Q: After three years of marriage, my wife and I separated and ultimately divorced. Since then, I have had a substantial issue with my self-confidence. I'm 26. I find myself nearly unable to approach women, let alone strike up a conversation. I never had this problem before my ex-wife and I met. What has happened to me, and what can I do to regain my confidence? -- Joe
Dr. Susan: At least a couple of things might be happening. One is that you've never experienced what feels like a major failure before, and it's totally messing with your head. The other is that your ex-wife chipped away at the way you feel about yourself and you haven't regained your self-esteem yet.
Regardless of the reason, my advice would be similar. Try the following: give yourself a few very low-key assignments, and be sure your brain and heart know that they really don't matter. So instead of trying to strike up a conversation with someone very attractive to you, just make a point of going to 10 new places every month that involve some human (female) interaction. Try the new local coffee house and ask the woman behind the counter a question about the flavor of the day. Go to a museum and ask just about anyone just about anything about the exhibits. Once you can do this sort of thing easily, you'll be more ready to tackle what feels scary right now -- talking to someone you hope will be interested in you.
You might also do some deep thinking about your marriage and what led to its ending. It's possible you're taking on the whole burden of responsibility yourself, and you're afraid you'll screw up again. The more you know about what good relationships are made of, the more you'll gain confidence that you CAN help create a happy marriage next time.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.