Intimacy and Men – A psychodynamic theory

By: Dr Luke Sullivan

Psychodynamic theories of male development have focused on the early years of men’s lives (Chodorow, 1978; Diamond, 2004; Fast, 1990; Greenson, 1968; Ogden, 1989; Pollack, 1995; Stoller, 1964, 1965, 1968) and have led to the hypothesis that young infant boys experience a “normative gender-linked developmental trauma” at a pre-oedipal stage (Pollack, 1995). 

This potentially traumatising separation-individuation process is believed to be mediated through formative interactions with both care-givers (Fast, 1990; Diamond, 2004). The hypothesised implication of a forced early separation-individuation is that many men may go on to suppress the extent to which they allow themselves to care for and connect with others (Addis & Chahane, 2005; Mahalik et al., 2003; Pollack, 1995, 1998).

Pollock (1998) believed this fear of intimacy is driven by a repressed fear of re-traumatisation, leading men to fend off affiliation and intimacy with others. Reis (1998) reviewed several meta-analyses and concluded that there were substantial, robust and consistent findings to indicate that men tend to interact less intimately than women do. These findings were both stronger and more consistent in same-sex than opposite-sex relationships. Men’s relationships were also found to be substantially less intimate than those of women.

Restrictive gender role socialisation has been linked to problems of sociability and intimacy in men (Sharpe, Heppner & Dixon, 1995), less satisfaction in marital relationships (Shape et. al., 1995; Campbell & Snow, 1992) and low relationship satisfaction (Campbell & Snow, 1992). Men who report greater GRC also report a greater fear of intimacy (Fischer & Good, 1997).

Emotions are central to forming and sustaining close relationships. Evidence indicates that boys experience maladaptive learning around emotion from an early age (Sullivan, Camic & Brown, 2014).

At Men’s Minds Matter we believe that intimacy in close relationships and emotional intelligence are closely linked. We also believe they are key factors that contribute towards the high rates of suicide in men.