligations, perhaps caring for other family members, going to work, and even socializing with your friends.

Under the same circumstances with separation anxiety, when you are not with your loved one, you might find it difficult or impossible to go to work, you can’t take care of yourself or others, dishes pile up in the sink, you avoid going out with friends, and you are consumed with persistent and excessive fear that something will happen to your loved one the entire time you are apart.

Signs of separation anxiety in relationships

You might be dealing with separation anxiety in relationships if you continually worry about bad things occurring when you are far from your partner, child, or caregiver. You might find that completing everyday tasks becomes a challenge, if not impossible, because you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts about bad things happening.

Some examples of the common signs of separation anxiety in relationships for adults include the following:

  • Continual worry that negative things will occur if separated
  • Excessive distress when you experience separation from your home or even think about being away from home
  • Excessive worry about losing those you love if you are separated from them due to injury, illness, or natural disasters
  • Persistent worry about experiencing something tragic or traumatic as a result of being separated, such as getting into an accident or being kidnapped
  • A persistent reluctance or complete refusal to leave your homework for fear of being separated from those you love 
  • A persistent refusal to sleep away from home or not be near your loved one
  • Regular nightmares about being separated from your loved one
  • Persistent fear of being separated from your loved one while you are home alone or left alone elsewhere
  • Physical symptoms that come from your fear of separation, like headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, or other unexplained aches and pains
  • A reluctance to be away from the person to whom you are close
  • Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks when you are not with your loved one
  • Restlessness or nervousness when you are apart, or even think about being apart
  • Sweating, rapid breathing, and increased pulse when you are away from a loved one, without any other explanation
  • A strong sense of danger or panic attacks when apart

The symptoms associated with separation anxiety as an adult can be very intense and lead to panic attacks that trigger physical reactions like shortness of breath and increased heart rate. For these and other reasons, it’s important that you learn to recognize the signs of separation anxiety in yourself or in those with whom you are close and figure out how to deal with separation anxiety in relationships.

In order to receive a diagnosis of separation anxiety as an adult, you need to have at least three of the symptoms above for at least six months.

The emotional and behavioral impact on relationships

The severity of persistent fear and anxiety surrounding a separation anxiety disorder has significant impacts on emotional and behavioral health.

Signs and symptoms can impact yourself, your partner, and other members of your family when, for example, you are so desperate to keep your partner close to you and never be a part of that it borders on aggression.

It has a detrimental impact on your mental health when you are overcome with persistent and excessive anxiety and worry. That persistent worry and stress can lead to chronic inflammation, issues with your immune health, low energy, and other physical ramifications as well.

How to recognize separation anxiety in oneself or a partner

If you are worried that you might have separation anxiety or that you are in a relationship with a partner who does, in addition to the diagnostic criteria, there are other signs that you might experience as an adult with separation anxiety, including the following:

  • Being overprotective of children
  • Having problems focusing when you are away from your loved one
  • Worrying that your teen won’t need you anymore as they get more mature and independent
  • Repeatedly calling or texting your loved one when separated
  • Being in unhealthy relationships for fear of being separated
  • Depending on parents to an inappropriate level or remaining over-involved in their personal lives
  • Unending fears that your partner will leave you
  • Placing unhealthy demands on your family
  • Having trouble with major transitions in life, like moving to a new location
  • Serious and persistent jealous
  • Intentionally limiting time or travel away from home
  • Being so desperate to keep your loved one close that you border on aggression
  • Having strong feelings of vulnerability
  • Not being able to make your own friends
  • Obsessively checking the phones or computers of your loved ones

If you notice that you or someone close to you is struggling with some of these behavioral changes and they have done so for at least six months, it might be time to consider getting professional help or, at the very least, learning more about separation anxiety in relationships and finding self-help resources. 

separation anxiety in relationships

Causes of separation anxiety in relationships

Research is still exploring precise causes of separation anxiety, particularly in adults. Most research revolves around those who experience separation anxiety in childhood and continues to allow some aspect of that disorder into their adult relationships. Some potential causes include the following:

  • Adversity or trauma in childhood
  • Exposure to major disasters that left you with a fear for your safety
  • Chronic stress
  • Major life transitions
  • Experiencing the loss of loved ones in life
  • Neuroticism
  • Genetics
  • Grief 
  • Changes to amygdala function

Other working theories revolve around the connection between major life events or high levels of chronic stress and anxiety. Those with anxiety disorders or those who struggle with PTSD may be at a higher risk of developing separation anxiety in adulthood, particularly in their close relationships.


