Few things can be scarier, especially in the dating realm, than the fear of being alone. But if you, like many people, worry about winding up alone or not having a support system when you don't have a romantic partner, it can hold you back from finding real happiness. And settling for a relationship that doesn't truly satisfy you just because you're afraid to be on your own can sometimes be even worse than being alone in the first place — you just might not realize it yet. But what do you do if your fear is taking over?
The first thing you need to keep in mind, according to LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist, author, and relationships specialist, is that you should accept that your fear is completely normal and your feelings are valid.
"Start by accepting that being alone can feel lousy — we were meant to connect," Wish tells Elite Daily. "But rather than beating yourself up emotionally — and getting into even more of a depressed mood, use your loneliness to get involved in life."
Anita Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist, seconds this notion. "I tell my clients to use their fear as a motivator," Chlipala tells Elite Daily. "Fear is a valid emotion just like any other and needs to be attended to. Don't minimize your emotions. If you are scared that you'll be alone forever, honor that feeling, but you must take action."
So, how can you tell if the only reason you're in your relationship is because you're afraid to be alone? There are a few key things you need to keep in mind — and if you are ready to take action and overcome your fear of being alone, know that you'll be OK.
This is something we can all relate to at one point or another. I mean, for as great as dating can be, it can also be super stressful! But if your main reason for staying in a relationship is that you don't want to deal with trying to date again, that could be a sign that you're actually just afraid to be alone.
One red flag, Chlipala says, is if, "when you think about getting back into the dating pool, you'd rather put up with your partner's behaviors or rationalize their behaviors as not being 'that bad.'"
In a healthy, happy, fulfilling relationship, you wouldn't need to make excuses like this — so make sure you really think about what you want and need, and if your needs are being met.
Another sign that you're settling for a relationship just because you don't want to end up alone?
"You might also justify staying in the relationship because you've invested so much time that you don't want to just throw it away," Chlipala says.
If your only reason for staying (outside of the idea that being alone scares you) is that you've put a lot of time into your relationship already, it might be time to rethink things. Something to ask yourself, Wish says, is what you actually like about your partner.
"If I made a list of all the things that I love and respect about this person, what would be on it?" Wish asks. "And would it be enough for me to stay forever?"
The substance of a good relationship needs to be there, and if you aren't feeling it, you might have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and face your fears.
If you're unsure of what's really keeping you in the relationship, your first step doesn't necessarily have to be breaking up, Wish says. "Don't make drastic moves such as breaking up without understanding yourself," she explains. "Otherwise, you will be tempted to go back... and back and forth until you finally decide to leave."
According to Chlipala, your first step should be trying to make things work — and both she and Wish suggest talking to a therapist to help you figure things out (and to help you improve as a couple).
"First see if you can make the relationship better," Chlipala says. "Sometimes people just lack the knowledge or have unrealistic expectations, so do everything that you can to see if you can improve the relationship."
At the end of the day, staying in a relationship that's unsatisfying just because you're afraid of being alone will only make things worse for you.
"I tell my clients it's better being alone and single than alone and married — the latter is much, much worse," Chlipala says. "For some of my clients, their anxiety and insecurity gets worse when they settle. Sometimes people don't know that a relationship could be great — it can! People stay because they don't know any better."
And remember, no matter what fear is holding you back, if your relationship isn't based on respect and doesn't feel secure, you deserve better.
"At the least you should be with someone who respects you, values you, and where you don't have any doubt about [their] feelings for you," Chlipala says. "Anything less is not worth pursuing or sticking around for."