How to Develop Relationships When You Have Social Anxiety

When you have social anxiety, relationships are a challenge. Get concrete ideas for developing and maintaining relationships when you have social anxiety.

Developing relationships when you have social anxiety is no easy feat. A significant part of social anxiety involves fears and worries regarding forming, nurturing, enjoying, and keeping relationships. Sometimes, people assume that someone with social anxiety doesn’t want to be part of a relationship. However, this isn’t the case at all. If the person didn’t want a relationship, they wouldn’t experience anxiety about relationships. Often, the desire is there, but it’s difficult to fulfill. Happily, people can and do overcome these problems. Developing relationships when you have social anxiety is entirely possible and within your reach.

Social Anxiety and Relationships: Barriers to Quality Bonding

Anxiety is an experience that encompasses thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. All three areas block someone’s ability to form and nurture relationships. Social anxiety and relationship problems involve things like:

  • Fear of intimacy, judgment, and embarrassment
  • Deflecting personal questions
  • Avoidance of any and all conflict
  • Unwillingness or inability to express emotions
  • Dependency, clinginess
  • Alternately, withdrawing, isolating, acting aloof and uncaring
  • Thoughts involving imagined worries and worst-case scenarios
  • An avoidance of socializing, developing friendships with other couples

Every thought, emotion, and behavior in this partial list points to relationship problems created or exacerbated by social anxiety. This anxiety can occur in new relationships as well as established ones. The symptoms of relationship anxiety can be dire for both individuals: loneliness, lack of fun and enjoyment, and absence of intimacy. These aspects of social anxiety and relationships are connected to deeper issues.

Social Anxiety and Relationship Problems: The Heart of The Issues

Underlying all other problems social anxiety causes in relationships are three deeper issues that are the heart of relationship difficulties. They can cause uncomfortable and ineffective thoughts, feelings, and actions; in turn, those negative thoughts, feelings, and actions aggravate the root of the problem. The three core issues are

  • Trust
  • Support
  • Communication

People with social anxiety have difficulty trusting others. When distrust extends to a romantic partner, it forms a huge hurdle that must be jumped to create a healthy, close relationship. Thoughts of inadequacy can lead someone to think their partner is cheating or even just unhappy and is making plans to leave. Often, someone with social anxiety won’t believe anything their partner says. This creates cold distance and squashes intimacy.

Social anxiety also causes people to perceive that their partner doesn’t love them enough to support them. As with trust, anxious overthinking convinces the person with anxiety that they’re alone in the relationship, unsupported.

Communication is one of the most important aspects in any relationship, but social anxiety severely limits or shuts down communication. Without meaningful, productive communication, a relationship withers.

One of the best ways to reduce social anxiety and relationship problems is to develop trust and communicate about support and other key issues in your relationship. That’s easier said than done, of course, but it is indeed possible. The following tips can show you how to develop relationships when you have social anxiety.

Develop Your Relationships When You Have Social Anxiety

Most people agree that the key to relationships is relationship satisfaction, that sense that both partners love, support, and trust each other and how well they communicate to work through problems positively. People with social anxiety, though, struggle with these areas. Social anxiety creates problems in relationships by interfering in the development of support, trust, and healthy communication.

Developing communication skills, including intimacy and sharing personal information will strengthen relationships. Communication that’s effective in overcoming anxiety includes:

  • Addressing a problem rather than criticizing each other
  • Discussing problems calmly and openly rather than with anger and derision
  • Remaining physically and mentally present in a conversation rather than withdrawing and bolting
  • Listening nonjudgmentally rather than making assumptions and jumping to conclusions

Developing these skills will increase understanding, solve problems constructively, and lead to greater intimacy and trust.

Professional therapy and self-help programs can help you increase relationship skills and reduce social anxiety. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is useful in helping people identify, reduce, and replace anxious thoughts. Specific to relationships, CBT-R (the “R” stands for relationships) addresses problems in relationships. The focus is on helping people be more intimate and bond with each other. Both therapeutic approaches teach healthy communication.

Another approach, called interpersonal and emotional processing (I/EP) therapy allows people to explore current and past relationships to identify unhealthy patterns and replace them with more effective behaviors.

It takes time and practice, but you can develop relationships when you have social anxiety. Try this tip to begin today: Start writing little notes to each other. Leave them in a special box or in each other’s things. It’s a romantic way to communicate, give support, develop intimacy, all things that ultimately increase trust.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 21). How to Develop Relationships When You Have Social Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: January 6, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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