Q: From Australia: When I am with my wife I get angry in crowds. It is not that she does anything but I do feel a pressure to perform to some undefined standard. I especially become angry with the women in crowds. My wife is good looking, socially capable and gregarious. I prefer small groups of close friends where I can relax. This issue destroys any joy we have when going shopping or to a theatre. Her reaction to my slow boil is also anger which I can only handle by clamming up, so the whole evening out is a frustration to us both no matter how hard I try not to even begin to feel this way. It just doesnt work.

A: I don’t think this has much to do with your wife. It sounds to me like you may be experiencing “social phobia.” People who have social phobia aren’t comfortable being in public situations where they feel they may be under the scrutiny of others. My guess is that you feel that, by contrast, you are socially inept compared to your socially capable wife. Of course, the flaw in your unconscious reasoning is that you think that other people care. Most don’t. Most probably enjoy your wife for who she is and enjoy you for other reasons. Your wife gets upset with you because she doesn’t understand the depth of your anxiety, doesn’t share your concern with other people’s opinions, and wishes you would just chill.

There are a few ways to go at this problem. First, you need to explain to your wife that you aren’t purposefully trying to ruin evenings out with the gang; but rather that you have a genuine problem. Second, you could consider getting some therapy to learn how to manage the social phobia so at least part of the time, you could tolerate having fun her way. Finally, you and your wife could decide to sometimes socialize her way and sometimes socialize your way; sometimes in big crowds, and sometimes in smaller, more intimate gatherings. A little understanding and a lot of compromise will make it possible for the two of you to enjoy your leisure time together.

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I wish you well.
Dr. Marie