The best antidotes for very anxious people.
I first encountered social anxiety during my sophomore year of high school. I started dating a girl named Melanie, who participated in many of the same school activities that I enjoyed. She was the perfect combination of smart and sweet.
Melanie was also extremely shy. She was quiet and kept to herself, but I found that mystique intriguing; I seemed to gravitate towards other kids who were a little on the fringe.
Melanie wore loose-fitting clothing — not a popular style at the time — because she felt self-conscious about her disproportionately large chest. Looking back, it’s apparent her physical characteristics caused her to develop social anxiety that manifested via her shyness and alienating behaviors.
She rarely hung out with our classmates, avoided school dances, and never spoke up in class (despite typically knowing the answers). I did my best to demonstrate that I was interested in her as a person and not her physical features, but Melanie seemed to never get the message.
She slowly pushed me out of her life and our relationship fizzled out after a few months.
As most 15-year-olds would, I took Melanie’s avoidance as rejection. I overanalyzed the situation and second-guessed my actions. I felt bad about anything offensive I might have inadvertently said and I worried that I subconsciously had avoided being romantic because I didn’t want her to misinterpret my intentions.
Many years later, I realize Melanie pushed me away as a coping mechanism. She delivered a preemptive strike to avoid rejection, sabotaging our relationship before it started.
This is not an uncommon situation. Numerous relationships and marriages must overcome issues related to social anxiety, but it’s easier said than done. By taking the time to communicate openly and honestly, couples can manage their stress and mental health to strengthen and cultivate lasting romantic relationships.
How Anxiety Undermines Relationships
Social anxiety and the quality of romantic relationships are inversely related.
Recent research by Christian Hahn at Western University (formerly known as the University of Western Ontario) shows a direct link between higher levels of social anxiety and lower levels of relationship satisfaction. Specifically, social anxiety disorder translates to less trust and perceived support from romantic partners.
Social anxiety can cause people to view others as overly critical and hostile. People who have social anxiety sometimes struggle to notice positive feedback. They also might seem overbearing, attempting to control significant others as a way to reduce their own insecurities. They could also appear to be overly clingy, demonstrating their anxiety via jealousy.
People can also turn away from a relationship altogether — as in the case of my ill-fated high school romance — or hold back parts of themselves to avoid rejection.
While social anxiety undoubtedly complicates relationships, couples can still have an optimistic outlook. By keeping warning signs in mind and focusing on open and honest communication, partners can work together to combat negative consequences.
How to Establish Trust And Lessen Anxiety
The most important element of any relationship is a foundation of trust and support. The same holds true of relationships involving social anxiety.
How do you do that? Through effective and positive communication. Unfortunately, social anxiety can cause people to shut down and stop talking with their partners. Worse yet, they might adopt negative forms of communication that include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
The best antidote to these detrimental behaviors is a combination of knowledge, respect, and persistence. Here are the ways on how to cure anxiety when it’s affecting your relationships:
1. Address issues head-on.
Anytime you have a concern, be completely honest with your partner. Discuss the issue as soon as possible to ensure you don’t stuff emotions and eventually begin to express those feelings via criticism.
Direct criticism can feel like an attack — piercing your partner to the core — so offer a caring critique by sandwiching any negative comments with positive feedback.
2. Treat your partner with respect.
When you communicate with your partner, do so in a manner that you would like him or her to mirror. Lashing out, yelling, mocking, eye-rolling, or using sarcasm will only undermine your message and lead to larger issues down the road.
This behavior can cause someone who has social anxiety to feel worthless and possibly hated. By treating your partner with respect, you can help ensure you receive the same level of care and understanding.
3. Know that it’s not about you.
Social anxiety can manifest itself in accusations and aggression. This behavior can cause the recipient to become defensive, attack in response, or make excuses. While they might feel right in the heat of the moment, none of these behaviors foster productive communication.
Instead of tossing excuses and attempting to justify your behavior, listen to your partner’s perspective on the situation and appreciate his or her take on the matter.
4. Keep communication open.
Communication can be tough with anyone, but it presents a unique challenge when you throw social anxiety into the mix. Don’t avoid difficult interactions or close yourself off from your partner.
A lack of dialogue will only cause you to bottle up your feelings and lead the relationship to spiral into negativity. Be honest and open and confront problems as they arise.
Had I had these tools at my disposal back in high school, things might have gone differently with Melanie. I hid my feelings from her in an attempt to protect her — and perhaps myself, as I feared her rejection. When she slowly pushed me out of her life, I allowed it to happen instead of discussing my feelings.
Loving someone who has social anxiety doesn’t have to be difficult. Understanding the disorder is key to moving forward in a true partnership.
While it might be a challenge to foster and maintain open lines of communication, the benefit of a healthy and happy relationship makes it all worthwhile.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: How To Stop Your Social Anxiety From Ruining Relationships.