How Social Anxiety Affects Dating and Intimate Relationships

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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychological disorder, and it 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.

Researchers observed both physical aggression (slapping, use of a weapon, forced sex) and psychological aggression (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 are already difficult.

However, online dating can also 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 who receive treatment and are able to find the right supportive partner, 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, not the worst. 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, but also unfair to the other person.
  • Disrupt your negative thoughts. As soon as you hear that tape in your head telling you that someone isn't into you or they think you're weird, challenge those thoughts with questions like, "Is it possible I misinterpreted their text?", "Am I truly listening to my friend or trying to read their mind?", or "Is it realistic to assume my reputation is ruined because I made a mistake?" Identifying and disrupting distorted thoughts is something you can work on beforehand as well.
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stein DJ, Lim CCW, Roest AM, et al. The cross-national epidemiology of social anxiety disorder: Data from the World Mental Health Survey InitiativeBMC Med. 2017;15:143. doi:10.1186/s12916-017-0889-2

  2. Hanby MS, Fales J, Nangle DW, Serwik AK, Hedrich UJ. Social Anxiety as a Predictor of Dating AggressionJ Interpers Violence. 2012;27(10):1867-1888. doi:10.1177/0886260511431438

  3. Lee BW, Stapinski LA. Seeking safety on the internet: Relationship between social anxiety and problematic internet useJ Anxiety Disord. 2012;26(1):197-205. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2011.11.001

  4. Porter E, Chambless DL. Shying Away From a Good Thing: Social Anxiety in Romantic Relationships. J Clinical Psychol. 2013;70(6):546-561. doi:10.1002/jclp.22048

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."