What It Means To Be Insecure In A Relationship
People throw around the word "insecure" a lot these days, especially when it comes to relationships. If a person is difficult to be with in some way, someone will usually pipe in and say it's because "they're just insecure." But what does that actually mean?
What it means to be insecure in a relationship
Being insecure in a relationship means you don't feel confident in the relationship and fear that the relationship is at risk in some way, typically because you doubt the other person's feelings for you or their commitment to the relationship.
"When we are in a secure relationship, we feel solid—as if the relationship is a strong, safe island filled with love," explains clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. "When we feel insecure in a relationship, we feel unstable—as if the relationship is built on shaky ground or, even worse, quicksand."
It's common for people to feel insecure in relationships at times, especially at the beginning when the relationship is still new and feelings still uncertain. But continued insecurities, left unaddressed, often begin to weigh on both partners.
"If we don't attend to our insecurities, they often incite fears of inadequacy and abandonment, which can wear down both people in the relationship," licensed mental health counselor Nancy L. Johnston, M.S., LPC, LSATP, writes at mbg. "No matter how supportive and reassuring our partners are, they will not resolve our deep-seated feelings about ourselves. As a result, they will likely become frustrated at their inability to help alleviate our suffering, which will place a great deal of stress on the relationship."
Signs & examples of insecurity in a relationship:
Constantly seeking reassurance
A common example of what insecurity might look like in a relationship is seeking excessive reassurance from your partner to confirm they're still interested in you or still love you. According to psychotherapist Shannon Garcia, LCSW, this usually comes in the form of asking the same questions repeatedly or even compulsively, such as:
- Are you mad at me?
- Do you love me?
- Do I look OK?
Constantly fishing for compliments, declarations of love, or displays of affection signal that a person doesn't feel secure in their relationship, which is why they need regular confirmation that their partner is still invested.
Constantly looking for signs of rejection
A person who is insecure in their relationship is constantly scrutinizing the relationship for any signs that their partner may be losing interest in them, says Johnston. They overanalyze every little action and interaction, trying to find evidence that their partner is wavering. "Our insecurities about our lovability make us think that our partner might abandon us at any point. As a result, we may vigilantly watch and listen for any sign that our relationship with our partner is over," she explains.
Always deferring to the other person
Another common sign of insecurity in a relationship is when one person always goes along with what the other person says or wants, obscuring their own needs and preferences to appease their partner.
"Perhaps we don't tell our partner that we don't like the same music he is interested in because we are worried that we'll lose a significant common interest. Or maybe we don't challenge her restaurant choice because we don't want to seem disagreeable," says Johnston. "Insecurity overtakes our will to speak up because we fear that our partner will not like who we really are."
Avoiding getting too close
Someone who is insecure in relationships may also respond to that fear of rejection by avoiding close relationships altogether. As Manly explains, "Insecurity can also manifest as emotional distance; a partner who is insecure may pull back to avoid being hurt."
This behavior is known as dismissive-avoidant attachment, or avoidant attachment for short.
According to Manly, someone who is insecure about their relationship may struggle to trust their partners. They may exhibit chronic jealousy, clinginess, or general distrust toward their partner because they secretly believe their partner is likely to leave them.
"People who are insecure can be very controlling," licensed mental health counselor Rachna Buxani-Mirpuri, LMHC, previously told mbg.
Controlling behavior might look like calling all the shots about what the couple does or doesn't do, disrespecting the partner's privacy and boundaries, constantly texting and trying to check in when they're apart to find out what the partner is doing, or using guilt-tripping to try to get the partner to do something.
"It makes an insecure person very anxious if they are not able to control their environment and everyone who is a part of it. Thus, an insecure person can be very controlling toward their romantic partners," Mirpuri explains.
Taking everything personally
Insecure people frequently misinterpret what their partners say or do, says Johnston. They're always seeing their behavior through the lens of anticipated rejection, assuming that every action means their partner is upset with them or losing interest.
"Perhaps we think he doesn't want to see us anymore if he reschedules dinner with us (when really, he just had an unexpected deadline to meet)," she says, for example. "Or maybe if she insists on taking her own car, we assume she doesn't like the way we drive (when actually she just wanted to run a few errands before picking us up)."
Lastly, a big sign that someone is insecure in the relationship is emotional volatility. While people can be emotional for many reasons, Manly says an insecure person will often display frequent mood swings. Because they’re struggling with so many intense feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness, it’s easy to be triggered and become reactive in response to even the smallest of things.
