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Hi, lovinggf. I spent most of four years in a relationship with social phobia. I acted a lot like your boyfriend, maybe a little worse. The best thing my husband ever did for me was convincing me to go to a mental health clinic and get professional help. My life changed almost overnight once on medication. Of course, I'd been slowly taking baby steps toward getting better on my own, but the medication and counseling was the final push that allowed me to be fully functional.

I am so very grateful that my husband stuck by me through that time, so your dedication touches a soft spot in me. That level of patience is probably too much to ask of anybody. That said, your boyfriend really does have to want to change. It might be that he wants to, but doesn't believe it's possible or that he's capable of it. Low self esteem tends to go hand in hand with social anxiety, along with a fierce arrogance. My advice:
*Help build his self-esteem, both by loving him and encouraging him to do things that will make him feel better about himself.

*Let go of what your family and other people think. If they're perceptive, they might already suspect that something is up. If not, they might think he's stuck up. Either way, they're not going to understand, and if you let that judgment get to you your relationship is going to suffer. Mental health is still a misunderstood and taboo subject, and really, someone who has not experienced it cannot understand how incredibly painful social anxiety can be. To me it felt like being run through a meat grinder, just from being around people. In my experience, it helped to tell people that I was shy. People that have no idea what social anxiety is can sometimes accept "shy".

*Encourage positive social interactions. This is easier said than done. The longer I was isolated, the worse the anxiety was when I did have to be around someone. On the other hand, being around people hurt. But the more positive social experiences you have, the easier it is to feel better around yourself, improve your social skills, and get better. If you have any good friends that can accept him, I'd recommend hanging out together, even if he's mostly quiet, rather than drag him to big events like weddings and parties - though I think it'd be good for both of you if you did that now and then too.

*Encourage medication and counseling. The right sort of counseling for someone with social anxiety is hard to find. The first few counselors I tried only had to say, "You know you need to fix yourself," to get me running out the door. I experienced so much self-loathing and longed so much to be better that to hear it put so bluntly, as if it were easy, was too insulting. The littlest things broke my trust. The best counselor I found was at a public mental health clinic that worked on a sliding scale. She worked there because she wanted to help people, and it was obvious that she not only cared more but had more practical experience.

And finally, medication. Everyone's different and I'm not a doctor, so I have no idea how effective it is for everybody, but it changed my life. I was put on an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication and immediately felt very stable, and best of all, it didn't hurt to talk to people. No more meat grinder, or worrying for hours what people thought of me, or running over my memories to see if I had done anything wrong. I cared a lot less of what people thought of me. Now I'm free to talk and be around others and live.

*Talk to him about his goals. Does he want children? To be rid of the anxiety? To have a few good friends or to have a certain career? These might be incentives for him to seek help.

Take care of yourself too, okay? Rosequartz brings up a good question: is this something you are willing to deal with for the rest of your life? You might be able to help him (and my husband certainly helped me) but then again, maybe you can't. My husband has some mental issues himself, and I've found that the best way to approach it is to work on making it better but be prepared to deal with it for the rest of your life, too. I hate his problems, I wish he didn't have them, but to me, living with him far outweighs that. You may have to come to that decision yourself. Don't do anything that makes you unhappy.

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