“Intimacy freak-out.” You’ve seen it before. You’ve probably encountered it during your dating escapades. It happens when things seem to be going famously with that special guy you’ve been dating, and when things start getting just a little bit serious, BAM! He disappears, never to be heard from again, for no apparent reason.
Or those men who will have sex with you, but they refuse to kiss you during foreplay and then they’re immediately clothed and out the door faster than a speeding bullet after they’ve had their climax.
Or perhaps you’re in a long-term relationship and your partner isn’t a real big fan of cuddling or showing displays of affection. He seems distant, aloof, “cut off” from you at times. Or maybe you, yourself, struggle with detachment from your lover or have been told by him that you’re “too needy and clingy.”
Welcome to the wonderful world of “intimacy issues!” Intimacy deficits are a phenomenon and common cause or symptom of relationship problems in both gay and straight partnerships. It’s been called a “man thing”, but gay men can be particularly vulnerable to “intimacy freak-out”. Part 1 of this three -part article series will address the reasons behind this and help you gain a better understanding of the dynamics involved in intimacy in gay relationships.
What is Intimacy Freak-Out?
To understand this concept, an understanding of what constitutes intimacy is needed. Most people immediately think of sex when the word “intimacy” is used, but that’s not what we’re talking about here; that’s just one component.
Intimacy is the ability to be emotionally close to another man, being able to be who you truly are with no facades or defenses, to be uninhibited and express yourself in a reciprocal way with your partner so both of you feel safe and open to share and communicate about anything and everything. There’s no need to feel guarded or defensive with each other because you’ve established a foundation of security and unconditional love and acceptance in your relationship. You know you are loved for who you are.
Intimacy is not just about “togetherness” though. Healthy intimacy requires a balance of “we” and “me”; there’s a flexibility between the amount of closeness and space that exists between you and your lover.
You both exercise good boundaries and respect each other’s limits, knowing that it’s important to have your own individual identity as well as your identity as a couple. It’s like a dance the two of you do together, flowing back and forth between merging and separating. But you don’t stay stuck in one for too long and you both develop a rhythm and synchronicity, communicating your needs and feelings all the while and being attuned to your partner’s.
“Mature intimacy requires both a capacity to be independent and separate and a capacity to be close to the other emotionally and to acknowledge needs for attachment, connectedness, and dependency” (Greenan & Tunnell, 2003). Intimacy is the ultimate validation of your relationship.
Sounds good, huh? Not an easy feat to accomplish! “Intimacy freak-out” is a term coined by Al Crowell, MS in his book “I’d Rather Be Married” (1995) and basically describes this process as being a defense we put up to cope with disappointment and ambivalence in our relationships. He goes on to say that we all have different thresholds for tolerating intimacy, and when we don’t match up with our partner’s level, fear and “freak-out” occurs to protect ourselves from perceived vulnerability by putting up psychological walls and barriers to closeness.
For example, sometimes when couples fight, engage in negative “drama”, or retreat from each other, these types of conflicts could actually be signs of intimacy overload and the behaviors are used as a way to ward off this feeling. So the next time you and your boyfriend have a knock-down, drag-out argument, don’t be so quick to assume that you’re incompatible…it could be an example of differences in your abilities to tolerate intimacy!
The key is to learn how not to act-out these feelings and to achieve a better balance with your partner through assertive communication, productive conflict resolution, nurturing each other, gaining more self-awareness about your particular triggers and issues surrounding intimacy, and other strategies. More to come on these!
( Continued Tomorrow - Part 2 of 3 - Intimacy Freak-Out - Growing Up Gay )
© Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach
The suggestions and feedback offered in this column are but one perspective of multiple approaches to dealing with problems or challenges. Information provided in articles and advice columns should not be used as a substitute for coaching or therapy when these services are needed. None of this information should be your only source when making important life decisions. This information should not be used for diagnosing or treating a particular problem, nor should it take the place of a consultation with a trained professional. It is your responsibility to consult a professional prior to making any life decisions.
Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, contributing author to GAYTWOGETHER, is one of the leading love coaches for the gay community. As a licensed dating and relationship coach, Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, DHS, MSW has over 18 years experience as a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping GLBT individuals and couples develop and maintain successful and fulfilling intimate relationships. He holds a doctorate degree in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Western Michigan University. He also runs a successful private therapy practice, Personal Victory Counseling, Inc. http://thegaylovecoach.com