  • Separation anxiety disorder in adults has a prevalence of around 1.3%.
  • Of those who struggle with adult separation anxiety, only 6% have it throughout the course of their life.
  • Over 75% develop separation anxiety as an adult, not as a child. 

There’s also considerable overlap between other anxiety disorders and separation anxiety. 54% of people with bipolar disorder, for example, also experience adult separation anxiety and their relationships.

Unfortunately, most people who have separation anxiety and relationships never get the right treatment. Because of the high comorbidity with other anxiety disorders, most treatment focuses on other disorders rather than separation anxiety. However, there are ways that you can learn about overcoming separation anxiety relationships on your own or with help.

Recognizing triggers

If you struggle with separation anxiety, it’s important that you acknowledge the separation anxiety and learn how to identify triggers. You don’t need to have an acute cause of separation anxiety in relationships to learn what the triggers are for you.

For example:

Margaret experiences anxiety shortly after her spouse leaves the house for work. Jonathan experiences anxiety when his child leaves for school, constantly fearing that something bad will happen to him.

Knowing your personal triggers will make it easier for you to recognize which situations cause anxiety so that you can be prepared for those negative feelings. If you are prepared for the arrival of negative feelings, you can have a plan of response that includes coping mechanisms and other strategies.

It can be helpful to describe your feelings of anxiety when they arise in something like a journal or a notebook. That way, you can look for any patterns or regularity that might reveal personal triggers. This can also give you some detachment so that you might be able to view your triggers from an outside perspective and maybe note the irrationality of one or two of them.

Overcoming separation anxiety relationships

Overcoming separation anxiety means learning coping skills that you can apply when anxiety is high, and it might extend to learning those skills from a professional by attending therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or getting medication for your anxiety. Below are some of the more common methods you can use to help you manage your anxiety in relationships:


Mindfulness is one of the many forms of holistic care often incorporated into anxiety treatment. When you practice mindfulness, you can do things like increase your self-awareness and turn your attention back to the present when your mind starts to focus on the past or the future.

With mindfulness, you can also use one exercise that gives you cognitive distance between your thoughts and your emotions. For this, you want to change your thoughts from “I am starting to panic” or “I am so worried” to “I notice I am having the thought that I am starting to panic” or “I notice I am having the thought that I am so worried.”

The simple act of catching your anxious thoughts and adding “I notice I am having the thought ________”  places emotional distance between the thought and your response to it. This enables you to prevent the thought and its subsequent emotional response from taking over.

Challenge negative thoughts

Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors continually impact one another. Sometimes, we develop unhelpful thought patterns or behaviors like anxious behaviors regarding separation, and these affect how we feel in a vicious cycle.

Thankfully, you have the power to change this process and improve your anxiety by doing so. This is done by challenging your anxious or negative thoughts and learning to replace them. 

In CBT, this is called the “catch it, check it, change it” technique. You can do this by using a thought record technique. Below is an example of the thought record technique that can help you record your initial thoughts and the emotions they have, catch the negativity, check it, and change it.

Describe the situation or what happenedI am anxious and worried about my partner going on a work trip out of town.
Write down your feelingsI feel scared and stressed.
Write down any unhelpful thoughts you haveSomething bad is going to happen to him and I won’t be there to help.
Provide evidence to support your unhelpful thoughtsHe’s so busy and preoccupied that he often forgets small things that impede his travels.
Write down any evidence against those unhelpful thoughtsNothing legitimately bad has ever happened though and even the small things that he forgets only delay him a little bit but don’t ever cause real problems. He can take care of himself.
Write down any more realistic thoughtsI’m just anxious because I like making sure that he has everything he needs but he’s an adult and he’s responsible for himself. I don’t have to feel guilty that I won’t be there to help and then he’ll be frustrated and I will feel responsible.
Describe how you feel after going through the list aboveI feel much calmer and I am accepting that he can take care of himself and I don’t need to be scared or stressed. Really it’s just anxiety over the potential for self-inflicted guilt that isn’t real.


Journaling is one technique often employed as part of therapy for separation anxiety in relationships. Journaling can help you recognize what your fears are truly about.

For example:

Peter has struggled with separation anxiety since he was a child. Even as a teenager, he was terrified of his parents leaving him alone. As an adult, he moved in with his partner but realized that he was transferring that same separation anxiety to his partner.

