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How to Stop Overthinking in a Relationship – 9 Useful Tips

Having a healthy, loving relationship is supposed to help you feel more confident and secure, but what happens when it has the opposite effect? Do you find yourself wishing that you could turn off the constant anxiety and doubt as you overanalyze your every conversation or text message?

You’re probably overthinking things.

Overthinking puts pressure on us and becomes a strain on our relationships. The trouble is, we often don’t know how to stop overthinking in a relationship. Don’t worry.

In this article, we’re going to look at why you might be overthinking and how to stop being an overthinker in your relationship.

What Does Overthinking in a Relationship Look Like?

Before we start looking at how to stop overthinking everything in a relationship, let’s make sure we understand what overthinking looks like.

Overthinking typically has two parts to it. Firstly, we are examining something in minute detail. We’re looking for hidden meaning in everything our partner (or crush) says or does. We also analyze what they don’t say or do. We look for meaning in the color of shirt they’re wearing or what they order in a restaurant.

We might also overthink how he might interpret our behavior. We start to analyze everything we say or do around the other person to check that we’re not being ‘too much’ or too remote. We worry about using the exact right word or choosing a pair of earrings that will communicate our feelings.

Secondly, we’re also devoting tons of our time and energy to thinking about these things. We go over the same thoughts again and again. Psychologists call this rumination and studies show that it usually makes us feel a lot worse rather than better1.

So, what are some common things that people overthink in relationships?

  • What is he doing when he’s not with me?
  • Why hasn’t he replied to my message yet?
  • Does he really love me or is he just saying it?
  • What did he mean when he said…?
  • He said he likes dogs so I’d better not wear my cat jumper
  • Is he angry with me?
  • He didn’t put a heart at the end of his text. Does that mean it’s over?

Overthinking a little is normal, especially early in a relationship. We put a bit more effort into understanding the other person. It becomes a problem when overthinking becomes a habit or if it causes us stress or drama.

Why Do You Overthink in a Relationship?

You probably already know that overthinking just fuels your anxiety, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to stop. Often, you’ll just become more frustrated with yourself for overthinking which makes you feel bad and fuels your anxiety, which then leads to even more overthinking.

It’s a classic vicious cycle.

Understanding how to not be an overthinker in your relationship usually requires that you also understand why you overthink in the first place.

So, why do we overthink in our relationships?

1. Overthinking lets us think rather than feel

One of the reasons we overthink in our relationships is that it helps us avoid some of the difficult feelings that we might not be ready to deal with, such as feeling vulnerable. Dealing with thoughts is often easier than processing feelings.

When we overthink a situation, we’re focusing on our rational thoughts. When we’re trying to analyze his texts for evidence that he’s angry with us, we’re distracted from how nervous we feel and how badly we want to be loved.

For some of us (mostly those with an avoidant attachment style), overthinking in our relationships can also be a way of creating emotional distance from our partner2. We might feel that we’re getting too close and so start looking for signs that he’s unfaithful or doesn’t care enough about us. This gives us an excuse to pull away from the relationship.

2. We struggle with self-worth

we struggle with self worth

Overthinking can also be a sign that we lack self-confidence or self-worth. If you find it difficult to believe that you deserve love, affection, and care, you may be hypervigilant for signs that he doesn’t really feel that way.

It makes a lot of sense when you think about it this way. If you suddenly find yourself in a relationship with someone who treats you fantastically, it can feel so different to your previous relationships that you start to feel as though there must be something that you don’t understand.

You’re trying to fit your current (good) relationship into your (poor) expectations of how people treat you and it doesn’t fit so you start overanalyzing him to try to make sense of the situation.

A lack of self-worth or abandonment issues make it difficult to trust, and especially to trust that you are loved and cared for. Overthinking in this case can be either self-sabotage or seeking reassurance, and sometimes it can be both3.

3. We’re trying to regain some control

Relationships can be scary. Sometimes, we overthink situations as a way to try to gain a little bit of control over what happens, or at least to feel like we have some control. Unfortunately, our overthinking can easily get out of control.

This is usually more relevant when we’re overthinking our own behavior. We try to get everything exactly ‘right’ and send out all the right signals. It feels as though this will make sure that we get the relationship we’re hoping for.

