How To Overcome Doubt in a Relationship in Just a Few Steps

Photo: Stocksy/Ezequiel Giménez
We’ve all been there at one point or another: One minute, you’re totally pleased with the way things are going with a significant other, and the next, doubt rears its ugly head and overshadows all the sunniness that previously characterized your relationship. Perhaps a text to your partner goes unanswered or in thinking back on a seemingly harmless comment that they made, it doesn’t seem quite so harmless anymore. And before you know it, you’re having doubts about a new relationship for which you once had such high hopes. Thankfully, learning how to overcome doubt in a relationship has as much to do with shifting your perspective as it does communicating your concerns to your partner.

If you’ve ever found yourself having relationship doubts only to then emerge on the other side with your partnership intact, you may know that a good deal of doubt comes from within. That is, the problem, the doubt itself, and the power to overcome it can all spring from your perception of the relationship—not necessarily elements of the relationship itself. Still, constantly questioning a relationship or a partner can take a serious toll on your quality of life. Below, relationship experts break down the origins of doubt, why you might experience it within a relationship, and what you can do to keep it from degrading your relationship and your sanctity.

Is it normal to have doubts in a relationship?

Rest assured, it is normal to have doubts in a relationship because doubt, in general, is part of being human, says relationship therapist Genesis Games, LMHC. “Having relationship doubts, in particular, may be more common in newer relationships, those that are long-distance, those in which betrayal has happened previously, or among people who have a history of betrayal or abandonment,” she says.

“Having relationship doubts may be more common in newer relationships, those that are long-distance, and those in which betrayal has happened previously.” —Genesis Games, LMHC, relationship therapist

But while those circumstances really set the scene for doubt—that is, because they create a context lacking in some element of security—doubt can be present in any relationship, Games reiterates. In fact, “not having any doubts ever would be a huge red flag to me,” she says.

That’s because it’s normal to invest time and energy into a relationship and, in turn, to care about whether those resources are being well-spent—which will likely bring about some healthy degree of doubt or skepticism. And that applies double if you tend to overthink about a relationship. “This would be typical of someone with an insecure attachment style,” says Games. “A person with an insecure attachment style desires connection and intimacy and they are also afraid of it, which can lead them to hold negative beliefs related to how lovable or how deserving of happiness they are.” In this case, you might then assume your partner holds the same beliefs about you, leading you to doubt whether they really want to be with you.

That’s not to say that all relationships or even all relationships involving a person with insecure attachment are bound to be doomed by doubt. “Doubts, in essence, are not unhealthy; they just are,” says Games. It’s how you react to those doubts, and eventually, how you communicate them to a partner, that can become problematic, she adds (more on that below).

Why am I having doubts about my relationship?

1. You’re afraid

Ah, fear. Although it can serve us well every once in a while—for example, by helping us avoid a real threat—for the most part, it simply stops us from living our lives to the fullest. And this is definitely true when it comes to relationships: “There’s so much fear surrounding relationships,” says certified relationship coach Jillian Turecki. “There’s fear of intimacy, fear of being rejected, fear of being left, fear of losing yourself, fear of losing the other person.” And any of the above can keep you from having confidence in a partner or in a relationship, despite all things otherwise going well.

2. You have trauma from past relationships

If you’ve ever been dumped by a fling or even a full-blown significant other after merely not hearing from them for a weekend, it only makes sense that an unanswered text would cause a stream of doubt in any subsequent relationship. “All our insecurities and old wounds and past relationship traumas get stirred up when we start to fall for someone,” says Turecki.

So, if you're prone to keeping someone at arm's length simply because you're not sure if they feel as into things as you are—and you don't want to get the rug pulled out from under you via out-of-the-blue rejection again—know that you're not alone. “Doubt can be a fear-triggered protective response to getting close to someone.”

3. You don’t know if the person is right for you

The all-too-common question, “How do I know if my relationship is right?” can lead to doubts for the simple reason that no one person will be a perfect match, says relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT: “No one person can give you everything.” And amid a culture that over-prioritizes the necessity of finding your soulmate or twin flame, it’s easy to become fixated on a partner’s imperfections and begin to doubt whether you should stay with them as a result.

