Is Shyness the Silent Relationship Killer?

According to the results of a recent study, shyness can be a killjoy in relationships. Sarah L. Tackett of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University in Utah recently led a study that examined how shyness affected self-esteem and how together, these traits affected relationship satisfaction in a sample of 14,807 romantic couples. For her study, Tackett asked each partner to rate the other on levels of shyness. Then, each partner was to rate their own shyness and self-esteem. Finally, each partner was asked to rate their overall level of relationship satisfaction.

The results revealed that perceived shyness of one partner was directly predictive of that same partner’s low self-esteem and low relationship satisfaction. In other words, if a husband saw his wife as shy, the wife reported low levels of self-esteem and satisfaction with the relationship. The same was true if a woman reported having a shy spouse. These results show that shyness can create a path for unhappy relationships. Tackett believes there are many reasons for this trajectory.

Perhaps shy individuals are uncomfortable voicing their opinions and find it easier to accept an unsatisfying relationship than to pursue a new, more rewarding one. Also, outgoing people who are involved with shy individuals may be perceived as threats, thus diminishing the self-esteem of the shy partner. Another possibility is the lack of shared experiences. When couples can engage in activities together, they can share the joy of those experiences. If one partner is introverted and unable or unwilling to participate, it limits the opportunity for shared adventures, thus minimizing the enjoyment of the two as a couple. These results support existing research that suggests shy people have difficulty navigating the intimate nuances of romantic relationships. Tackett believes her study sheds light on some of the challenges couples with opposing personalities may face. Her work provides avenues of exploration for couples dealing with shyness. She hopes future work continues to venture down these avenues. “By doing so, it is hoped that attention will be given to the need to help shy individuals and their partners in order to foster positive relationships,” said Tackett.

Tackett, Sarah L.; Nelson, Larry J.; and Busby, Dean M. Shyness and relationship satisfaction: Evaluating the associations between shyness, self-esteem, and relationship satisfaction in couples. American Journal of Family Therapy. Jan/Feb2013, Vol. 41 Issue 1, p34-45. 12p. 1 Diagram, 1 Chart. DOI: 10.1080/01926187.2011.641864.

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  • Lydia

    February 26th, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    Shyness also probably encourages withdrawn activities such as maybe an overabundance of time spent on the computer (she says as she types away-on the computer).

  • Jonas

    February 26th, 2013 at 10:42 PM

    Lots of shy people are introverts. So, they need a lot of time to themselves in order to have energy to deal with people. Some people mistakenly thing that introverts or shy people don’t like other people. This is not true. It just means that the interactions they have with people are draining rather than energizing. So, they need time to reenergize which can be hard on a relationship. I am introverted and my wife is extroverted. Sometimes it’s hard for her to understand why I need so much downtime when I get home from work. I love my job and the people I work with, but I need time and space to myself in the evenings so I can be ready to go at it again the next day.

  • Katie

    February 26th, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    I had a boyfriend once who was really shy and it was hard because he never wanted to do anything outside the house so i got so bored i couldn’t stand it no more. we broke up. he was so sweet and i really did like him but i just couldn’t handle sitting in the house ALL THE TIME!

  • Hattie

    February 26th, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    A good friend of mine is shy and she does have tremendous difficulty with relationships. It is so hard for her to even put herself out there.

    Then, when she does find a boyfriend she often gets run over because she won’t stand up for what she wants. They always end up doing things that make her uncomfortable like going to parties.

    Once she gets to the parties, it is really hard for her so she withdraws and that makes her boyfriend mad at her so they break up. I feel so bad for her. She is such a great girl with so much to offer!

  • daniel

    February 26th, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    while shyness can have a few positives to it – to keep yourself seem mysterious or unexplored – it can quickly become a hindrance. these are times when everybody is trying to exhibit themselves and their qualities, it’s no time to keep yourself reserved and away from people, especially not your partner. the relationship will suffer no doubt but what it also does is make you feel small and your partner could even foray into looking into other options.

  • Nik

    February 27th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    But wouldn’t you see that someone is shy before investing a whole lot of time in a relationship with them?

    I mean, for some extroverts especially this might be a good thing because then they don’t feel like they have to be “on” all the time with this person.

    There are more pros to this kind of relationship than I think are being pointed out here.

  • branson

    February 27th, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I know at least one couple they’re both shy individuals and they are doing pretty good together. how does that work? does both of them being shy work in their favor? it boggles my mind.

  • raegan martin

    February 28th, 2013 at 4:03 AM

    You might not think that this would be such a big deal, but if you are super outgoing and your partner can barely manage a ward to another person without blushing, that could be a problem. While it might not necessarily cramp your personal style I can see how you may become resentful of the shy person and think that how they are acting reflects negatively on you. That is not necessarily the start of something fantastic.

  • Bry@nt

    February 28th, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    I know a lot of people that are great lovers, are great with their partners with no shyness showing, but when it comes to anything else they are shy. How does that work? Can people really be something totally different with their partner? And even if so, how are they not able to carry on with their non-shy self outside of the relationship?

  • Mary S

    March 2nd, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    Most of the comments here seem to be from people who are neither shy nor introverted, but talk about shy and introverted people. I wonder how the commenters would react to similar comments, say about gays by non-gays, or about Hispanics by non-Hispanics?

    I am introverted and somewhat shy, so here are some comments from my perspective. (But please bear in mind that introverted or shy people are not all alike, so please try to watch out for forming stereotypes based on what I say!)

    I went to therapy for help with some aspects of the shyness, but just got comments like “You gave up your power” (one therapist) and being laughed at (another therapist). Not at all helpful. In fact, recovering from therapy has been very difficult. One thing that was later somewhat helpful was reading about the Meyer-Briggs types (although some of the writing does sometimes get into stereotypes).

    My partner is much more extroverted than I, but we eventually worked it out (but not helped by therapy). The first step was that I realized that I needed to be better at talking, at being assertive, and in coping with personal attention. I went to therapy with that awareness, seeking help in improving in those areas, but did not get any help. But by working on my own, I got to the point where I could effectively point out to my partner that, just as I needed to learn to talk more, he needed to learn to listen more. He realized that learning to listen was hard for him, so I think that helped him realize that learning to talk was difficult for me. Also, it gave me a much-needed opportunity to practice talking without being cut off. So we were able to work things out, and he was able to be supportive of the shyness problems I encountered in my work and in dealing with the additional problems acquired in therapy. I still have occasional distressful therapy-related “flashbacks,” but I can handle them better on my own now.

    I know a younger couple where both are introverted and somewhat shy. They met on line. They have been married for several years, and seem to have a very good marriage, despite differences in religion and health problems.

  • Devon

    March 2nd, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Am I the only one who finds a little shyness more than a little endearing?

  • Ted

    April 6th, 2015 at 7:03 AM

    I spent most of my childhood as a shy introvert watching what people did to one another. Because my mother was shy, fearful & my main interpreter of life, my view of most of those human interactions was negative. Nevertheless my folks were very good hearted people who continued trying to help others. As the years went by I learned to give and love others also, in spite of their weaknesses.
    In my twenties I asked God to help me overcome my shyness and keyhole view of the world. I realized that my shyness was causing me to become selfish and create a false reality of others. I also observed the long term effects of this attitude upon loved ones as they became jaundiced through the adversity of life. Only by much suffering where they able to break out of their false view of others.

    Learning that living is giving has much less risks and more enjoyment of the adventure of life, than remaining locked up in my own thoughts. Thanks to God, honest hearted parents and many others who have showed mercy to me along life’s way, I now am an extrovert who attempts to encourage others in the adventure of life. It certainly is less boring!

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