I recently received a comment on a blog which I think needs to be dealt with in some detail. The comment was on a blog post from some time ago which dealt with the effects of anxiety on sexual health, intimacy and impotence (especially performance anxiety). You can read the full post and the comments, entitled Anxiety, impotence, Male Sexual Health and Performance by following this link.
The comment I am referring to is the sixth one from the top. To summarise: a relationship has developed in which a man is pushing his partner away in terms of intimacy, saying that he "can’t give love" and worried about "the loss of freedom" that a relationship brings with it.
These problems, it seems, are not that uncommon. What’s more they are common amongst people who suffer from anxiety and depression and also common amongst people who are unhappy in life even if they aren’t really aware of their emotional situation. I would argue that this goes far beyond sexual performance anxiety, it is far more complex than that. A man may well feel unable to perform or unconfident in bed as part of an anxiety disorder, but this seems to be about a fear of relationships, not a fear of impotence.
Why would someone fear a relationship? Especially someone who has issues involving anxiety and/or depression? Well, the reasons could be many-fold, but the truth of the matter is that there are many many people out there that can not handle the idea of committing to a serious relationship. Of course there are those free spirits who want to play around and not settle down, but this is a different thing; such people seldom shy away from intimacy, instead they seek it and then move on with no pretence of relationship longevity.
What I am talking about more is people who get stuck in anxious ambivalence. Wanting a relationship but not thinking they can cope with it. More often than not this is likely have its roots in past relationships both romantic and familiar. It has been mooted that people whose parents got divorced and who felt neglected can go on to have great difficulty committing to a relationship. Likewise those who have been treated badly by a previous partner can have equal difficulty. It is not that surprising that people with a history of anxiety and depression can have difficulty forming attachments and committing for various reasons.
Firstly, they are people who are likely to have been hurt. Anxiety and depression are almost synonymous with low self-esteem, low self-worth and negativity. They are also conditions that make it hard to meet people and that tend to put off potential partners. This then contributes to a feeling of great loss when relationships fail. Also, people with anxiety and depression might have attachment issues, making breaking up that much harder. Either consciously or unconsciously that person might well seek to defend themselves by not committing to a relationship, refusing intimacy, pushing a partner away or being ambivalent, emotional distant and detached.
So what can you do if you or your (potential) partner is in this bind? The answer is to tread very carefully and to be as open and honest about feelings as possible. Some people may need to discuss past events with a trained professional, some people might benefit from relationship counselling. What a lot of people might need is space and time, especially if their relationship anxiety is based on bad adult relationships.
The first goal is for the person to recognise they have a problem, from that point onwards relationship normality and satisfying intimacy or completely achievable.