Social anxiety after divorce


Social anxiety after divorce


your avatar   Steve, 23-year-old man

When I was in grade school, I had a difficult time socializing with people. I had friends, but most of them went to other schools. At some point during high school, I managed to change things around, and became very social. Life was good.

I got married this last April, and 6 months later my wife left me and moved to Colorado. I spent about a month sulking in my room afterward. Since then, I have had myself prescribed anti-depressants. I find most social situations slightly unnerving, and the last time I went to a bar I had a mild anxiety attack, which has never happened to me before.

What can I do to get myself back on the right track? I don't like being an anti-socialite, but putting myself in intense social situations like the bar and large parties kind of scares me a little. I can't strike up conversations with people, I can't small talk, and even if someone else is leading the conversation I find it hard sometimes to go beyond one word answers.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Steve,

You are in a state of grief. You have suffered a major loss, and it is entirely normal and reasonable that you should grieve for it. What's more, your way of seeing the world has changed - for the worse. You committed yourself, and made yourself vulnerable to hurt from another person -- and she hurt you. So now, understandably, you expect to be hurt from any future commitments.

I suspect also, partly or wholly, you look at the end of your marriage as having happened because you feel as if something was wrong with you. It may feel that she left you because of something you did wrong, and because you are faulty and not deserving of love. So, of course you're depressed and keep your own company and suffer anxiety where you're in a potentially hurtful situation.

Grief is like a broken bone. It hurts. Given a chance, it heals, but that takes time. And things can interfere with the normal course of healing. One of these potential troublemakers is if you look on yourself as faulty because she left you. The best is not to blame yourself, not to blame her, but to look on the marriage and its breakup as a mismatch. Things went wrong. What can you learn from it, so that next time you can do it better?

You see, there is a view of people that is very empowering. I think of myself, you, every person on this planet like this: You are perfect. Some of the things you do are excellent. Some of the things you do are OK. And some of the things you do are the growing opportunities.

There are no such things as faults, defects or mistakes, just opportunities for improvement. So, when you feel up to it, think about what you could have done differently. This will come under several headings:


  • If I'd known A, B, C and D about this girl, would I have married her?
  • Why didn't I notice these differences, these issues, at the very start?
  • What will I look for in a lady the next time, when I am ready to try again?
  • How will I ensure that I don't repeat the same mistakes and be blinded by attraction to future issues?


  • When the first tensions arose, how should I have handled them? (There are ALWAYS differences and tensions between any two people.) In that regard, you can learn a lot about how to handle relationships at
  • You might consider seeking couples counseling very early in the relationship, to ensure a smooth start. Most people don't even realize that help is available and effective, and if they do, they seek it too late.


  • She may have been unhappy and hurting. Was there anything I could have done differently to help her? Could we have sought counseling?
  • What was my contribution to the breakup? This is not blame, but looking for how you can learn from the experience. Next time, you want to do it better.

How to move forward?

Forget the bars and parties. Instead, get involved in activities where you'll meet people who share some things with you already. What were the activities (other than bars and parties) you enjoyed before you got married? Do you have any passions, things you've felt strongly about? How about sports, or playing music, or volunteering, or political activism? If you believe in God, do you go to church?

Rejoin life by returning to an improved version of what you used to do a couple of years ago. Also, do the things you wished to do then but never got to. If you didn't have passions then, develop them now. Learn new skills, enroll in courses of study. The best thing is if you can find activities that are of benefit to other people. When you do this, you will start feeling better about yourself. Your grief will still be there for a while, but when you are busy with other things, it will recede to the background.

And when you are doing such things you'll meet new people. Some of them will be attractive girls, or have friends/relations who are. Don't aim for a romance with them, but friendship. When you are ready, one of them will flower. And this time, because you have learned from your breakup, you will do it better.

Steve, this is the chance to build a GOOD life for yourself.


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


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