The ability to express one’s emotions has been associated with decreased physiological tension, increased well-being, and improved goal-attainment. In intimate relationships, expressing and sharing emotions plays a crucial role in fostering social support from one’s partner, particularly during times of distress, while also nurturing the maintenance of intimacy.
SOCIAL ANXIETY AND EMOTION EXPRESSION
Socially anxious individuals, however, tend to avoid expressing their emotions for fear of rejection and humiliation, which consequently hinders their ability to obtain closeness within a relationship. Due to their incessant flow of negative thoughts and feelings, socially anxious individuals often exhibit reduced emotion expression, as they perceive their inner turmoil as potentially disruptive to their relationship. Supporting this claim, one study found that those who did express their negative emotions were found burdensome by their partners.
Furthermore, it is expected that socially anxious individuals who openly express their negative emotions might exhibit heightened sensitivity to the gaps between their desired and actual levels of closeness in their romantic relationships. This heightened sensitivity could lead them to fixate on unmet desires, thereby intensifying internal conflicts and exacerbating interpersonal tensions.
Non anxious individuals, by contrast, would benefit from expressing their negative emotions, as it would enhance closeness with their romantic partners and provide self-soothing advantages. In the absence of anxiety regarding negative evaluations and social threats, non-socially anxious individuals would gain from using this regulatory strategy, leading to positive social outcomes.
IMPACT OF EXPRESSION OF NEGATIVE EMOTIONS IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Findings from the current study provide partial support for those hypotheses. According to a survey conducted among women in romantic relationships, those who experienced social anxiety reported increased feelings of closeness with their partners, even though they refrained from openly expressing their negative emotions. Those results suggest a certain level of adaptation on the part of those women who are in fact willing to accept the personal cost of not expressing their emotions to maintain their romantic relationships.
By contrast, socially anxious women who expressed their negative emotions revealed a heightened sense of dissatisfaction in their relationships, leading to a potential deterioration of the relationship. Unlike their anxious peers, non-anxious women who did not express their negative emotions experienced growing disappointments with their relationships.
Overall those results confirm the negative impact that social anxiety exerts on individuals’ interpersonal relationships, and how they relate with their romantic partners. However, the study did not address whether or not refraining from expressing negative emotions in social anxiety is a determining factor in the dissolution of a romantic relationship. Further research is needed to answer that question.
Kashdan, T.B., Volkmann, J.R., Breen, W.E., & Han, S.S. (2007). Social anxiety and romantic relationships: the costs and benefits of negative emotion expression are context-dependent. Journal of anxiety disorders, 21 4, 475-92 .