Unfortunately, relationships don’t work that way. We can’t control another person’s behavior, no matter how much we agonize over every word in our text messages or remembering all of his favorite foods for dinner.

This type of overthinking can be self-fulfilling. When our partner reacts the way we wanted them to, we believe that it’s because we got every detail right. We feel that our overthinking was justified. If they don’t give us the response we’re looking for, we assume that we missed something, which prompts us to overthink even more next time.

4. We’re trying to avoid the unexpected

Overthinking feels as though it is helping prepare us for anything. We go over every possible situation and action in our minds, desperately trying to make sure we’ve thought of everything. It feels as though we’re now immune to being ambushed by something unexpected.

Again, this rarely works. Even if our loved one is really open and honest, we can’t possibly know everything they’re thinking. We’re always working with only part of the information and so there will always be something unexpected for us to deal with.

If your overthinking is partly due to trying to avoid the unexpected, you’ll probably find that you ruminate a lot. You think about the same question over and over, hoping to find something you’ve missed. 

5. Everyone else is overthinking too

We’ve looked at some of the deep emotional issues that might lead you to overthink your relationships, but sometimes there’s a simpler explanation. You might overthink your relationships because that’s what everyone expects of you.

We learn most of what we know about how relationships shouldwork from our friends, families, media, and social media4. If the people around you are always overthinking their relationships, and talking to you about them in this kind of detail, you start to think that this is how you’re supposed to approach relationships as well.

Think about your friendship group. Do you often suspect that they’re overthinking their relationships? Are they enthusiastic about analyzing details of your relationship? Do they tell you what your partner ‘really means’ by things he says or does?

If so, your friendship group might be pushing towards overthinking.

It’s ok to ‘check out’ from this kind of group pattern, especially if overthinking is ruining your relationship.

6. Maybe they actually are sending mixed signals

So far, we’ve been looking at reasons for your overthinking that come from your side of the relationship. It’s important to recognize that sometimes the way your partner treats you can encourage your overthinking.

Emotionally manipulative or narcissistic people can frequently gaslight you and undermine your confidence in your own memory and interpretation of events5. In this case, you’re not overthinking. You’re trying to understand the situation you’re in while they are actively making this difficult. This is abuse and it isn’t something you can fix.

Alternatively, they might be dealing with their own issues and sending out mixed messages by accident. This isn’t abusive, but it can be difficult to deal with. It’s completely understandable that you want to try to analyze the situation to try to understand exactly what’s going on with them, even if they don’t know.

Each of these causes of overthinking in a relationship is understandable but they can still damage trust with your partner and increase stress and drama. Let’s look at how to stop being an overthinker in relationships.

How to Stop Overthinking in a Relationship: 9 Top Tips

1. Be compassionate to yourself

It’s easy to get frustrated with yourself for overthinking your relationship, but this can make things even worse. Berating yourself is unlikely to stop you from going over the same thoughts over and over. Instead, you’ll probably start feeling guilty or ashamed that you’re still overthinking.

Overthinking is usually your mind’s way of trying to protect you. As we’ve mentioned above, lots of us overthink in our relationships as a way to avoid painful or difficult feelings. Rather than getting angry with yourself, try to be compassionate.

Put extra energy into trying to understand what drives you to overthink. Are there specific things that will trigger your overthinking? Does it happen more when you’re stressed, for example?

Try to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a close friend who overthinks. If you catch yourself overthinking, try saying “I’m overthinking again. That’s probably a sign that I’m feeling vulnerable or nervous. What else can I do to help me feel safe enough to stop?”

2. Practice mindfulness

Overthinking the details of a relationship focuses your attention on maybes and possibilities.

“Maybe he’s angry with me”

“What if he hates my new haircut?”

“Surely he’d put kisses at the end of his text if he still loved me”

One way to stop overthinking is to move your attention back to the present moment. This is the core of mindfulness.

When you catch yourself overthinking, it’s a great time to take a step back and really focus on being mindful. There are lots of different types of mindfulness, so you might need to experiment a little to find the one that suits you best.

One of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness is to take a few moments to focus on your breathing. Your thoughts will naturally wander, especially if you’re overthinking, so practice noticing when this happens and shifting your attention back to your breathing.

