October 24, 2013 at 11:00 am EST | by Michael Radkowsky
Intimacy barrier
close, angry gay couple, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Hi Michael,

I love Julian, my boyfriend of three years, but lately, it’s hard for me to tell him. I feel exposed and uncomfortable when I do. It’s like I’m pulling away from him without wanting to. This is a new feeling.

Also, over the last few months I’ve felt more and more irritable with him — like we’re in competition. I don’t ever want to be wrong or lose an argument or do things his way instead of mine. This is even becoming an issue in our sex life.

Julian seems pretty shut down and defensive, too. I don’t know if he’s reacting to my own pulling away, or we’re just feeding off each other. So, we’re always bickering over nothing and sex has gotten pretty limited. Talking with him about what’s going on inside me feels too revealing right now.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Like I said, I want to be close and a few months ago we were talking seriously about marriage. Now, all of a sudden, I am running into this weird barrier inside me and Julian doesn’t seem much different.

Any advice? Or a helpful perspective?

Michael replies:

You are facing the same dilemma that others face in their relationships: While closeness can feel great, especially at the start of a relationship, closeness can also feel dangerous. The closer you get to each other — which discussions of marriage can do — and the more you care about each other, the more vulnerable you are to being hurt.

But if you try to protect yourself by keeping your partner at a distance, you’ll wind up with a limited relationship. You can’t let your partner really know you unless you are willing to get up close and open your heart to him.

The other big issue you have to contend with is that it’s impossible to have a close relationship when you are competing with each other. However, when two guys are in a relationship, they may find it really hard to avoid competing.

While the urge to compete is absolutely not limited to men, guys do tend more toward competition, especially with each other. So, collaboration with other men may not come easily, but that’s what gay men have to do in order to succeed in an intimate relationship.

It makes sense that you and Julian are distant and squabbling lately, especially since you’ve put marriage on the table. Though your situation is difficult, there is a big upside: your relationship is pushing you to figure out how to be truly close to another man. If you want to be in a long-term relationship, that’s something you need to figure out.

If closeness means more to you than playing it safe, if your goal is to be close to Julian more than to be the victor, consider this: Challenge though it is, you’ll have to be vulnerable with him and you’ll have to tolerate the discomfort and uncertainty that come with that. You’ll also have to learn how to collaborate, which means you can’t always win or be right.

Are you ready to shake things up? Make the first move and discuss your dilemma openly with Julian. You’ll be stepping out of the competitor position by moving toward him and you’ll be performing a courageous act of intimacy by letting him know what’s really going on inside of you.

Of course, there are good reasons for all of us to want to protect our hearts and figuring out how to accept vulnerability — our own and our partners’ — is tough work.  Also, it isn’t easy to shift from being a competitor to being a collaborator. For all these reasons, you and Julian may want to find a couples therapist to help you move toward a relationship where you can become loving teammates.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

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