• Moving from a ‘situationship’ into a ‘relationship’ should be a sign that you and your partner are both willing to make a serious commitment to one another
  • Sometimes however you might find that you still don’t feel ‘secure’ in the relationship
  • Here’s how to identify if you’re suffering from a fear of abandonment – and what to do about it

What is fear of abandonment?

In romantic relationships, fear of abandonment is an overwhelming anxiety that your partner is going to break up with you or withdraw from you emotionally.

Speaking to Cosmopolitan, counsellor and psychotherapist Lindsay George explains further: “This may be experienced on a physical level, e.g. [thinking that] the person you are in a close relationship with will leave you, or [also] that they will abandon or neglect your emotional needs, leaving you feeling disconnected, unloved and alone, even though they remain present.”

“Either situation can hold you back in relationships with others,” she says.

Why do people experience fear of abandonment?

As with most psychological conditions, it’s likely that people who suffer from fear of abandonment can trace their issues back to childhood. Ann Pietrangelo, in an article for Healthline, writes: “If you fear abandonment in your current relationship, it may be due to having been physically or emotionally abandoned in the past.”

She goes on to say that experiencing something like the “death or desertion of a parent or caregiver” or “parental neglect” may result in a person suffering from fear of abandonment later in life. George reiterates this in Cosmopolitan, adding that a lack of physical or emotional care in childhood can result in fear of abandonment in your adult relationships.

Fear of abandonment doesn’t always spring from issues faced in childhood, however. Psychosexual therapist Jo Coker, speaking to Cosmopolitan, explains that it can also arise after losing a partner through separation, divorce or death, or if your partner has an affair. George also adds that experiencing an abusive relationship can also cause fear of abandonment.

Fear of abandonment can also be symptomatic of a condition like borderline personality disorder (BPD), avoidant personality disorder or separation anxiety disorder. If you’ve noticed a pattern of feeling anxious or fearful of abandonment whenever you get close to a romantic partner, it may be worth speaking to your GP, a therapist or any licenced professional to explore your thought patterns in depth.

What are the signs of fear of abandonment?

If you’re used to feeling anxious and unsettled in your relationships, it may be difficult to acknowledge or even realise that you have a fear of abandonment.

Some signs of fear of abandonment noted by George in Cosmopolitan include: difficulty committing to a relationship, being overly sensitive to criticism, difficulty trusting others, difficulty making friends, low self-esteem and fear of intimacy.

If you identify with most or all of these points, it’s possible you’re fearful of abandonment. But you don’t have to go on feeling anxious in your relationship – it is possible to address your fears and conquer them.

What to do if you’re fearful of abandonment

Recognising that you suffer with these difficult feelings surrounding abandonment is the first step to addressing them. Take some time to dwell on why you might feel that way – whether it’s as a result of issues you faced in childhood or in adulthood. Write things down if it helps to articulate your thoughts.

There may not be a ‘eureka’ moment where you realise that one specific event in your past is the sole reason for your current behaviour, but taking stock may help just to pinpoint various different events in your life that may have shaped the way you approach relationships today.

Pietrangelo suggests that you then start the healing process by being gentle and patient with yourself. “Cut yourself some slack and stop the harsh self-judgment,” she says. “Remind yourself of all the positive qualities that make you a good friend and partner.”

As with any relationship issue, it’s also important that you open up a dialogue with your partner. Pietrangelo continues: “Talk to the other person about your fear of abandonment and how it came to be. But be mindful of what you expect of others. Explain where you’re coming from, but don’t make your fear of abandonment something for them to fix. Don’t expect more of them than is reasonable.”

And of course, if you’re really struggling to deal with your fear and feel as though it is seriously impacting your mental health and/or your relationship – seek professional help.

What to do if your partner is fearful of abandonment

If your partner is the one struggling with a fear of abandonment, there’s lots you can do to help them. As already mentioned, your partner shouldn’t expect you to ‘fix’ them, but your support will be an invaluable source of comfort to them.

While you can’t be expected to do it constantly, do try and verbally reassure your partner that you love them as often as possible. It may feel slightly unnatural if you personally don’t feel the need for frequent reassurance, but it’s something very small that’ll mean the world to your partner.

Ultimately, Pietrangelo encourages empathy and compassion. “Start the conversation. Encourage them to talk about it, but don’t pressure them. Whether it makes sense to you or not, understand that the fear is real for them,” she says. “Suggest therapy, but don’t push it. If they express a desire to move forward, offer your assistance in finding a qualified therapist.”