Hypervigilance in a Relationship

Hypervigilance can destroy any relationship. Read on to learn more!
Hypervigilance in a Relationship

Last update: 30 July, 2020

Do you act like a detective in your relationship? Are you always looking for signs of changes or clues that everything is okay? Do you constantly worry about the dynamic between you and your partner and obsess over their behavior? In relationships, this kind of problematic behavior sometimes develops. Psychologists call it “hypervigilance”, and it can result in arguments and conflicts because the other partner feels suffocated and doesn’t have the space they need. In fact, hypervigilance in a relationship distorts reality over time.

In other words, you might start to see small signs that make you believe something is wrong, and you’ll end up questioning everything the other person says and does. Hypervigilant people find “signs” that don’t really exist because they misinterpret their partner’s intentions.

The anxiety of being constantly on guard

Psychologist Tian Dayton describes hypervigilance in a relationship as a state of stress and anxiety that manifests in certain situations with underlying trauma. In this article, however, we’re going to analyze it from a broader perspective.

Some psychologists hypothesize that if there was hypervigilance in your parents’ relationship, then you’re more likely to engage in this type of behavior in your relationships. You somehow normalize this behavior as a child. That’s one of the potential causes.

For example, if you’ve had an unfaithful partner in the past, that emotional turmoil can lead you to use hypervigilance as a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The problem with this type of behavior is that it only makes you more anxious. In fact, far from making you feel more secure, it plants seeds of doubt and mistrust in your mind.

A couple fighting.

On the other hand, if you’ve been unfaithful to your partner, you might end up projecting that behavior onto them. In other words, you’re afraid that they’ll do the same thing you did, so you become paranoid and anxious about their faithfulness.

People who suffer from emotional dependency tend to be hypervigilant of their significant other. A combination of low self-esteem and certain unconscious behaviors make them fear that they’ll lose their partner, which leads to unhealthy behavior.


One of the main signs of hypervigilance in a relationship is misinterpreting your partner’s behavior. This happens when you compare signs (words or body language) with things that happened in the past. This misinterpretation is usually the consequence of anxiety, stress, or fear.

Here’s an example. Let’s say your partner is quieter than normal and they’re getting a lot of messages on their cell phone. If a past partner was unfaithful to you or they didn’t talk as much shortly before ending the relationship, your mind can ring the alarm that something’s wrong and you become hypervigilant. Thus, you start to have irrational thoughts. For example, “Something’s wrong because my partner isn’t talking to me”, “She’s getting a lot of messages, maybe she’s flirting with someone else”, or “He’s not interested in me anymore because he barely looks at me”.

This string of thoughts increases mistrust and can even make you feel angry and act on that anger. If this type of behavior continues, your relationship will start to fall apart. This is very likely to occur if you don’t talk to your partner about what’s going on and jump to your own conclusions instead. Consequently, it’s important to recognize that you’re being hypervigilant so you can get professional help.

Making changes

If you want to change your behavior, you have to start by changing the ideas you have about relationships. In fact, you need to deal with past experiences and trauma and learn some strategies to manage your emotions. This is key to breaking the cycle of paranoia and anxiety.

If something isn’t going well in your relationship or if you live in a state of anxiety and mistrust, do something to fix it. Perpetuating harmful behavior will affect your relationship and keep from growing and enjoying healthy connections with other people.

A couple talking to each other.

We should mention that society often normalizes hypervigilance in a relationship. Nevertheless, if you understand how damaging being paranoid about your partner’s behavior is, you’ll finally be able to take action to solve the problem.

Being in a relationship should bring you joy. We all have a responsibility to work on our own trauma, bad experiences, and emotional pain. Only then can we build positive and healthy relationships.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Gómez, M. P., Delgado, A. O., & Gómez, Á. H. (2014). Violencia en relaciones de pareja de jóvenes y adolescentes. Revista latinoamericana de psicología46(3), 148-159.
  • Loubat O, Margarita, Ponce N, Patricia, & Salas M, Patricia. (2007). Estilo de Apego en Mujeres y su Relación con el Fenómeno del Maltrato Conyugal. Terapia psicológica25(2), 113-122. https://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0718-48082007000200002

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.