If you experience extreme anxiety and fear of abandonment when your partner is not near, you may be dealing with separation anxiety. There are tools to help cope.

It’s typical to miss your partner when you’re not together. You may feel sad, upset, or like you’re waiting for the moment you can be together again.

For some people, distance can be very anxiety-provoking.

Being away from your partner or being alone can lead to excessive anxiety and fear. It may be hard to focus on anything else aside from the moment you’re back together.

You may be very worried about something harming them or you. If this sounds like you, you may be dealing with separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is exaggerated angst about the actual or perceived separation from an attachment figure.

If you experience worry, dread, or concern that you’ll be abandoned and become distressed when you’re apart from someone you’re attached to, this could be a sign of separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders, but it can also be present in adulthood.

Is it the same as having a dependent personality or codependency?

Separation anxiety is different from dependent personality disorder (DPD), which has similarly been described as being “clingy” but extends past a romantic partner or children. Separation anxiety can be a symptom of DPD, along with difficulties with decision-making and autonomy.

Likewise, separation anxiety can be a symptom of codependency behaviors, but a person who’s codependent holds their self-worth in feeling needed by another person.

Separation anxiety can be a symptom of something more or appear on its own.

What does separation anxiety in relationships look like?

If you’re in a romantic relationship and fear being separated from your romantic partner or become distressed when you’re not with them, this may signal separation anxiety, according to 2014 research.

Separation anxiety is a common childhood disorder but can also be diagnosed in adulthood. If you have an emotional attachment to your partner and have difficulties being away from them, being apart, or even just the thought of it, can feel overwhelming.

What are three signs of separation anxiety?

  1. Fear of being alone or abandoned or that your relationship is ending.
  2. Fear or anxiety about the person you’re attached to leaving the house.
  3. Excessive worry about harm occurring to the person you’re attached to.

You may also have difficulty focusing or sleeping due to excessive worry about your partner.

There are various causes of separation anxiety. Research from 2015 suggests that separation anxiety has been associated with:

  • maladaptive family functioning
  • trauma
  • childhood adversities

Researchers also state that separation anxiety has a higher prevalence in women.

Separation anxiety can manifest in your relationships with loved ones differently.

Spouses

Relationship anxiety among spouses is common in people with adult separation anxiety disorder. You may become very fearful and worry a lot when away from your partner. You might also have fears about being left alone or abandoned by your partner.

You may also worry that bad things will happen to your partner when they’re away from you. These genuine feelings may cause panic when you’re alone.

One 2017 study that looked at potential associations between separation anxiety in adults found links to:

This research suggests that those experiencing fear of abandonment from a spouse may have faced a loss in the past. Additionally, other mental health conditions could influence separation anxiety.

Single parents and kids

Parents often experience separation anxiety when it comes to their children. Findings from 2016 research indicate that separation anxiety among parents is linked with poor parent-adolescent relationships.

In parents of adolescents, this fear is often driven by their teenagers becoming more independent and the worry that their children will not need them anymore.

A 2020 study found high levels of stress within single-parent households due to the increased demands on single parents. Because of this, single parents may benefit from increasing their levels of support and considering help from a mental health professional.

Separation anxiety in teenage relationships

Relationships in your teenage years can be exciting and new but also confusing. This is often the time when teenagers are learning how relationships work. Sometimes, teenagers develop unhealthy attachments to their romantic partners.

Teenagers may become very infatuated with their significant other and want to spend large amounts of time with them. If they’re prone to other anxiety disorders, being away from their partner may cause excessive amounts of worry or panic.

There are ways to manage separation anxiety, even when it’s overwhelming.

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness can be a way to help reduce symptoms of anxiety in adults. For example, one 2021 study found that even short mindfulness-based programs led to a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress when compared with a control group.

Journaling

Journaling can help you get a better handle on your thoughts and emotions. It could give you an outlet to express fears and anxieties and may allow you time to challenge your thoughts. If you’re dealing with separation anxiety, it may be helpful to keep a journal.

Seeking out professional help

If you’re living with separation anxiety, seeing a therapist may help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based practice that 2021 research has found helpful in treating separation anxiety.

CBT can help you examine your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors surrounding being away from your partner. It can also help you learn healthy ways of coping.

Separation anxiety is usually first diagnosed during childhood but is also prevalent in adult relationships. Fear of being alone or abandoned or fear of something terrible happening to your loved one is a common symptom of separation anxiety.

Although separation anxiety may look different across relationships, you can learn to manage it effectively. Seeking help from a mental health professional may help reduce anxious thoughts.

For more information on separation anxiety, you may consider visiting Anxiety Canada for personal accounts and resources.