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What Is Separation Anxiety in a Relationship?

Separation anxiety in relationship

Separation anxiety. It is a term we hear somewhat frequently when discussing a mom leaving her young child in the care of another for the very first time, or perhaps when twins are placed in separate classes in elementary school and they have to learn how to get through their day without the other by their side for the first time in their young lives. Seldom do we ever hear about adults who suffer from this debilitating psychological condition?

So what is separation anxiety in adults? What causes it? How does it manifest itself within an adult relationship?

What is it?

Separation anxiety is most commonly recognized as a juvenile disorder in which children experience signs of anxiety when separated from their primary caregiver. In more recent times, however, adults have become increasingly diagnosed with an adult separation anxiety disorder (or ASAD). Adult separation anxiety is much the same as the disorder as that faced by children; however, these attachment figures typically include spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings, and or friends. Children who experience separation anxiety during their juvenile years very often go on to live their adult lives anxiety free. Conversely, children who do not experience separation anxiety during their childhood still have the potential to develop this disorder during their adult years.

This anxiety may manifest in the form of full blown panic attacks. It can include the avoidance of being alone or fear that something bad will happen to their loved ones. Extreme jealousy, over strict parenting, “worst case scenario” thinking about separation from loved ones, trouble sleeping when away from the focus of separation, and “mooching” are also all potential symptoms of adult separation anxiety. It is commonly believed that separation anxiety in adults comes from the perception across society over recent years of the importance of being in attached relationships during adulthood being increasingly emphasized.

Is employment status related to the cause of Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder?

It is currently not known whether employment status is caused by the ASAD or whether the ASAD was caused by employment status. In either case, it has been noted the majority of individuals diagnosed with ASAD are unemployed or are working in non-traditional employment opportunities. Additional data suggests the second most likely employment status for those with ASAD is being employed, while the third is working as a homemaker. Medical professionals agree the least likely to suffer from ASAD are adults who are retired or are full-time students.

How does separation anxiety impact your adult relationships?

It is not easy having separation anxiety. To be the loved one of someone battling with the disorder can be just as stressful as having the disorder yourself. Your attention is on constant demand, and it may feel like you can never calm or satisfy the fears of your significant other. There may be times you feel trapped by the same insecurities and fears that have your loved one feeling like there is no escape. Unfortunately, loving and or living with someone with adult separation anxiety can become so taxing that the relationship can quickly begin to crumble under the stress. It is vitally crucial to the stability of every relationship in which one or both persons have adult separation anxiety that each person have their own support system separate of one another. It is highly recommended that these support systems should include a licensed professional that is able to help both partners develop coping tools to reduce the burden of ASAD on themselves and each other. The support of friends and family is also important so that each individual feels connected, social, and supported within their romantic relationships.

Combatting adult separation anxiety

The first step to combatting adult separation anxiety is recognizing the signs of it and talking to someone, such as your significant other, about your concerns. Make an appointment with your primary care doctor and ask for referrals to a psychologist and or psychiatrist so as to develop a treatment plan for the disorder (Be sure to check with your insurance for coverage!). Treatment plans might include therapy sessions, medication, maintaining a journal or written log, reducing the amount of hours you work or taking a less-stressful role in the workplace, among many other options. Be sure to discuss all aspects of your treatment plan with your partner, as it will also have a direct impact on them as well. The most important thing to remember about combatting adult separation anxiety is to be open in your communication with your support team, and especially your partner. While the disorder is still a newly recognized medical diagnosis, the feelings and struggles are very real. Maintaining open and honest lines of communication will be the best thing you can do to combat it.             

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