Finding That Significant Other, Why So Difficult?

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Some time ago I wrote an article, “Why Do Men Go To Prostitutes?” that has given rise to a lively discussion. The article and responses can be found at this URL:


Many of the explanations given by men who frequent prostitutes are quite poignant in that they reveal deep seated feelings of self doubt, poor body image, low self esteem and feelings of loneliness, as well as sexual frustration. Many of these are men who are convinced that a woman cannot possibly love them. It should go without saying, that these problems plague women who have great difficulty finding and settling into permanent relationships. I suspect that, in many cases, these are people who were abused physically, sexually or emotionally during childhood. They report that they have dated women but things always ended in failure. What is the problem?

Understanding Intimacy:

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Before we discuss the problems that plague these men, we must first gain some understanding of what it means to relate intimately.

According to UCLA psychology professor, Benjamin Karney, PhD, all relationships fall somewhere along five dimensions:

Five Dimensions of Relationships

1. Frequency of contact.
2. Duration of the relationship.
3. Diversity of interaction.
4. Direction of influence.
5. Strength of the relationship.

There are many types of interpersonal relationships that meet some, but not, all of these dimensions. For example, good friends meet frequently and remain friends for many years. They may do different things together, such as, go fishing, and play golf together. They have a certain amount of influence on one another and they may consider themselves to have a strong friendship. However, they do not have an intimate relationship. Why?

Dimensions of An Intimate Relationship:

It is necessary that, intimacy includes the five dimensions listed above.

1. This is a deeply personal way of interacting that is special and unique from friendships or any other kind of relating.

2. Lust plays a vital role. Sexual desire is central and is so powerful that the two people want to possess one another. In other words, they do not want to share their  partner with anyone else. These are two people who mate for life. Even if sex does not occur or has stopped, the potential for sexuality remains in place.

3. This relationship is powerful. Partners love and even hate each other at times. Even if they hate, they are powerfully connected to their partner. The couple goes through periods of peak experiences that fill them with joy, and through the lowest experiences where there is anger, sadness and depression.

4. Intimate relationships are so very powerful that research shows that they impact on one another’s health. One hospital study demonstrated that among patients who suffered congestive heart failure, those with a partner who was nice, comforting and reassuring to one another, the patient survived longer as compared to partners who did not have this type of relationship.

This type of bonding is so important to people that, even if it ends in divorce, people seek another intimate relationship that they hope will be more successful.

In light of all of this, it becomes understandable why some individuals do not succeed in finding this type of permanency. It goes back to what the great 20th century psychologist, Erik Erikson, wrote about the stages of early childhood. Right from the start, depending on what the infant experiences as a result of parental interaction, a sense of “trust vs. mistrust” will be established.

The fact is that no none of the individuals who are convinced of their ugliness, stupidity, unattractiveness or anything else negative, really are that way. These poor self concepts result from the ways in which they were treated from their earliest childhood until the present. In the present they are so fearful that they would rather avoid real intimacy. After all of this, how is it possible to trust, to feel safe with another person who can have enormous influence on them and their well being?

Does that mean that all is hopeless? Many of the men who write their comments to the article about prostitution, seem to have given up. They feel hopeless about ever finding a partner with whom they can bond.

However, psychotherapy, which is built upon the strength of the relationship between patient and therapist, can reverse the harm done by early experiences that destroyed trust. Psychotherapy is also a way to rebuild self esteem and self confidence.

Over the years, I have worked with patients, men and women, who were convinced they could never be in an intimate relationship, who overcame their fears, found the right person, and settled into the kind of bonding discussed here.

What are your experiences with relationships from friendship to romance? Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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