Receiving social support from your friends and loved ones is something that most of us take for granted. Having people available to help you through difficult times is vital to leading a healthy, adjusted life.
However, people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) are less likely to benefit from the healing effects of social support. People with SAD tend to have fewer friends and are more likely to never marry. The high levels of fear and anxiety they feel around social situations prevents them forming close relationships with others and often leaves people with SAD feeling very isolated.
One aspect of life with SAD which has not been closely examined is the quality of romantic relationships people with SAD have, if those relationships are established. One of the main effects of social anxiety is that it causes you to perceive your own interactions as others more negatively; you may think that you made a fool of yourself or that people dislike you when the reality is very different. As such it is possible that people with social anxiety see their relationships as being of a lower quality than they actually are.
The current study tested relationship quality and social anxiety/social support in two separate studies. In the first study participants and their partners were interviewed about the amount of support they felt they received from their partner, and then interviewed a year later to see if they were still together. It was found that social anxiety itself did not affect the likelihood of still being together a year later, but perceiving your partner as being more supportive was strongly linked to the relationship remaining intact.
In the second study couples were asked to talk about a particular issue they found difficult, with one partner trying to offer support to the other. Participants then had to rate how well supported they felt during the conversation, and were also rated for how supportive they had been by independent observers.
Those with higher levels of social anxiety reported receiving less support from their partner- they felt less supported. However, the observers who rated the amount of support found no difference in support levels between those with high social anxiety and those with low anxiety levels. This result indicates that while an outside observer might see your partner as being supportive and encouraging towards you, those with social anxiety do not see it that way and see themselves as having less support.
These results show that social anxiety can affect the way people see their most intimate relationships and make them feel less supported than they really are. This lack of perceived support can then go on to make the relationship less stable. This is important in understanding and overcoming social anxiety because even if socially anxious people have the support of their friends and loved ones, they may not perceive that they do. Treatment for social anxiety should therefore aim to help those with social anxiety interpret their relationships less negatively and learn to see the support that is available to them