Part of being in a relationship is interacting with your partner’s inner circle, but if you have social anxiety, meeting new people can become a hurdle.
People who live with social anxiety often feel like they will say or do something wrong in social settings, the Canadian Mental Health Association notes.
“People with social anxiety disorder feel very nervous and uncomfortable in social situations like meeting new people. Or they might feel very anxious when they have to do something in front of other people, like talking in a meeting. Some people feel very anxious in both situations.”
Some can have panic attacks, while others can feel physical signs of anxiety, the site adds. This can include stomach aches, shallow breathing, sweating or feeling tense.
And when you’re trying to get out in the dating world or are dating someone who doesn’t have social anxiety, it can be difficult to to get through social events like weddings, dinners or parties.
Dr. Maneet Bhatia, a registered clinical psychologist based in Toronto, says it’s not just about social events — people with social anxiety even have a hard time communicating with their partner.
“Even within the relationship there are interactions,” he tells Global News. “They can be afraid of speaking up, being criticized or may think they are not interesting enough.”
Bhatia adds they can also be passive when it comes to decision-making, and sometimes, feel like they can’t be the perfect partner.
“They put a lot of pressure on themselves to be socially perfect individuals, but can be insecure.”
Below, Bhatia shares tips on things couples can keep in mind when one partner is living with anxiety.
The first step, Bhatia says, is to have an open discussion with your partner on exactly what their social anxiety entails. “Have an understanding of what your partner is suffering from, a lot of the time, people don’t have this understanding,” he says.
If your partner’s social anxiety is causing impairment to their day-to-day life, consider reaching out for help, Bhatia says. Talk to a therapist, seek a support group or see if your partner is open to the idea of couples counselling.
Bhatia says one of the hardest things in the relationship, is the idea that the person with social anxiety doesn’t want to meet your family or friends. “Making this assumption makes the situation worse and leads to an argument and shaming,” he says. Instead, change your tone when it comes to asking them to come to an event and understand if they can’t.
Bhatia says planning out your social gatherings ahead of time can be helpful to someone who has social anxiety. For example, if you have a large family event coming up, start with smaller get-togethers over lunch or coffee with one to three people to start. This way, you can build up getting to know individuals instead of overwhelming the person with social anxiety with a large group.
There are two components to this, Bhatia says. For starters, your partner may not fully accept their social anxiety and may feel ashamed, so if there is an upcoming event they don’t want to attend, they could ask you to lie for them. “There is no one-size answer to this,” Bhatia says. And if your family or friend circle doesn’t openly talk about mental illness, sometimes the person with social anxiety doesn’t want to explain their illness to people who may not accept it.
Going to counselling with someone is one thing, but you shouldn’t push them to go to therapy or worse, Bhatia says, act as a therapist yourself. “There is a fine line. You want to support them and seek help, but also don’t want to sound too demanding of expectations they can’t meet,” he says. Again, tone is important — make sure you don’t sound judgmental.”
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