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Why Can't Some People Maintain Intimate Relationships?
Copyright 2009 by Richard A. Grossman, Ph.D.    All Rights reserved    E-Mail: ragrossman@voicelessness.com
It is always striking when a bright, attractive and otherwise accomplished person cannot maintain an intimate relationship.  I have seen many people like this in my practice, and one of the first tasks is to figure out why.  Most of the time the person appears in my office as the bewildered half of a distressed couple.  Their spouse's/partner's complaints are legion:  the offending partner doesn't listen, they're in their own world, they have little or no interest in sex, they prefer to be alone, they are unable to intuit or understand emotion.  The spouse complains that the marriage consists of two people sharing the same living space, splitting chores. 

The person's childhood usually provides clues to the problem.  Sometimes, people tell terrible stories of abuse and neglect: in these cases one can easily understand why intimacy is avoided.   But other times people depict a non-eventful childhood, devoid of conflict or even moments of common unhappiness.   When pressed they remember few specific details positive or negative--and this is the rub.  When their full story is revealed,  it becomes clear the person dulled the abrasive experience of day to day family life by paying little attention.  In doing so, they successfully pushed people away and retreated to the safety of their own inner world and preoccupations.  This unconscious strategy reduced conflict and guaranteed their emotional survival. 

Very often, such a person's parents never entered their world, except in a negative, critical, controlling, or otherwise unempathic way.  Many parents were narcissistic:  they were so intent upon maintaining their "voice", they completely overwhelmed their children's.  As a result, the child retreated to a smaller, safer place where they could maintain agency and find some private satisfaction.  Sheltered in this mini-world, the person experienced little shared pleasure and little disappointment.
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