3. Build your self-esteem

build your self-esteem

Lots of relationship advice includes a variation on “improve your self-esteem” and this is no different. Improving your self-esteem really will help reduce your overthinking but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

We’re not offering this as a ‘quick-fix’ to help you stop overthinking in your relationship. It’s a long-term project, but it’s hugely worthwhile. Improving your self-esteem and self-worth has knock-on effects on almost all areas of your life, including reducing your overthinking.

Don’t expect miracles, but try to do something each day to boost your self-esteem. A good first step is to try to change your critical self-talk. Self-talk is just that. It’s how we talk to ourselves. Lots of people with low self-esteem are highly critical and even cruel in their self-talk. You might say things like

  • I’m an idiot
  • I never do anything right
  • I’m worthless

Pay attention to the words you use in your self-talk. When you notice yourself being critical, pause for a moment. Remind yourself that you’re trying to be kinder to yourself and then rephrase what you were trying to say as if you were speaking to your best friend instead of to yourself.

This won’t “fix” your self-esteem overnight, but it can make a surprising difference.

Having great self-esteem lets you feel like you’re “enough” all by yourself. This makes you feel less insecure about your partner and your relationships and reduces your urge to overthink.

4. Understand that it’s probably not about you

It might be strange to say immediately after suggesting that you work on your self-esteem but another valuable tip for how to stop overthinking in a relationship is to remember that not everything is about you.

We tend to assume that other people notice us more than they do, especially if we do something that we feel embarrassed about. Psychologists call this the Spotlight Effect6.

In reality, your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are due to a whole host of factors. You’re only one small part of that. If you catch yourself overthinking something your partner says or does, try putting yourself in their shoes to see whether there might be other factors influencing them.

5. Prioritize communication

Overthinking thrives with poor communication. If you’re communicating well with your partner, you probably won’t be dwelling on things and overanalyzing every detail.

Remember, overthinking is often your way of trying to understand your relationship better. You don’t need to overthink if you already know the answer.

Telling someone to ‘just ask’ rather than overthinking a situation is easy. Unfortunately, actually asking can be incredibly scary. It can be twice as difficult if you’ve already increased your anxiety by overthinking.

Try opening up communication by explaining how you’re thinking and why you’re asking. You could say “I’d like to talk to you about a problem I’ve been having. I tend to overthink in relationships and it makes me really anxious. I know I should just ask you, but that makes me nervous too. Could we brainstorm ways to make this easier?”

Make sure that you’re not blaming your partner for your overthinking. Try to use I statements. You could say “I might be overthinking again but when you … I felt … . I’d really like to know what you were thinking about it.”

6. Set aside specific times to worry

It might sound surreal, but setting aside specific times to worry about something can actually help reduce your rumination and anxiety.

Rather than letting your overthinking take control, choose a specific time of the day when you can devote 5 or 10 minutes to overthinking, worrying, or digging deeply into something that’s concerning you. 

Have a notebook or your phone handy so you can note down any good ideas you’ve had in that time or anything you think you need to look up or ask someone about. 

Set a timer so you know when your designated ‘worry time’ is over. If your overthinking helps you come up with something useful, that’s great. If it hasn’t after 10 minutes, it’s probably not going to.

Journaling is another useful tool to help you avoid overthinking. This is where you sit and write down your thoughts and feelings every day. This is great for helping you understand yourself and improving your mental health7.

Writing your thoughts down can also help you stop covering the same thoughts over and over again. Writing or typing forces you to slow down your thinking and choose your words more carefully. It also makes it clear when you’re repeating yourself.

7. Try to assess probabilities

Chronic overthinking about possible negative events is known as catastrophizing. It’s often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). One of the tools CBT uses to reduce catastrophizing is to try to work out how likely a specific thing is to be true.

Here’s how it could work.

Let’s say your partner doesn’t reply to your text messages. Your overthinking makes you worry that he’s cheating on you. This strategy asks you to estimate how likely that is. You might think about it for a moment and guess that it’s about a 70% chance.

The next step is to think about other possible explanations. You might remember that he’s been working extra hours this week so he might still be at work. He said he was going to work late 3 days this week, so that puts it at a 60% chance.

Then you remember that he’s had a cold all week. Maybe he’s feeling sick and so he’s gone to bed early. That might be a 25% chance. And there might be a 10% chance that he’s playing video games with his best friend.