But Turecki says this usually has less to do with the other person and more to do with not knowing what you actually want out of a partnership. Once you’ve clearly identified your priorities for a significant other, you can stop trying to find a “perfect” person for you—which will stoke doubt in almost every scenario—and start to work toward finding the right person for you, based on your realistic expectations for a partner.

4. You don’t know if you and your partner share the same goals

Say things are going fine—great, in fact—until suddenly, your partner casually mentions your future hypothetical children. And maybe that would be fine if you two had talked about having future hypothetical children, but you hadn't. In fact, you never thought you’d have kids, and the comment has made you realize that you and your partner may not be on the same page on some of the most important basic issues of life. The result? Doubt—and lots of it.

How and why do doubts ruin a relationship?

Doubt can put the brakes on a relationship that was otherwise charging forward uninterrupted. “Doubt makes us question and take a step back,” says Thompson. “Over time, this can settle in with not trusting your partner as much or not leaning into the relationship, and it can also make you wonder what else is out there, leading you to be less happy in the relationship.” And once any of the above is true, it’s pretty tough for things to reverse course and for the relationship to get back on track: You're too focused on the doubts to really perceive the positives, anyway.

If your doubts are tied merely to assumptions of a partner’s behavior and your perceptions of the relationship, and not to their actual actions, they can grow particularly weary of being doubted and begin to pull away, further reinforcing your doubts in a vicious cycle. “A loving and caring partner does not want to be crucified time and again for something they didn’t do,” says Games. And doing so can lead to a “very volatile and unstable relationship,” she says.

How do I stop doubting in a relationship?

1. Clarify what you actually want—to yourself

As Turecki notes, a lot of relationship doubt has less to do with the other person and more to do with you—and not knowing what you want. So, take some time to get clear about your wants and needs in a relationship—whether that’s through journaling, meditation, therapy, or anything else that helps you access your innermost thoughts.

2. Acknowledge whether doubt is a pattern

Is doubt something you’ve felt in every single one of your relationships? If so, Turecki says learning how to overcome doubt in a relationship will need to start with understanding why it's a recurring pattern. Perhaps you’re actually experiencing self-doubt in relationships, and your inner voice is leading you to believe that you’re not actually worthy of the care or love you’re receiving or that the relationship isn’t actually going as well as you might want to think. In which case, it may be time to learn how to stop gaslighting yourself, and instead begin to trust yourself and your reality over the critical voice in your head.

In other cases, doubt may manifest as the effect of a different commitment problem. “Being lost, being controlled, being left, being judged, or being rejected could lead you to struggle with committing to a partner and to have doubt in a relationship,” says Turecki. Simply understanding this reality can help you come to the conclusion that the doubt you’re feeling is not a product of your relationship at all—which can help you let go of it.

3. Have an honest, clear conversation with your partner

If doubt isn’t a pattern for you, then your gut may be trying to tell you something by raising an internal red flag. Some doubts certainly are based on circumstantial evidence of a partner’s behaviors that may merit clarification, says Games. In this scenario, learning how to overcome doubt in a relationship will require having an open, honest conversation with your partner.

“Get clear on your vision for the future as a couple, and get honest with one another about whether you are both in alignment about what it is you want, value, and envision your lives to be like together,” says Turecki. This can help you quell fears about whether your partner is on the same page as you are and remove any question marks surrounding their behaviors or the intent behind them.

If doubt still seems to be lurking in the background, perhaps due to any of the aforementioned personal insecurities, communicate that to your partner, says Turecki. Perhaps you just need more frequent reassurance from them, which they also may be more than willing to give if you just ask.

4. Talk out your doubts with a trusted third party

Sometimes, both personal introspection and a conversation with your partner can fall short in helping you figure out how to overcome doubts in a relationship. And in this case, it may be helpful to process what you’re feeling with a close trusted friend or therapist, says Thompson. “If they know you well, they may be able to remind you of what it is you’re really looking for in a relationship, and shed light on whether the doubts you’re feeling are something you should listen to, or if they’re coming from a place of fear or insecurity.”

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