In many cases we can connect the reasons why we seek therapy to an intimacy disorder. Intimacy disorders can be loosely defined as anything in a person’s psyche that creates barriers to developing, experiencing or sustaining satisfying relationships. By psyche I am referring to an individual’s beliefs, feelings, behaviors, and personality. And relationships can include romantic, familial, friends, sexual, professional, etc.
Relationships are a 50/50 exchange, meaning each person in a relationship has 50% responsibility in maintaining the relationship. If one person is doing 100% of the relating, the relationship does not last very long or endures with considerable problems and dissatisfaction. For example, if only one person in a relationship is engaging in being open by sharing details about his or her life, that person may have a hard time feeling close and connected to the person who isn’t engaged. In addition, the engaged person will likely feel frustrated, hurt, or unimportant.
As much as we would like to, we can’t make the other person do what we believe is his or her 50%. We can only change our 50%. On top of that, we may be unaware of our own internal factors that contribute to the barriers. In other words, we sometime misperceive what is actually causing the problem and what our share of the problems are. Once a person examines his or her own relationship patterns and tendencies, that person may come to realize that he or she is somehow blocking other people from being able to open up.
One of the first steps in improving our relationships then is trying to recognize the barriers we bring into relationships with others. Those barriers can manifest in many different ways. Some common ways include distrust, fear and avoidance of physical touch, sexual dysfunctions (physical or emotional), emotional avoidance, smothering partners, controlling or manipulative behavior, dishonesty, sexuality that is exclusively objectified, addictions, out of control or threatening anger, and insecurities that keep us from getting too close to someone (“I don’t really want you to see how bad or flawed I am”). These are just a few examples of barriers and there are various ways to explore your own, including individual and group therapy.
Exploring how we contribute to difficulties in our relationships is not easy. It takes a lot of vulnerability and most of us don’t want to feel as though there is something wrong with us. We fear being seen as defective or broken, like something at the core of us is bad. These feelings are shame and shame often blocks our ability to take responsibility for our 50%, and then take steps to correct what we can.
In psychodynamic therapy we look at how our past experiences and relationships have impacted us today. From that exploration individuals can come to understand how their adult relationship patterns were affected by multiple influences across their lifespan. From early social interactions, to cultural and societal beliefs, experiences with abuse or neglect, and our earliest relationships (our caregivers/parents). By looking at these influences we can become more aware of our blind sides that could be contributing to our current relationship problems. We also start to realize that we didn’t come into this world as damaged goods. Discovering these so called “shortcomings” with a trusted individual or individuals is important because compassion and acceptance are crucial for breaking through shame. Growth and healing happens when we are able to show our darkness to someone and at the same time have someone see our light.
Intimacy disorders are common and don’t discriminate. People in any economic class, level of education, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or ethnic background can experience difficulties in close relationships. And we don’t learn about intimacy disorders in school. We may learn about them through our experiences relating to others, but sometimes it is difficult to see or admit. It takes courage to look in the mirror to see our relationship imperfections. However, if we can see these imperfections not as permanent flaws but instead as areas that can be improved, then we have a chance of experiencing more satisfying relationships.
Whether you are starting the journey of self exploration or have already been looking inside, I encourage you to check out www.howwelove.com. There you can complete questionnaires that help people start to understand the way they attach to others in relationships. Questionnaires like these may not provide all the answers or insight (after all we are dynamic and can’t be completely defined by a psychological inventory), but it can provide more information about how we relate.