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Shyness and Marital Problems

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Many people write to Mental Help.Net about feeling lonely and frustrated about meeting a marriage partner. Many of these people actually suffer from a form of Social Anxiety Disorder called “shyness.”

Feeling shy carries with it many problems. For example, people who struggle with this anxiety fully expect to be disliked and shunned by others, especially in new social situations. Because they practice avoidance to escape uncomfortable feelings, they do not develop the social skills necessary to function successfully with others. To describe it another way, then never develop self confidence when faced with social situations.

What is interesting is that, despite these difficulties, shy people can and do have a few friends and they do marry. Their difficulties begin with these relationships. In the studies described in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, listed at the end of this article, shy people report lesser marital satisfaction compared to those who are not shy. Why is this?

What the studies show is that shy people do not feel capable of resolving the inevitable relationship difficulties that accompany most marriage situations. Lacking in social skills, they believe it is hopeless for them to attempt to solve problems in their marriages.

If this is the problem, is there a solution or are shy people doomed to unhappiness? In my experience as a psychotherapist, they are not doomed.

It is true that shyness is a personality characteristic and, as such, is fixed and difficult or impossible to change. However, it is always possible to learn and, among the things that can be learned, are social skills. That is where Cognitive Behavioral and Group Therapy come in. While the shy person will always feel like avoiding situations, they can learn to improve their social functioning and reduce their tendency to think or expect rejection.

This is why I am urging all of you who feel shy, socially avoidant or who have social anxiety disorder, to enter cognitive behavioral psychotherapy both on an individual basis to start and then on a group basis that your therapist can refer you to when you are ready.

“Shyness and Marriage: Does Shyness Shape Even Established Relationships?” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin(2010; 36; 665 originally published online Apr 2, 2010) is available at

Your comments and experiences with shyness are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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