Obstacles to Intimacy

Why is intimacy so difficult?  Most people in our culture don’t know how to succeed in a good, intimate, close, monogamous relationship.  So they struggle with less than close relationships, hoping things will get better.  Some people, however, do have close relationships, and some spouses/lovers are, in addition, best friends with each other.

So why are so many people having trouble with intimacy?  I have several thoughts:

  • The facades, masks and defenses we use in the everyday world are destructive to a relationship, and it isn’t always so easy to shut such behavior off when we come home.  In order for closeness to exist between two people, our masks need to be removed.  We need to be seen by others for what we—and they—really are.
  • Not resolving previous relationships, and not making peace with your past.  Both will interfere with your ability to be genuinely authentic, open and receptive to someone else.  If you don’t clear up resentments and issues from your past, you will relate to current people in your life as if they are shadowy ghosts from the past.  You will then unwittingly act toward someone in the present as if they are someone from your past.  This dynamic has great power to poison your current relationships, as you are unconsciously forever caught in playing through and replaying your painful, empty and unfulfilling past experiences.
  • Fear that if someone knew you for what you really are, they wouldn’t want you.  This relates to low self esteem, and it turns you into a people pleaser.  You then go way out of your way trying to nurture, care for or placate other people.  The danger here is that you will lose yourself and compromise away your own needs, desires and feelings.  You will then eventually grow angry, bitter and hostile toward your partner for “robbing” you of your happiness.
  • Good communication is a learned skill and few of us are good at it.
  • The degree you open up to another and let him/her know of your history, vulnerabilities, fears and dreams.  This self disclosure tends to diminish over time, as criticisms, judgments and disappointments tend to increase.
  • Intimate relationships require time, energy, commitment, sacrifice, money, compromise and usually the promise to forsake all others.  They also require patience, flexibility and tolerance, which is hard to give.
  • Lest we overlook the obvious, most of us aren’t all that easy to live with.
  • There is a great loss of independence that comes with trying to meld lives with another, and not all of us handle such loss of independence well.
  • Our goals, values and outlooks on life may differ significantly.  You might value connection and communication, and your partner might value autonomy, adventure and getting ahead in life.  None of these are wrong or bad, but they might differ significantly in direction and how the two of you choose to spend your time, energy and money.  This can lead to one person saying, “I’ve got some work to get done this weekend,” and the other person saying, “You don’t spend any time with me anymore.”

Few of us grew up with good role models of how to be in a healthy and positive intimate relationship.  Whatever you saw in your parents’ relationship is what you learned intimacy was, and that is what you are likely to be repeating in your relationship(s) now.

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