Have you ever laid awake at night, mentally replaying a conversation from earlier in the day? Or maybe lost a whole lunch break to overanalyzing a short text from your spouse?
If so, don’t fear! You’re not alone in your overthinking — recent research shows that 73% of adults, 25-35, struggle with rumination, and 52% of adults aged 45-55 do as well.
While self-reflection and meditation can be positive forms of directed thought, chronic overthinking causes a whole host of negative consequences for our quality of life, our physical and emotional selves, and our important relationships. Is it possible to step out of this self-protective habit and shift into a more balanced way of relating to your experiences?
Thankfully for us overthinkers, the answer is a simple yes.
Keep reading to learn how to get to the root of your overthinking and how to adapt techniques from marriage counseling to help you pause, reflect, and move forward from cyclical thoughts.
What is overthinking? Why do people overthink in their relationships specifically?
The phrase overthinking might seem self-explanatory to some — for others, it’s not as intuitive. This is due, in part, to the fact we’re often encouraged to use our brains, think critically, and bring a deeper level of awareness to our decisions and actions.
But it is possible to have too much of a good thing and overthinking is when the scales tip toward excess. You might experience it as an unproductive, endlessly repeating thought, a feeling of being paralyzed by your worries, or an inability to stop analyzing a situation.
Overthinking is often a symptom of depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t always mean there’s an underlying diagnosis needed. Patterns of rumination can form, at any point in life, due to past trauma, difficult breakups, or even low self-esteem.
When we are in a relationship, we tend to bring the whole of our experiences into the new partnership: our self-beliefs, insecurities, and protective behaviors, like overthinking. Because these traits were often formed while in relation to another person — a neglectful parent, a childhood bully, an immature partner — they often resurface when we find ourselves in relational situations again.
How does overthinking affect your relationship?
Feeling a lack of clarity from your partner or experiencing a betrayal can trigger a bout of situationally-appropriate overthinking or worry. However, when overthinking becomes your go-to response to your interpersonal relationships, there’s often a deeper issue asking to be acknowledged.
Because this chronic overthinking typically stems from an experience or belief far below the surface of our awareness, our perceptions of the present reality can be distorted. For example, we might have disproportionate reactions to small arguments if we’ve spent the last several weeks overanalyzing our partner’s words, looking for proof that we are going to be abandoned.
This often leads to confirmation bias — we start filtering out any information that would contradict this rooted belief and only absorb the details that validate our overthinking. As a result, miscommunications and misinterpretations happen more easily, and we are less present in the truth of our relationships.
6 therapy-based steps to overcome overthinking
Overthinking is, in many ways, a coping mechanism for the ups and downs of life and relationships. To many overthinkers, this pattern offers a sense of control or preparedness for situations that are, in reality, out of our control.
That’s why becoming aware that this behavior is happening and acknowledging are the first steps to overcoming chronic overthinking.
1. Notice it, name it.
With the help of a journal or a licensed therapist, start taking note of when you’re overthinking. Sometimes, the simple act of putting your fears, worries, or insecurities to paper can help disrupt the ruminations. Recording bouts of overthinking can also give you more hard data about when, why, and how your overthinking is triggered.
2. Practice self-reflection.
Trying to ignore, avoid, or pretend away your overthinking might offer temporary relief, but it’s not a long-term solution. Instead, use self-reflection practices to honor your feelings, get curious about why it is you overthink, and explore the emotions that come up during a rumination.
3. Develop a deeper relationship with yourself.
For some overthinkers in relationships, the natural, self-soothing impulse is to ask your spouse or partner to dispel your fears. Unfortunately, for something as deeply personal as an overthinking coping mechanism, that external validation can also be a band-aid. Prioritizing your self-care, developing new hobbies, and giving your other relationships some TLC can help you build resilience and learn how to offer yourself internal validation, which is invaluable.
4. Establish check-ins.
Just because you aren’t constantly asking your spouse if they still love you any longer, doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from clarity, care, and connection from them. Establishing monthly or weekly check-in conversations to share your feelings — and your partner’s — can give you both a safe, structured release.
5. Adopt a somatic practice.
Overthinking can wreak havoc on us physically, too.
Rumination has been shown to spike cortisol levels and have deleterious effects on blood pressure levels, in recent studies. Adopting a somatic practice like yoga, dancing, or barefoot grounding can begin to restore your nervous system, interrupt all-consuming thoughts, and strengthen your relationship with yourself.
6. Work with a compassionate therapist.
Overthinking isn’t always easy to overcome on your own, and luckily, you don’t have to. With the guidance of a competent, compassionate therapist you can learn to safely challenge your thoughts, get to the root of ruminations, and build new thinking patterns.
Or, begin the journey to deeper understanding together, with your partner. Improve communication, increase intimacy, and navigate life transitions as a team with couples therapy, or marriage counseling.
Contact the Couple and Family Clinic team today to start your new chapter.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD. As an MFT, he specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His areas of expertise include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, fellow psychotherapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.