What makes someone insecure in a relationship
Notably, even though we often talk of "insecure people," being insecure is not a personality trait—it's a feeling. This distinction is important, according to licensed clinical psychologist Avigail Lev, Psy.D.
"If our mind confuses insecurity for a character trait, then every time the feeling of insecurity gets triggered for us, we will assume that something is wrong with us," she previously told mbg. "If we view insecurity as a feeling state that gets triggered for everyone, then we have more compassion with it and kindness toward it."
There are many different things that can make someone insecure in a relationship, but the most common contributing factors are past experiences of rejection or abandonment (whether from childhood or previous relationships), personal insecurities seeping into the relationship, or legitimate issues within the current relationship.
Here's a breakdown of each of the causes of relationship insecurity:
Unresolved issues from childhood
"Many people struggle with insecurity in their relationships due to unresolved childhood issues," says Manly. Our way of approaching relationships as adults, known as our attachment style, mirrors the dynamics of our childhood. If our parents were unavailable or inattentive when we were kids, we grow up learning that our connections with others are inherently tenuous and uncertain. "When a secure attachment doesn't form in childhood, one of the insecure attachment styles takes hold," she says.
The three insecure attachment styles include the avoidant attachment, anxious attachment, and disorganized attachment. "Those with an anxious (preoccupied) attachment style or an unresolved (disorganized) attachment style are prone to being overtly insecure in intimate relationships. Those with an avoidant (dismissing) attachment style tend to cope with feelings of insecurity by being indifferent and aloof," Manly explains.
Bad experiences in previous relationships
In addition to childhood experiences, past situations experiencing intense rejection, betrayal, or heartbreak can all lead to a person fearing something similar might happen in their next relationship, manifesting as feelings of insecurity.
Manly also points out that a person may be insecure in their current relationship because their partner is legitimately untrustworthy or uncommitted. In other words, a person's relationship insecurities may be valid and grounded in an accurate gut instinct about their partner's true feelings.
Feeling insecure about yourself
Lastly, if a person lacks confidence and self-esteem in general, those personal insecurities can also trickle into their love life, distorting their view of their relationship and how well it's going. Essentially, if you find yourself to be generally unlovable or otherwise have negative opinions of yourself, you assume your partner secretly feels the same way and will ultimately leave you.
How to deal with an insecure person in a relationship
If you're dating someone who you suspect is feeling insecure in the relationship, Manly recommends trying to figure out exactly where those issues are coming from. Are they stemming from their own personal insecurities? Or is your partner insecure because you're behaving in ways that make them question your feelings?
"In some cases, a combination of unresolved issues and a partner's poor behavior work in combination to feed insecurity," Manly notes.
Gently open up a conversation with your partner about what's going on for them, where their feelings of insecurity are coming from, and what specific behaviors of yours may be making them insecure. Go in with curiosity and warmth so they know they can safely open up to you about these vulnerabilities without fear of judgment or rejection.
You may find there are behaviors of yours that are triggers for your partner, which you can eliminate, adjust, or offer care for your partner to help them cope with the discomfort when it comes up.
As well, remember that although you might feel like you're being clear about how much you love and care about your partner, their insecurities make it hard for them to truly internalize your reassurances. Be patient and compassionate with them as they work to build a more secure attachment to you. Keep validating them and demonstrating that they can trust you by being consistent, keeping your word, and being attentive to their feelings. At the same time, encourage your partner to look within at what may be keeping them from truly feeling secure and believing you when you say you're there for them.
"Regardless of the cause of insecurity issues, both individual and couples' therapy can work wonders in healing the root causes of insecurity," Manly adds.
How to be more secure
If you're someone who tends to be insecure in relationships, know that there are ways to become more secure and confident in your partner and yourself. Here are a few tips from experts:
Get to the root cause.
First things first: Spend some time thinking, journaling, or talking with a trusted loved one or mental health professional to help you uncover what's causing your feelings of insecurity. "It's important to take a step back (or many steps back) to observe your childhood, relationship history, and overall personality," says Manly.
What past experiences may have contributed to your struggling to feel safe, loved, and at ease in your relationships? Why do you fear the possibility of rejection so strongly? Do these insecurities stem from your past relationships? From your childhood? From within? Or, is there something legitimately worrying about your current partner's behavior?
Address any issues in the relationship.
