The problem with closeness and distance – online counseling

When stability takes the thrill out of sex

Karen is an attractive 27 year-old office employee. Having found her dreamboat in Michael a 31 year old engineer from a wealthy family they’ve enjoyed the comforts of a steady relationship for 9 months and even talk about getting married as well as having children. However, in the last 2 months, Karen has felt increasingly upset about their relationship. Her old closeness and distance dilemma seems to have returned. When she has time to relax and think, feelings of panic, desperation and disappointment will arise and eventually come close to overwhelming her. It seems odd, because this time she was so sure that everything would be perfect! But now, it feels like the same old vicious circle is beginning again:

Alone at home, she often has erotic fantasies...

Alone at home, she often has erotic fantasies… ©Stefan Weis/

When she first fell in love, having sex was so wonderful that enough is never enough, but inevitably it seems to be getting old only after 3 or 4 months; then sex starts to become a source of problems. It’s not as if she’s lost all interest in him — far from it. Alone at home, she finds herself fantasizing about all the things they could do, if only he would be here, right now.

But as soon as it’s time to make ’it’ happen, and the more turned on he gets, the less she can let herself go. It appears to her as if her desire would vanish like fog in the sun the more excited he gets. Sometimes, he would fly so high that he would be insensitive to her aloofness and adding to the continuing feeling of her need to push him away along with the increased feeling of offence and repulsion.
With those unfortunate moments on her mind, Karen soon began to avoid tenderness between the two of them to avoid fuelling his desire for more. Of course, Michael couldn’t understand what was going on inside her head thus causing him to become confused and upset. Even Karen herself has no idea why she is caught in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to sex: yearning when alone and yet feeling aversion as the opportunity arises.

But she wonders if she has recognized herself in her new geeky book about “closeness and distance” …
Having been an early starter with intimacy, Karen has had several love-affairs and plenty of experience. Love seems to always start and end in the same way: Fantastic sex at first, followed by an increasing lack of interest- then the eventual break down of her relationships.


© Dmitry Bairachnyi/

Only one man had been an exception. At age 22 she had a 2-year affair with her tennis teacher. He was married and not willing to get a divorce. Karen’s passionate love for him kept growing into unexplored dimensions; she suffered incredibly.

For once, her closeness-distance problem didn’t seem to arise. Fortunately, she thought in hindsight, this doomed affair found its abrupt end by him returning to the USA, because of the fact, that she wouldn’t have been able to free herself from the frustrating and forbidden love triangle.

Closeness and distance problem and childhood

The closeness–distance problem becomes more transparent when we take a look at the psychosocial development of human beings. Each of us has certain preferences when it comes to our love life. On the one hand, this attraction depends on the type of people we find attractive, and on the other, circumstances and practices we find more thrilling than others.

Those preferences consist of what we inherited with our genetic outfit, and of the programming we received in our early childhood. Psychologists estimate that the time relevant for those developments is between ages 3 and 8.  In this time frame, the so-called CET is being generated: our Central Erotic Theme. This CET constitutes a type of custom made script for a particular person: an erotic script if you will, which allows the individual to enjoy a maximum amount of personal happiness, if only it can be staged. Incidents which can influence the CET don’t necessarily have to do with sexuality, and usually don’t. But with puberty and the onslaught of powerful sex hormones CET can wake up from its hibernation and sometimes a lot later.

The internet (and its offerings?) offers it all


© Natallia Vintsik/

If adults are never faced with circumstances that invoke their CET they may actually have no idea exactly which mysterious desires are dormant within. But today, with internet pornography, everybody has the option to get to know all the colors sexuality can take on and discover his own favorite flavors. Some of those preferences can be so dominant and one-sided, that an individual can’t live out their central sexual themes unless their ideal scenario materializes completely. A partial materialisation won’t allow enough excitement to arise. Needless to say, this is highly tragic if a person can only obtain satisfaction from activities which bring it into conflict with the law.

Social surroundings and sexual preferences

During sensitive phases in life circumstances and dramatic experiences can subconsciously shape the minds of children. Those patterns exert a powerful influence on our love life as adults. Erotic variations of the basic theme are so diverse; because our lives are. Even if a traumatic experience happens only once, it can steer our emotional and sexual development in a certain direction. It may well be possible to ban painful experiences from our awareness or to split them off, but they will live on in our sub-consciousness, and will be on repeat in dreams and fantasies, with varying scenarios, thus immensely impacting our central nervous system through constant repetition.
When children grow up in families which are commonly considered “normal”, their ability to give and receive love will be viewed as normal in our society. However, if family structures tend to be unusual — not necessarily abnormal or extreme — they can create patterns which will cause turbulences in adulthood. Since families with unusual lifestyles are not so uncommon, it’s no big surprise that some individuals, which seem perfectly “normal”, can sometimes react in ways that are not beneficial to them. In other words: we all have our little flaws.

Closeness and distance problem and affection

mädchen verkleinert

© Anja Greiner Adam/

Karen grew up in a family like this. Her sister Monika is 7 years her senior. When Karen was 6 years old, her life changed in dramatic ways: her beloved daddy chose to leave his family behind and to marry another woman.  Her mother was devastated and for a long time unable to get over the loss. She suffered severe bouts of depression, during which she would be so absorbed with her own suffering that she couldn’t really be there for Karen.

Her father tried to take care of her, but didn’t have all too much time. Soon his new wife became pregnant and a boy was born while her 11 year old son from a previous marriage was already living with them. This unfortunate family constellation hit young Karen very hard.  When her mother was too unwell to give her what she needed, her older sister tried to help out to the best of her ability, but she was still a child herself.

