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Why do so many men struggle with intimacy?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

First Step Men's Therapy helps men across Ontario, Canada develop healthier relationships with themselves and others. We offer individual, couples, and group counselling to men and their families online using our secure telehealth platform.

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Why is intimacy often confusing to men?

One of the biggest presenting issues we see at our clinic relates to intimacy issues, whether they be difficulty being emotionally intimate, physically intimate, or sexual intimate - or all of the above, with a partner. For many men, emotional intimacy is often extremely difficult and many men struggle to identify their feelings within themselves, let alone with a partner.

Often, sexual behaviour is confused as intimacy. Many guys we see express how intimate they are with their partners. "We have sex every night!" - we are extremely intimate. Often, these men confuse sex with intimacy, and often their sexual connection with their partner is absent of any intimate connection or bond.

What is intimacy?

The definition of intimacy is to be close and connected with oneself or another. It involves transparency, vulnerability, honesty, and willingness. It is often translated by those in the therapy community as "into me I see".

Alexandra Katehakis, author of Erotic Intelligence and Director of the Center for Healthy Sex, noted four "cornerstones" of intimacy that we will use to describe the components to healthy intimacy and why men tend to struggle with it.

The four cornerstones of intimacy

Cornerstone #1: Self-knowledge - standing up for what is true and meaningful to you, regardless that it may be uncomfortable, as a catalyst for change. You know who you are, and you provide the space for your partner to do the same.

For many men, they find this difficult as they often do not know who they are. They tend to be a representation of what they think others want or have be told to be. They use a false sense of self as a way to mask who they should they should be or because they think this is what others want.

Cornerstone #2: Comfort and connection - you have the capability to comfort your anxiety and connect without reacting to your partner's feelings.

Many guys try to manage their partner's emotions. For them, to connect with their partner's feelings requires them to disconnect with their own feelings or anxieties. Additionally, they try to manage their partner's emotions as a way to heal themselves or remove them from feeling pain or discomfort.

Cornerstone #3 Responsibility with discernment - you are assertive, defend yourself, take responsibility for actions, and tell the trust event if it is difficult to say or for your partner to hear.

Many men keep secrets, hide how they feel or refrain from speaking up, and oscillate between passive and aggressive communication rather than act assertively. For some men, assertiveness is confused as aggressive.

Cornerstone #4 Empathy with emotion - you are able to use your emotional intelligence to identify and empathize with another person's thoughts and moods.

As mentioned early, it can often be difficult for men to identify and label emotions. Often in session, when asked how they feel today, the response is typically "I am good". It can be difficult to empathize and understand another without being able to understand and empathize with oneself.

Can therapy help men learn and develop better intimacy?

The good news is that this can all be changed and one can learn and grow within their own development of intimacy with self and others. The four cornerstones are a great start. Therapy can help to understand some of the roots of the intimacy challenges, and help to create skills and strategies to identify feelings, work on assertiveness, and connect better to oneself and others.

Often, intimacy is avoided or difficult for men because:

1) Trauma - past trauma as a child or as an adult

2) Attachment wounds - neglect, abuse, betrayal, rejection, or abandonment

3) Past or recent conflict with a partner

4) Stress

5) Fear of intimacy/being close to another

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First Step Men's Therapy offers therapy to men across Ontario using our secure telehealth platform. We work with men on a wide range of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, sex therapy, sex addiction therapy, porn addiction therapy, grief therapy, first responders, trauma and PTSD, and anger therapy among others. We work with men in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Ottawa, London, Kingston, Barrie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Belleville, Windsor, Niagara Falls, Welland, Burlington, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and everywhere in between!

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