A rough childhood can affect your adult relationships

Many people deprived in their early life may not develop socially and may lack intimacy skills. -SHUTTERSTOCK


Risper came to the Sexology Clinic to seek info on how to win a husband. All her friends and age mates were married, some for as long as 20 years. She was 45, still single, and with no child.

“I have been waiting for Mr. Right,” she said. “I hope to marry and have three children!”

I reminded her that time was running out. Menopause would be setting in a few years and her wish of having three children may remain a dream. I went deeper into understanding why her desire for marriage and forming a family was not forthcoming.

One thing of note was that she had no feelings for sex. She had had three sex partners in her life in which she hoped for marriage. She did not feel emotionally or sexually connected with the men. When they asked for sex she gave in, fearing that if she didn’t they would leave her. As fate would have it, however, the relationships ended after the first sexual encounter.

“I found it awkward having sex and just undressed and told the men to do what they wanted with my body,” she explained, “I always lay there quiet, embarrassed and confused, feeling nothing.” The men would vanish after that.

What struck me was that Risper had a difficult childhood. She was the firstborn in her family. Her dad died when she was seven years old. Her mum fell sick when she was nine years old. She became her caregiver at that early age. Her mum referred to her as a replacement for her late father and depended on her fully for support during the illness until she died two years later. She was 11.

Risper became the de facto parent to her two siblings, a brother, and a sister. Well-wishers supported them from a distance. At the age of 14, she and her siblings were taken up by a missionary couple who helped them through school. Risper qualified as a lawyer from the university and got admitted to the bar at the age of 28. She continued to be the parent to her other siblings and monitored their progress even as the missionary couple offered a hand.

Risper’s story is one that repeats itself in many people who grow up in difficult conditions. When a child becomes the surrogate wife or husband because one or both parents died early; or when the child takes over parental duties for siblings; or when they become the economic provider in the family, then chances are that their future relationships, intimacy, and sex will suffer.

Many deprived of their childhood may not develop socially. They may lack intimacy skills. They may go into extremes of sexual desire, either lacking desire or having exaggerated wants and becoming sex addicts.

This is because by assuming huge adult responsibilities early, they adopt survival skills that suppress several social and intimacy growth and development. They may not be able to connect emotionally with prospective marriage partners and they may fail to trust anyone; sometimes they are unable to let go of self-control and be vulnerable to anyone who promises love and affection.

The inability to connect at an intimate level means that sex may never work for such a person. In other cases, they may disconnect sex from emotional feelings so that it becomes mechanical and meaningless. They may also use sex to relieve emotional pain, thereby getting addicted to it and doing it with all and sundry any time they have stress, a behavior typical of sex addiction.

“I think for me sex has just failed to bring meaning to my world, I feel nothing and I do not miss it,” Risper said, interrupting my monologue, “but is this a condition that can be salvaged?”

Well, if you find yourself in Risper’s situation what you need is therapy. Therapy helps with self-discovery and identification of aspects of social and intimacy growth gaps. It helps with learning what was missed in childhood to make a person whole again. I, therefore, booked Risper for three-month-long sessions.

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