Barriers To Intimacy

Lack of Self-Knowledge

The deeper we know our self the more fully we can be present with others and consciously share our experience. The less you know the more difficult it becomes to communicate your feelings and desires effectively to your partner.  Deep intimacy requires both partners to communicate in an open and honest way, to say what you cannot to anyone else.  Intimate communication involves speaking about the effect we have on one other, both our delight in them, and our resentments and disappointments.  The less we know about our self and the less comfort we have in focusing on our internal and felt experience, the more tendency we will have in interactions to focus on the other and assign blame.

We always reside in awareness and unawareness.  When we are coming from an unconscious place we tend to feel disconnected from those around us, and have less control of our feelings, desires and behaviour.  Communication becomes confusing when we project our feelings onto our beloved instead of expressing and experiencing them directly.  It is our responsibility to keep working on moving from unawareness towards awareness.  We need to take time to reflect, deal with unresolved issues, and learn about ourselves.

Unresolved issues; Family and Relationships

All of us bring our past into relationships. When we have not examined unresolved issues but rather attempted to move on by saying to ourselves  ‘the past is the past and has nothing to do with me now’, we may believe we have gained control over painful memories and experiences.  However, we are likely to find that the same experiences keep occurring as an unconscious re-enacting of early situations.  At some point we have to stop and consider how much control have we gained?  It becomes clear that we do not come into relationships objectively or with a clean slate.  We carry a veil over our partner and the world that we see through.  A veil of projections, that in order to really see and connect, we have to remove.

Emotional wounds occur in early relationships, and when this happens we develop self -protections; unconsciously or consciously we are saying, “I am not going to let that happen again.”  The ways in which we protect ourselves can range from withdrawing, fighting and blaming, trying to please or sabotaging.  These behaviors prevent intimacy, and create distance between partners.  The following is the most common issues as a result of past wounds;

  • Unmet Needs.  It is impossible for those around us to anticipate and fulfill our every need.  All of us end up with areas in our psyche where we have experienced deprivation, an un-fulfilled need that still seeks to be gratified.  We are starved of attention, pride, care, or support.  The list goes on.  Coming into relationships we carry a longing for that person who will know us so completely that the pain of  unmet needs gets washed away. How often have you heard at the beginning of relationships such expressions as; I feel so cared for, finally someone understands me, he/she really see’s me, etc.  These are the statements of hope that things will be different.  What we find is that things are not that different and the same kinds of disappointments emerge as relationships progress.  These disappointments tend to have a familiar quality for each person.  For some it is the familiarity of not being heard, for others it is feeling judged.  Just like our parents who could not meet all our needs nor can our partner. We have to resolve the past within ourselves so we do not burden our beloved with the task of meeting all our needs.
  • Attachment difficulties. The ability to form secure intimate attachments is a result of the kinds of attachments we experienced early in life.  Depending on how separation was dealt with during formative periods will determine how insecure we feel regarding attachment and separation.  Difficulties tend to manifest as fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment (e.g., “Don’t leave me” or “Don’t get too close”).  Separation and loss is the underbelly of relationships.  As we open our hearts to someone there is the knowledge that they will be torn from us, either as a choice to walk away, or in death.  So times of separation from each other can evoke strong feelings that partners can react to by trying to hold on too tightly or alternatively, maintain their distance emotionally.  Highly differentiated people can maintain strong emotional bonds while still maintaining their individuality.  They can tolerate intense connection and periods of solitude.


Intimacy requires openness between partners.  We can only be honest about what we know.  Dishonesty is obvious in the big things when we know that we are actively keeping something from someone.  It is in the everyday avoidance of being open about your experience with one another that causes an ongoing erosion of connection.  For example, picture the woman who is looking forward to seeing her husband after a stressful day so she can have someone to talk to, and gets home to find him engrossed in a project of his own and doesn’t get his attention. She feels resentful and disappointed but doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to create any conflict.  So what happens over time is this unexpressed experience begins to build a wall between partners. Each incident is dismissed as unimportant and with it a dismissal of what is important to her.  People are driven by fears of how their partner will take the truth.  So people tend to withhold things that they believe will get a negative response or disappoint their partner.  Honesty becomes a particular challenge at times when negotiating differences, or expressing feelings about the other that are threatening, such as jealousy, criticism, disappointment, and hurt.

Trying to Please. Dishonesty is tied to trying to please by focusing on your partner’s needs and feelings to avoid conflict.  Even though women tend to be the caretakers it is not exclusive to women.  Caretaking becomes a role that denies the caretakers needs in the relationship.


Addictions take energy and attention away from the relationship.  It is easy to see the destructiveness of substance or alcohol addiction on a relationship, but also a work addiction.  Work is hard to confront because it is legitimized by our need to earn a living, and is seen as supporting the relationship and family.  When one or both partners chronically spend long hours at work there is no time to spend in the relationship.  The relationship and their lives become out of balance.

Lack of Time Spent Together.

Intimacy takes time. The longer you are in a relationship a deeper trust and understanding develops.  Making the time to spend in each other’s presence allows for a variety of experiences with each other. These include; having fun together, doing different activities, working on a project, being quiet together, being sexually intimate, as well as addressing conflict within the relationship.  It is important to give yourselves the time to really experience each other.  Snatched moments don’t allow for the kinds of exploration needed in the above examples.

In all relationships there are times when things outside the relationship take priority, such as work, school, family commitments etc. Problems arise when there is a pervasive pattern of not making time to be present with one another.  When both partners have not connected in an intimate way it is more likely that certain experiences in the relationship will go unaddressed.  These may be resentments and conflict issues, feeling unloved, or decisions are made without the full involvement of both partners.  As these experiences build up, the motivation to spend time together decreases because there is so much to repair.  Over time, couples tend to avoid one another and the minefield of unresolved issues.  Ultimately, an excuse of  “we don’t have time” can be a red herring, a euphemism for avoidance of relationship issues and fear of intimacy