While getting treatment, Peter started journaling. This helped him recognize that he was mostly afraid of feeling sad and lonely, meaning he was afraid of the emotions, not so much of actually being sad or lonely.

Journaling helped him recognize the root of his anxiety, which made it easier for him to manage. 

This too shall pass

Anxiety can feel overwhelming and crushing, but the emotions are temporary, and you have to learn that the panic you feel is temporary. If, for example, you start to feel worried about your partner leaving for work, focus on the joy when your partner is there and how you feel around them. This will help you change your perspective to something that is much stronger and long-term compared to the short-term nature of anxiety.

Activities like yoga and meditation or any type of physical exercise that you can do are very useful in this particular type of coping skill because they force you to remain focused on the present, focused on things that you can control. 

For example:

Whenever Christine feels really anxious about her partner leaving to do errands without her, she does yoga. Yoga forces her to hold physically demanding positions that align with her inhalation and exhalation. This teaches Christine that discomfort is temporary, both physical and emotional.


Some long-term ways to manage symptoms include socialization. This should not be a replacement mechanism, such that you shouldn’t immediately become reliant on someone else if the person with whom you have your main relationship is out of town or away. 

However, socializing on a regular basis with things like book clubs, church organizations, volunteerism, hiking groups, or just friends and neighbors can give you steady socialization with others such that when the person with whom you have your main relationship is absent, the fear and anxiety is not as strong because there are still other social circles on which you can rely.


Tangentially, it’s important that you distract yourself from the symptoms of separation anxiety when you know that they are temporary symptoms that will eventually pass. You don’t necessarily have to socialize with others to do so. You can find ways to just distract your brain or work on something by yourself, such as:

  1. Going for a walk
  2. Doing yoga
  3. Meditating
  4. Finding a new hobby
  5. Listening to music
  6. Watching a favorite TV show
  7. Calling someone 
How to create a happy relationship

Importance of self-care and maintaining individual identity

In any relationship, it is important to prioritize self-care and to maintain your individual identity. The healthiest relationships are where all members have separate friends and hobbies.

For example:

Lee loves bowling. Lee participates in a local bowling club where he has tournaments on weekends and regular games every Wednesday. He is also friends with many of the members of his team, and they frequently get dinner or drinks after their tournaments and socialize outside of the bowling league.

His partner, Angela, supports this, comes to tournaments when she is able to, and has met all of the members of the bowling team several times, even hosting parties for them at their house. However, Angela doesn’t bowl, and while he has his bowling league, Angela has her own group of friends from a horse riding club. She loves horses; she goes on long horseback rides and Trail competitions on weekends, especially during the spring and summer months. She also socializes with the members of her horseback riding club on occasion, and while her partner supports this, he isn’t always present for the events.

This is an example of a healthy individual identity where each partner has something that defines their personality and who they are, and they don’t need the other person to be a part of it.

If all of your hobbies, activities, and friends overlap, there is no room for individualization or time apart. In the long term, this might contribute to the slow development of separation anxiety because there’s no longer any individual identity.

Much the same as an individual identity, it’s also important to take care of yourself. Self-care comes in many forms, and practicing regular self-care such as yoga, face masks, spa days, massages, meditation, music, or art can make it a lot easier to maintain that level of self-care when you are particularly stressed or anxious whether that is thinking about being away from a partner or actually being away from a partner.

The role of professional help in overcoming separation anxiety in relationships

Overcoming separation anxiety relationships might require professional help. If your signs of separation anxiety are interfering with your daily function or that of a close partner or family member, it might be time to consider professional interventions.

Professional treatment can include therapy and, if necessary, medication. A therapist will help determine whether there is an underlying comorbidity, such as a secondary anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder. Medication and therapy can be provided for any co-occurring mental health disorders with professional help.

Moreover, separation anxiety symptoms that make it difficult or impossible to remain away from a loved one, to go to work or school, or perform daily tasks should be treated as quickly as possible so that you have skills to overcome separation anxiety in your relationships and you know how to stop the emotional and behavioral impact it has.

Summing Up

Many people think of separation anxiety as something to do with nervous animals or young children. However, it’s quite common for adults to experience separation anxiety in adult relationships. Recognizing the signs of separation anxiety in relationships can help you if you are struggling with separation anxiety or if you are in a close relationship with someone who is. It is possible to overcome separation anxiety when you have open dialogue and professional support.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Live without anxiety or exhaustion


© 2024 · CareRX Online