Then you realize that the numbers don’t add up here. When you look at all of the possibilities, you realize that the chances of him cheating on you might actually only be 5%. And as you think of more options, it might go even lower.

Trying to assign realistic probabilities to your worries can help you see when your overthinking is creating problems for your relationship.

8. Consider whether there’s a deeper problem

consider whether there's a deeper problem

It’s not nice to think about but sometimes your overthinking is a sign that there’s something deeper wrong with your relationship. If you’ve always been a serial overthinker, it probably is more you than them. That isn’t always the case, however.

If you don’t normally overthink things in a relationship but you’ve suddenly started, you’re probably feeling less secure in this relationship than you’re used to. It’s useful to try to understand what’s going on here and whether it might be a red flag.

Ask yourself whether something has changed between this relationship and your previous ones. If your last boyfriend cheated on you, for example, it’s natural that you might be more alert to signs of cheating and overthink things as a result.

If nothing has changed with you but you’ve just started overthinking, it might be that you don’t entirely trust your partner. If you’re getting subtle signals that they’re not entirely honest with you, for example, you might start to overthink their behavior. You’re subconsciously trying to check whether their words and their actions match up.

It’s not always possible to know for sure whether your overthinking is due to a partner who isn’t entirely honest but you might need to trust your instincts. If you routinely distrust your partner, the relationship is unlikely to be healthy for either of you unless you find a sustainable solution. Sometimes, you might need to walk away.

9. Talk to a therapist or a relationship coach

You don’t have to deal with your overthinking alone. Working with a therapist or a great relationship coach can help you talk through your worries and better understand some of the root causes of your anxiety.

A trained professional can help you understand how to stop overthinking in a relationship and provide support and guidance as you find your way to a stronger relationship with clear, effective communication.

FAQs

Why do I always think the worst in my relationship?

If you always think the worst in your relationships, it’s probably because you don’t feel properly secure. You might have an anxious attachment style or be struggling to overcome past betrayals. Feeling safe and loved will help you learn how to be more trusting and relaxed when dating.

Will overthinking ruin my relationship?

Overthinking usually just makes you more stressed and anxious. If your overthinking leads you to distrust your partner, it can ruin your relationship. Protect your relationship from your overthinking by being open and honest about how you’re feeling. You can work together as a couple to overcome your insecurities.

Why do I always overthink my relationship before bed?

It’s really common to overthink things just before we go to sleep, including our relationships. This is because we’re trying to settle down without distractions, which lets your anxieties make themselves heard. Try to avoid planning or problem-solving just before sleep. Sleep apps can be really helpful here.

Conclusion

Did you enjoy reading our suggestions for how to stop overthinking in a relationship? Trying out some of these tips will help you quiet that anxious voice in your head and let you really enjoy the time you spend with your partner.

We’d love to know what worked well for you and whether you have any other ideas. What makes you overthink? Let us know in the comments and do share this article with anyone you think could benefit from overthinking less.

7 Sources:
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  2. ‌O’Brien, K., O’Keeffe, N., Cullen, H., Durcan, A., Timulak, L., & McElvaney, J. (2017). Emotion-focused perspective on generalized anxiety disorder: A qualitative analysis of clients’ in-session presentations. Psychotherapy Research, 29(4), 524–540. https://doi.org/10.1080/10503307.2017.1373206
  3. ‌MuñozA., & Carroll, L. (2023). Stop Overthinking Your Relationship Break the Cycle of Anxious Rumination to Nurture Love, Trust, and Connection with Your Partner. New Harbinger Publications.
  4. ‌Furman, W., Simon, V. A., Shaffer, L., & Bouchey, H. A. (2002). Adolescents’ Working Models and Styles for Relationships with Parents, Friends, and Romantic Partners. Child Development, 73(1), 241–255. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8624.00403
  5. ‌Johnson, V. E., Nadal, K. L., Sissoko, D. R. G., & King, R. (2021). “It’s Not in Your Head”: Gaslighting, ‘Splaining, Victim Blaming, and Other Harmful Reactions to Microaggressions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16(5), 1024–1036. https://doi.org/10.1177/17456916211011963
  6. ‌Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 211–222. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.78.2.211
  7. ‌Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162–166. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00403.x
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