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Shyness and Marital Problems

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 21st 2010

Shyness and Marital ProblemsMany 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.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Not just quiet or talkative - Beth - May 22nd 2010

I think it's more complex than just talkative or quiet. It's more about how one responds publicly to new people and social situations. And that fears may inhibit children or adults from being themselves. I have 3 children, one is painfully shy, but the other two are outgoing and sociable. I think children may be more susceptible to displaying genetic tendencies such as these at certain times of development. They may be more vulnerable to environmental stress. So perhaps the healthy environment in which your children have been raised in has not fostered this tendency. Perhaps?

Shyness skips generations? - jc - May 22nd 2010

Is it possible that shyness skips generations?  I was shy as a child partly because everyone else was talking so much I was never really heard when I tried to talk.  I'm still introverted but not shy.  My husband also does not need to talk constantly. So guess what, we have 2 kids that talk nonstop; 1 more than the other.  I'm curious to see if they will grow up to marry quiet or talkative people and what their kids will be like.  Dr. Schwartz, it's good to know that there are people like you out there reaching out to socially shy people.  I've been enjoying your articles.

Possible to overcome - Beth - May 21st 2010

I agree that shyness is somewhat of a personality trait...though I view it as more of a genetic tendency of which some are more susceptible to given a certain environment. I do think that we can overcome our gentic tendencies (to a certain extent) as I have done only recently in my early 40s. I wouldn't view myself as shy any longer, but in the same respect I doubt I'll ever be the life of the party kind of extrovert. The fears are pretty much gone, though. I don't think my having been shy hurt my marriage either. In fact, my changing some over the past fews years has required a bit of adjustment in our marital dynamic. We've always been opposites, but have been able to make it work.

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