Afraid to face fears
I have been developing a friendship with this guy for 2 1/2 years. We are very different. I am more outgoing and he is reserved. I like to work and play and he likes to just work, work, work. He has never had a close relationship with any other person and finds it difficult to communicate about inner feelings, thoughts and ideas. He is afraid of being affectionate. When he allows himself to get close emotionally and finally opens up he gets scared and backs away. He will limit our time together for months. He enjoys spending a lot of time alone and interacts with only a few people. He is very introverted. His father was very domineering and somewhat physically abusive. His entire family are loners to some degree.
He has several redeeming qualities, which are really hard to find in a man these days. He has a basic belief that men and women are equal. He will still open the door for me because he knows I like that sort of thing. He is extremely bright and well educated. His is sensitive to other people's feelings. He can't stand the thought of hurting anyone. He is extremely non-judgmental. His emotional maturity has been slowly developing over the past several years. When we have differences of opinion on a personal level, he will now calmly discuss the issue and articulate his frustrations. In the past, he would just say he couldn't handle it, walk away and not speak to me for weeks.
Our relationship continues to grow slowly, but I wonder if it is possible to ever have an intimate relationship with him. His self-confidence has grown significantly the last 2 years. I very much want to be close, to share my life and build a partnership. I know he feels like I am pressuring him to make changes order for us to continue in our relationship. But, he still keeps a part of his life secret as if I may invade it and he will lose his identity. He refuses to go to counseling because he knows he will be expected to put real work into facing his fears and resolving these issues.
My friend is afraid to be emotionally attached to people. He is afraid of being affectionate and getting close both physically and emotionally. What could have caused this type of fear? Is there anyway to change the fear or even reduce it? Is it possible for him to have an intimate relationship? Is there something I can to do help him feel safe in facing the fear?
Opposites attract. Your friend's inward nature appeals to you because it somehow balances out your outgoing style. And vice versa. So it seems whole that way, and therefore very tempting. It may even seem "right" because of that. I'm here to tell you that it might, however, be wrong for those very same reasons. You sound like a caring, attentive, and helpful woman, setting yourself up as your friend's "teacher", and investing in his "potential". At this rate, it'll be years, if ever, before you're satisfied by his communication and emotional availability. If it was a business deal with the same odds for success, I wouldn't recommend investing. Although the heart isn't a worldly business, it also has common sense principles, one of which is that actual must be greater than potential. Great potential isn't enough in a relationship, so be careful about fooling yourself into thinking it is.
The question shouldn't be "what caused his condition?" but rather, "am I willing to live with this condition?" Is this going to be workable within a reasonable time frame? Here's what I think: unless your friend is willing to do his inner work in therapy or somewhere, the odds are slim that you'll be satisfied without having to settle for less than you really want. Why do that? Do you really need to save him? Are you so intrigued and drawn in by being needed that you would invest in a long-term relationship with someone as intimacy-impaired as your friend? In my opinion, those motivations should not be central to your decision to be with him.
I think you can play a role, and are playing a role in his overcoming his deepest fears-- by making things safe for him, by encouraging him, by loving him. This in itself doesn't guarantee that he'll be "cured" and show up in the intimate, self-disclosing way you'd like. Again, I believe it's your friend's motivation that's pivotal to all this, and not your efforts. I think you need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about what you are and are not willing to do to have the quality relationship you want in your life. And also if it is realistically in your power to bring it about in the first place.
This question was answered by Andy Bernay-Roman, RN, MS, LMHC, NCC, LMT. He is a nationally certified counselor in private psychotherapy practice in South Florida working with individuals, couples, and families with a deep-feeling therapy approach. Andy's medical background as an ICU nurse contributes to his success with clients with difficult medical diagnoses and/or chronic physical conditions. He also serves as head of the Psychological Support Department of West Palm Beach's Hippocrates Health Institute.For more information visit: http://www.deepfeeling.com/