How to date someone with social anxiety, according to therapists

While we all continue to regain a “social form” these days, it is easier for some people than for others. You may be back to your old ways and meet someone who isn’t – and you’re curious about how to date someone with social anxiety. After all, you’ve been in hibernation for over a year and a half and want to go back: you’re all vaxxed, hook up with someone on a dating app and decide to meet “soon.” Dating app chats turn into texting, then phone calls and video chats. Now is the time to meet in person, but your future date is faltering. Is it due to the anxiety surrounding dating pandemic? social anxiety? both?

Both are certainly possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a chronic mental health problem – characterized by fear and anxiety – that leads to avoiding social situations and disrupting one’s life. And a 2021 study published in Psychiatry research found that symptoms of social anxiety and loneliness increased after the last two years of isolation. So what is a date to do when you and your partner – whether it is a future partner or an existing partner – have different levels of comfort when it comes to it? is going out?

“Today, many people who have never considered themselves to be socially phobic experience a lot of anxiety,” Andrea Wachter, licensed marriage and family therapist at TZR said in an email. “Clear communication, respect and respect for individual needs and limitations are more important than ever. When respectful communication and compromise are at the root, creative solutions emerge. If a person has the desire to socialize but their partner is more anxious, they can make deals, she explains. .

Ellen Hendriksen Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of How to be yourself: appease your inner critic and overcome social anxiety, echoes Wachter’s sentiment. “The key is to communicate and clarify people’s fears and values,” she tells TZR. “Social anxiety is variable, assuming the person wants to work at it.” Ahead, Hendriksen, and other mental health experts give advice on dating someone with social anxiety so that both of your social needs are met.

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First, understand what social anxiety means

Dr Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and director of Comprehend the Mind, says a great way to help your socially anxious partner is to educate yourself on what social anxiety is. “You could have a lot of misconceptions and think that means someone is ‘lonely’ or anti-social – and it isn’t,” she told TZR in an email. “Those who suffer from social anxiety can be extremely friendly, fun-loving, warm and compassionate. For these traits to manifest, they need to feel like they are in a “safe” environment, usually one where they don’t feel judged or intimidated. People with social anxiety have it to varying degrees and thresholds for situations that cause anxiety, from person to person, she adds.

Evaluate your partner’s comfort level

Hafeez says that if you’re in a strong relationship, don’t wait for party invitations to arrive to discuss what you’re going to do as a couple, especially during the holidays, when there are usually more events to go to. to assist. The socially anxious person needs to explain the kinds of situations that are uncomfortable, she says. While it is important to ask them questions, don’t do it in a way that resembles an interrogation; rather, to understand what people, places or things trigger social anxiety. That way, you won’t unknowingly put them in triggering circumstances. “Then ask what situations will be tolerable with your support – and what that support means,” she says. For example, if you are having an office holiday party and they decide to go with you, you can help them go with them and stay close to them during the event. Other times, they may prefer to stay home while you go solo.

To take it a step further, Hendriksen suggests asking your partner how a certain event – like a dinner party or holiday party – would feel on a scale of 0 to 100. She does say that you may think partying isn’t a big deal, your partner might think it’s a “90” on their comfort scale. “Start closer to events in your twenties and thirties and do them until you both feel more comfortable,” she explains. “If your partner rates something like ’50’ or ’70’, maybe they’ll push themselves to face their fears and participate if they know it’s important to you.” Also, if they’ve been to a similar event with you in the past and had fun after their initial anxiety has passed, you can remind them, she adds. “Gently push and support the person with social anxiety to grow, stretch and change, but don’t force them to do something they are not ready to do. “

Make sure you take it slow and start small

Building on the above, Hafeez says that step by step you can help the socially anxious person step out of their comfort zone. “That way, they will continue to gain confidence and feel more comfortable in previously anxiety-provoking scenarios,” she says. “Clinically, this is called exposure therapy.”

Psychotherapist Carolyn Cole agrees. “Slowing things down will feel more comfortable for someone who may be anxious about socializing,” she told TZR in an email. And if you’re dating for the first time, in the past, you might have met in a social place, like a cafe, bar, or restaurant, she says. But now it can be a walk or a date somewhere outside where you can get away socially or be alone. “The person who is more comfortable socially will have to respond to the more anxious in this case, but I hope both parties are happy with the venue,” says Cole. “You continue to meet and know each other; maybe it’s just in a less traditional way.

Help your partner, but also be sure to compromise

Hendriksen says it’s important to help your partner (or whoever you see), but with a caveat. “At the end of the day, it comes down to communication,” she says. “If you’re really determined to make the relationship work and you’re ready to learn more about social anxiety – reading a book or article about it – do it. Or maybe even have a joint therapy session. In any case, it is important that you take a collaborative approach and that it is a Partnership and not make it an expert-student dynamic, she explains. Sometimes that can mean you’re okay with the more social person going to events on their own or whatever they need to do to feed their social soul. “But it’s important that the other person also makes an effort,” says Hendriksen. “Each couple can come up with a system that works for them – maybe you will alternate who chooses.” If you want to meet a group of friends, for example, maybe your socially anxious partner will be okay with it, but if it’s going to be a night of strangers or coworkers, they’ll be spending that evening outside. “There is no one right way to do it,” adds Hendriksen. “But the key is to communicate and respond to everyone’s needs as much as possible. “

Cole also says that trade-offs are important in order for the needs of both people to be met and that different things can work for different couples. “For example, there may be an agreement to go out, but not to go out for as long as the social person wants,” she explains. “In this case, the anxious person agrees to do something social – even if they prefer to be at home – and the social person agrees to be out maybe two hours rather than four. There may also be an arrangement in place of how the socially anxious person will communicate with their social partner when they do something together to indicate unease or a willingness to return home.

And Hafeez says to keep in mind that “Ultimately compromise will be necessary, but it’s part of any good relationship whether or not a partner suffers from social anxiety. There are many reasons in a relationship that a partner cannot attend all social functions.

Practice patience and notice if it turns into resentment

When two people have different socializing preferences, it will take patience on both sides. However, Hendriksen says to be careful and see if beneath the patience there is resentment. Maybe the more social person feels like they’re missing out or not meeting their needs and realizes that they are passive-aggressive. In this case, more communication is likely to occur. “Be patient, but watch out for the little red flags and the cause of your running out of patience,” she says.

Show compassion and empathy

Cole believes that being empathetic is a crucial part of dating someone with social anxiety. “They want to feel loved, supported and understood by their partner,” she says. “When social anxiety arises, it’s the anxiety that you see that kicks in – it’s not something that a person chooses to live with and feels good with. The more empathy you can show, the better for the relationship. “

And if you’ve got a date with someone new – whether you’re interested or not – and you feel some social unease on their side, putting the other person at ease is the right thing to do, explains. Hafeez. You can do this by making a self-deprecating comment, she says, like “First dates make me nervous.” Basically, she’s suggesting doing what you can to get the other person out of their anxiety state.

Remember, opposites attract

In many relationships, opposites To do attract and you can be compatible even if you initially think it is not possible. “You can have a neatnik and a hoarder, the life of the party and an introvert,” Hafeez says. “People with social anxiety often feel comfortable around those they know very well, such as a romantic partner, close friends or family. [The difference is that] they have more anxiety when they are in “unfamiliar” situations, such as a cocktail party, a networking event, or any other place where they feel like they are being “judged” by people than they are. they do not know. She says to remember that people with social anxiety often want to be social – they just have anxiety to do so in certain situations. She adds that “everyone has an ‘Achilles heel’ in life, and social anxiety is just one manifestation.”

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