In her father’s new family, things weren’t much better. Although her step mother was kind and loving, her attention was frequently absorbed by her baby and her older son, who didn’t handle the arrival of the baby all that well. Karen’s needs for loving attention and caring grew accordingly and she made efforts to obtain both for many years. Thus, her need to feel loved became a dominant trait of her personality. Since she was intelligent and scored high in school, she could nurture her needy sense of self with success in this particular area. Later in life, her efforts helped her to make a considerable career-and she looked simply gorgeous. Men felt attracted to her like moths to the light.

Lack is the motor of closeness-distance issues in CET

Nähe-Distanz (2)

© prudkov u. © Artem Merzlenko/

                                               (left unlucky child and right, fifteen years later)

The emotional starvation Karen had to suffer through for so long affected her deeply and conditioned her love patterns. Longing for love- a sad reality of her early years- became the dominant element in her CET. Today, only experiencing the old lack of closeness and loving attention will allow her to feel this deep longing again, -and this will fuel her erotic desire. (Annotation: Reactions are also triggered in those without distance –closeness issues, albeit to a lesser extent.

Karen’s CET transforms a painful sensation of lack and need into erotic energy

We could therefore say that the closeness-distance problem is a very mild form of self inflicting pain. Karen’s sexual desire depends on interaction with a partner who loves her less than she loves him. Now that we understand this, we also know why she felt so much passion for her tennis teacher, even after 2 years: The necessary distance was already guaranteed by a barrier: He was married to someone else and she was longing for him to get a divorce. .

Similar to a new love …

A closeness–distance problem is rare when we first fall in love.  A combination of insecurity, little familiarity with the other one, fear of unrequited love and being high on love creates a cocktail of emotions which allows personalities with closeness-distance difficulties to be thrilled by sexuality.

Hermann Hesse’s:  “And each new start is host to sweetest magic” seems to describe these feelings perfectly.  But as time goes on, it is exactly this sweet magic that will gradually dissipate and take with it the thrill, tension and insecurity which were so conducive to fuel the CET.  It doesn’t seem to help much that new things arise: Love, closeness, consistency, security, sustainability, the atmosphere of feeling at home, of having ‘arrived’.

People with a closeness distance problem can deeply enjoy such phases, as it feeds their deepest desire: the longing to be unconditionally loved.  On the other hand, they can begin to feel over-challenged, because this situation is so new and so unfamiliar.  In any case, their sex life will be affected, because harmony and feeling wholeheartedly accepted will cause their sex drive to go flat.
If waiting and hoping, feverishly longing and suffering because of deficiency is gone, and if life is so different from what it was like in childhood, passion dies away as if it had never existed.

She gets this way because men do everything for her


© ParisPhoto/

Karen looks so stunning, that men do a lot to conquer and keep her. But people like her, with a closeness-distance problem, can easily feel overwhelmed by this.  A vicious circle begins:

If they receive a lot of love, they are “full” of it, and there is no space left within, they get an overload and lose interest in sex. A man in love will now double his efforts and try to give her even more in order to get her motor running. But by doing this, he’s flooding her engine.

In those situations, Karen usually broke off the relationship.  But Michael is too important to her, because she feels like having children with him.  And losing this prospect would simply hurt way too much.

           A bit of evolutionary biology

Our biological development has given our sexuality two functions:
One is obviously procreation. The other is bonding.  If two people are tied together by the pleasures of love and sex, it is far easier for them to stick together in hard times and endure the challenges of raising children.

Evidence for this is that women are not only interested in sex during ovulation, but also when a pregnancy is impossible.  So sex is also a tool to create and deepen a bond.

However, this will cause immense stress for women with a closeness-distance problem!
As already mentioned Karen is used to emotional poverty.  Her needs are easily met, and if men shower her with too much enthusiastic attention and affection, she has to withdraw into realms where she can maintain the ascetic atmosphere she grew up in.  A tighter bond through sex becomes unnecessary and would actually tip her boat.

Reconciliation with the inner child

To avoid misunderstandings: None of these reactions are intentional and conscious. And becoming aware of the mechanism doesn’t remove it. But it helps to accept ourselves as we are. Reconciling with the inner child can be an important step towards integrating all parts of ourselves, also those that didn’t seem worthy of love and attention to others before. Feeling rejected is not conducive to developing a healthy self–confidence.  If women can begin to accept themselves as they are, with all that entails, not just sex, there is a good chance they can grow out of past patterns and mature into a personality that can finally embrace the love they’re given.

Casanova had closeness distance problems


© Peter Atkins/

Of course men are not spared. If they grew up in cool and sterile surroundings, they react in quite similar ways.  Some of those men will be completely unable to love and bond, but they need sex.

The more attractive he is, the more likely he is to use his magic and conquer one lady after the other, because he loses erotic interest so quickly.

Giacomo Casanova was perhaps the most famous example for this type of man. Men with less distinct closeness-distance problems will be able to get involved and hold out in relationships, but are often not able to give their partners love and security.


It doesn’t go away

There is no psychological method to turn a person with closeness-distance issues into a person needing closeness.  For the immature brain of a child, chilly families, or parents with little time for their children serve as a social model for a long period of time causing an irreversible neural wiring which configured the CET of a person.

It is of crucial importance that people with this dilemma gain insight into their nature, because it will empower them to significantly reduce the suffering that ignorance and confusion can cause.  To know there is not much you can change about this unpleasant situation is one thing, but what we want to accomplish is that we show people new paths which allow them to live with their closeness-distance problem in a mindful way avoiding the traps of contra-productive behaviour which only helps to reinforce the barriers between two people.

If unfortunate reactions can be avoided before they happen, there is a great chance any new equipment from a coach can be applied.

If the partner of a person with inappetence (disinterest) can learn to reduce pressure on the other, they may be rewarded with results beyond expectation, although closeness-distance issues are generally hard to influence.