National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

He’s So Shy, We’re Stuck

BY TOM & CAROLINE MCDONALD

June 11-17, 2006 Issue | Posted 6/12/06 at 11:00 AM

 

My husband is a loving, funny and interesting man, but he is painfully shy. He has no friends to speak of and he becomes defensive when I bring up the subject. He says family is all he needs. How can I help him?

Deep down, your husband probably knows that his “family only” answer is just an excuse. Even if he truly believes it, it isn’t fair to you or your children. No one person or family can possibly live up to the expectations and needs of an individual who has no other source for social support.

If he is just hanging around the house, it probably has the effect of making you feel guilty for spending time with your friends, leaving him alone. Those feelings often turn into resentment over time, as you may begin to feel that he is holding you back with this imposition of guilt.

You see the wonderful qualities he possesses; with a little self-confidence, you are sure he would have no trouble making friends. You want others to see the qualities you see.

How can you help? First, the worst thing you can do is thrust him into the middle of a large social event. A party with lots of people is not a setting where he will flourish.

It takes a certain amount of assertiveness to simply begin and carry on a conversation with a stranger, and he may react like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. You may think he would do better in a large social group, but it is too easy to hide in such a setting.

There are two options that may be better. One is to get together with one other couple. Initially, this may seem worse that than the party setting. But, quite often, a shy person will deal better with just one or two other people at a time.

There is no choice as to whether to jump into the conversation: At some point, he’ll have to chime in or he’ll stand out like a sore thumb. 

Something else you might try is encouraging him to get involved in an organized event with a bunch of other men. Men aren’t big on getting together and socializing, but they do feel comfortable contributing to a big project where they feel needed.

The Knights of Columbus, for example, might be up his alley. This group, a parish group, or one of many other faith-based organizations with a goal or purpose might grab his interest.

If he has a particular skill to share, all the better. In the course of contributing, he should form friendships as a natural result.

Ideally, you could find a current member to give him a call and issue a personal invitation — those are harder to turn down. He will probably find that kind of setting less threatening.

One more serious consideration: We are not therapists, but we do know that sometimes clinical depression or a treatable anxiety disorder can be mistaken for extreme introversion. If this is a marked change from his normal personality, this may be a sign of something more significant. As always, pray and discern.

The McDonalds are family-life coordinators for the

Diocese of Mobile, Alabama.