How Social Anxiety Affects Dating and Intimate Relationships

Research and tips on how to minimize anxiety

anxious couple
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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychological disorder and can affect dating and intimate relationships in many different ways. Here we discuss recent research on the topic of dating and relationships when you have social anxiety disorder, as well as ways to help your dating and relationship anxiety.

Dating Aggression 

In a study of adolescents, fear of negative evaluation (FNE), one aspect of social anxiety in which you're afraid of being perceived negatively, was found to significantly predict male dating aggression. Dating aggression includes physical aggression, such as slapping, use of a weapon, forced sex; and psychological aggression, such as slamming doors, insulting, or refusing to talk to a partner. It's thought that in this case, the "fight or flight" response may reflect this aggressive tendency.

Online Dating 

Social anxiety can make online relationships and communication seem much more doable, but use caution. A recent study showed that people with SAD have a tendency to think of internet relationships as easier, safer, and better controlled than in-person relationships. This thinking can lead to excessive internet use and a tendency to avoid face-to-face situations, which, if you have SAD, you know is already difficult.

However, online dating can be a great way to meet people and get to know them through messaging, texting, or email before you meet them in person.

Romantic Relationships

Unfortunately, SAD can take a toll on your ability to establish, develop, and maintain romantic relationships. Part of this is likely because it's difficult to let your guard down and feel vulnerable, even with someone you love and trust. The higher your anxiety, the more difficult emotional intimacy may be because you may see it as too risky.

For those that receive treatment and that are able to find the right supportive partner though, a healthy and fulfilling relationship is not at all out of the question.

Tips to Lessen Dating Anxiety

If you're anxious about dating, keep these tips in mind:

  • Talk about what's important to you. While this is probably the last thing you want to do, true intimacy is based on knowing and understanding each other. You can't have it without sharing. This doesn't mean you need to spend the entire conversation giving your life history, but consider telling your date about something or someone important to you or what you really think about your food.
  • Focus on the present. Think about what you're doing or what you're eating and how you feel in the moment. Don't worry about the past or the future, try to enjoy and embrace the right now.
  • Give yourself room to be who you are. You are a valuable person with your own unique insights, experiences, and personality. Learn to embrace that, to love who you are and what you have to offer someone in a relationship.
  • Assume the best. Don't jump to conclusions about what your date might be thinking about you. Anxiety can get the best of us when we make assumptions about what others think or feel, but assuming is not only unfair to you, it's unfair to the other person. As soon as you hear that tape in your head telling you he's not into you or she thinks you're nuts, push it away and replace it with positive thoughts like, "I'm having a good time," "This food is delicious," or "Our conversation is going well." Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is something you can work on beforehand as well.
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