Sometimes what makes a person feel insecure in a relationship is, in fact, their partner's behavior. If there are specific things that your partner does or says that trigger your insecurities, bring them up to your partner and let them know how they make you feel. Be honest that you're struggling with insecurity and you want to feel more at ease in the relationship.
"Vulnerability goes a long way in relationships and has the potential to heal anxious attachments. The right person will want to make you feel emotionally safe in a relationship," couples' therapist Aparna Sagaram, LMFT, previously told mbg.
A few things to remember: Just because something upsets you doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong for your partner to do it. At the same time, just because there's nothing "technically" wrong with your partner's behavior doesn't mean it's OK for them to continue doing it carelessly when they see it's hurting you. Together, talk about ways they can help you feel more secure that still feel reasonable and sustainable for them.
Build trust in your partner.
Learning how to trust your partner will help you feel more secure in the relationship because you'll be able to believe them when they tell or show you they're committed to you. Start by taking small risks to build trust that they will show up for you, suggests Sagaram. "Start with low-risk situations, and build from there."
Notice the signs of security.
When we're feeling insecure about our relationship, we tend to scrutinize every little thing our partner does for any signs that indicate they're getting tired of us. We take words and actions out of context and assign negative meanings to them, always assuming the worst and attempting to prove our fears right.
To offset this unhealthy habit, Johnston recommends actively doing the opposite: looking for and holding onto the signs of security. The next time insecurities are coming up for you, think back to your previous conversations with your partner where they reassured you of their feelings. "We might also notice all the things that indicate that we are not about to be rejected: our partner's kind words, their actions, and the fun times we have together," she adds.
This can be especially useful if your relationship insecurities are ultimately tied to insecurities you have about yourself. "Perhaps we take it a step further and focus on the aspects of ourselves that the other person enjoys. Maybe our partner expressed admiration for our sense of humor, our insightful observations, or our unique sense of style. The next time our insecurities threaten to overtake us, we can recall these observations that affirm our lovability," Johnston suggests.
Speak your truth.
People-pleasing behavior is a common way insecurity manifests in relationships, so if this is something you struggle with, work on speaking up about the things you think and feel in the relationship.
"If we notice that we are stifling our voice to keep our partner happy, we need to remind ourselves that doing so creates a relationship based on illusion," Johnston reminds. "When we say what we think, feel, and believe, we allow ourselves to connect in a real way with our partner—or we summon the conclusion of a relationship that was not right for us to begin with. Both scenarios lead to a better outcome for everyone involved."
Remember the goal is not just a relationship but a healthy one.
While it's painful to imagine losing someone you really love, don't lose sight of the bigger picture. If this relationship is ultimately not right for one or both of you, then the relationship ending is the best possible outcome.
Getting over someone is hard, but trust that you will absolutely be able to do it with time. And eventually, you can absolutely find this type of connection again.
If you can truly internalize this truth, you'll find it becomes much easier to release some of that fear of the possibility of your current relationship not working out.
What can make you insecure in a relationship?
Many things can make a person feel insecure in a relationship, but some common culprits include your partner behaving in ways that communicate lack of commitment, your own personal insecurities causing you to believe your partner is likely to lose interest in you, or past experiences of rejection from childhood or previous relationships causing a heightened fear that the same thing will happen again in the current relationship.
Is it normal to be insecure in a relationship?
It's common to experience some nervousness and anxiety at the start of a relationship, when the connection is still new and developing, and you're both still figuring out how you feel about each other. But for a relationship to last, it's important for both partners to be able to eventually feel secure and at ease in the relationship.
What are some signs of an insecure person?
You can tell your partner may be feeling insecure in the relationship if they're constantly asking for reassurance that you still like them, constantly trying to check in with you about what you're doing when you're not together, taking everything you say or do very personally, and generally having a lot of volatile emotions related to the relationship.
To be insecure in a relationship means to fear that the relationship is not stable and is at risk of falling apart. People can be insecure in their relationships even if their partner has given no indication of wavering feelings or commitment; often this type of insecurity stems from fears of past experiences of rejection repeating themselves in the current relationship.
There's nothing wrong with feeling insecure from time to time; what matters is how we handle those feelings. Do we take them out on our partner with accusations, controlling behavior, and volatility? Or do we use these feelings to better understand ourselves and to open up conversations with our partners about what we want and need?
Remember: We all deserve to feel secure, loved, and at ease in our relationships.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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