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    Problems with Intimacy

    Patrick hopes that therapy will rid him of his “problems with intimacy,” which he assumes must be the result of the insecurities he acquired from growing up in a dysfunctional family. He takes it for granted that his “trust issues” and the other difficulties he has in his relationships are evidence that he’s crazy. After all, everyone knows that love is “the answer.” Why would any “normal person” have “issues” with it? He is counting on therapy to fix all of this.

    I suggest to him, “But maybe one reason you have problems with intimacy is because intimacy is a problem.” I don’t deny that therapy might be of benefit to him in strengthening his relationships, but I do question his hope that any therapeutic process will make them problem-free. I ask him, “Have you ever known anyone who never had problems with intimacy? If not, why do you think it should be any different for you?”

    I wish there were some psychological process that would make relationships a breeze, but it doesn’t work that way. Connecting with others is work, and there’s no way to guarantee that any attempt to do it will be successful. As far as trust is concerned, relationships really do carry risks. We all know from hard experience that people are capable of lies and betrayal. No one gets very far in life without being deeply hurt by someone’s dishonest or selfish behavior. It’s a universal human experience. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all know that there are people in our lives that we’ve abandoned or betrayed too – whether the cause was our selfishness or just the ordinary day-to-day dullness, unconsciousness, and insensitivity to which we’re all prone. That’s why, in all significant relationships, trust doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. It develops and deepens through hard work, slowly and over a period of years, as and to the degree that both parties consistently demonstrate trustworthy behavior. Getting close is work.

    Many people seem to believe implicitly that to be in pain — to have struggles, confusions, disappointments and frustrations – means that you’re doing something wrong. The unspoken assumption seems to be that there must be some way of doing life so that you don’t suffer; and that if you are suffering, then there must be a cure — some belief system, or a pill, an insight, a “secret” — which can eliminate the difficulties of life. The bad news is that there is no such panacea. There are many joys and satisfactions in life, but even under the best of circumstances life is hard, and there is no way of living it that will completely insulate us from that reality. The good news is that understanding that truth offers freedom from the mistake of taking the difficulties in our lives as evidence that we are defective and need fixing.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. His website is