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  • Márcia Fervienza

Intimacy: When Your Partner Can't Handle It

broken heart

It is a common belief that everybody wants to find love. We grow up thinking that there's someone out there in the world who's looking for a person just like us, with whom we'll be able to build a loving relationship. But my experience shows that, even though most people claim to be open and looking for an intimate connection, not everyone can handle it. This is true especially for men: because of all the preconceived ideas associated with what being a man means (strong and invulnerable), they can quickly jump into relationships but end up not giving what's necessary to build intimacy. And being intimate requires above all being vulnerable, allowing your feelings to be touched and maybe even hurt.

Another aspect of intimacy that can make it scary is that building a relationship requires dedication, effort, and time investment. How many times have we heard of partners that broke up because they are focused on their careers? Well, that can be true. This doesn’t mean that we have to give up on our lives to build a committed partnership. Actually, that can create resentment that will damage the relationship in the long term. But it is essential to keep in mind that, unless we prioritize that person and that relationship over every other person and connection in our lives, it may not work. A relationship is a commitment: we are committed to that person above all others, and we are committed to making it work.

To identify whether fear of intimacy is at stake in your relationship, Dr. Stan Tatkins, author of the book Wired for Love, suggests looking into yours (or your partner’s) core beliefs. It's likely that there lies the fundamental problem in creating an emotional connection with others. After all, Americans are raised to be independent and autonomous. We believe that these skills are mandatory for success and survival.

But if we bring that idea into our relationships, we will naturally put our personal needs above the needs of our partnership, and our partner will feel neglected. Of course, we must maintain a level of independence in any relationship. What I'm saying is that we must strike a balance between being independent and interdependent to build a meaningful connection. Because our relationships need us to be able to depend on (and be dependable to) others.

But how can we know whether we are being interdependent or a burden? Just remember that you are an adult and, as such, you should care for yourself. Indeed there are things that you should expect from your partner. In a relationship, you're supposed to care for each other, to show mutual love, to respect one another, to be faithful and loyal, among other things. But if you have a constant emptiness in your chest that no amount of presence or caring can make go away, it may be time to see how past unmet needs can be making their way into your current relationship.

An intimate relationship isn’t something that happens overnight or by accident. It entails giving a lot of oneself that one may not be willing or able to. And even though we may think that relating is innate to humans, since we are social beings, it can be challenging for many people. It all depends on how our past experiences (childhood included) have shaped us into who we are. And that’s what will determine how able we are to be with others. The idea that there's an instinct that is awakened when we fall in love is a myth. Unfortunately, love has little to do with it. It isn't (and has never been) sufficient condition to give birth or to nurture a relationship.

That is how sometimes even though we love someone intensely, we have to walk away. And that is how occasionally someone who claims to be genuinely in love with us can’t manage to stay in our lives either…

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