I have been on both ends of intimacy problems. I have dated men who had a significant fear of intimacy. And I have also struggled with my own issues. But there is one thing that I have learned from my journey.
Fear of intimacy can destroy the very relationships that you value the most. I've also learned that there is no shame in getting professional help. A therapist can help you work through your issues and can help your partner to work through theirs. The first step is recognizing the problem.
If you are in a relationship with someone who suffers from intimacy fears, it is essential that you understand the dynamics at play. When your partner shuts down or pulls away, it doesn't mean that they are rejecting you. I know it's hard to hold on to that thought when you feel rejected.
But for people who fear intimacy, they pull away not because they don't want you, but instead because they fear that you will reject or abandon them. The good news is that you can work through those fears and end up closer than you ever imagined possible.
What Does It Mean To Have A Fear Of Intimacy?
People who have an often subconscious fear of intimacy have a genuine fear of opening up and getting close to another person, either emotionally or sexually or both. And fear of intimacy is more common than you might think. Dr. Hal Shorey estimates that around 17 to 20 percent of adults have this fear. Some psychologists believe that number is even higher.
As you can imagine this can be a significant problem in relationships. It's frustrating and upsetting for the person who feels rejected or closed out by a partner who fears intimacy. It can also be very upsetting and confusing for the person with the fear. But with some effort and trust-building, that fear can be overcome.
Warning Signs That Your Partner Has A Fear Of Intimacy
People have a fear of intimacy for different reasons. It can occur because of something that happened in childhood, a troubled relationship with a parent, previous unhealthy relationships, or even trauma. Many times the person with the fear cannot explain it or put it into words. Sometimes it is obvious. But other times it can be difficult to understand whether or not someone is afraid of intimacy. There are some common warning signs to be on the lookout for if you're worried that your partner has a fear of intimacy.
There are also risk factors that can make a person more likely to fear intimacy. Some of those risk factors include verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, and the loss of a parent. People who had parents who were sick or mentally ill or had substance abuse problems are also very prone to fear intimacy. It is extremely common in people who were taught not to trust strangers, people who have had a history of depression, and people who have experienced rape.
THEY HAVE TROUBLE EXPRESSING THEIR FEELINGS AND BEING VULNERABLE
Does your partner have difficulty opening up or getting close? Do they withdraw from you whenever you have a disagreement or argument? Are they unable to be vulnerable in the relationship? These are the most common signs that someone has a real fear of intimacy. That fear can manifest itself in different ways.
Maybe your girlfriend won't let you see her without her make-up. Or maybe your boyfriend won't talk about past painful experiences. It's a severe problem if you're continually trying to portray an image of perfection. Real people are messy and complicated and flawed. If you never show that then you never give your partner the opportunity to love you for you, flaws and all.
THEY HAVE A HISTORY OF UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
Another warning sign is that your partner has been in many toxic relationships. Do they have a history of terrible break-ups or have they been involved with abuse or cheating? Or maybe your partner has a lack of relationship history at all. It's a classic sign of fear of intimacy if a person has no relationship experience.
Some people make a habit of choosing partners who are unhealthy or emotionally unavailable. This way they never have to worry about intimacy. People who fear intimacy also tend to fear abandonment and rejection. Getting involved in toxic relationships is one way that they protect themselves from those fears.
THEY ARE SEXUALLY JUVENILE
Adults who are sexually immature fall into two general groups. One group loves sex but tends to be into self-gratification rather than being interested in making love to another person and focusing on their pleasure. The other group avoids sex altogether.
In both cases, these people have a fear of intimacy and getting close. People who avoid sexual intimacy usually aren't emotionally available either. It's a fear of letting another person see the real you. And again, people who are sexually immature also fear rejection and abandonment.
THERE ARE TRUST ISSUES IN THE RELATIONSHIP
Does your partner have trouble being real and authentic with you? Do you have difficulty being honest and open with your partner because you worry about how they'll react? Does your partner often accuse you of cheating? Then you may have trust issues in your relationship.
You will never be able to be genuinely intimate with another person if there are trust issues. Trust is what allows us to be vulnerable with another person. Without trust, you can never feel truly safe in a relationship.
Common Myths About Fear Of Intimacy
It can be extremely tough to be in a relationship with a person who has intimacy issues. In many ways, fear of intimacy is easy to misunderstand. For example, when your partner shuts down and pulls away, it's not usually because they are rejecting or abandoning you. It's much more likely that they are afraid that you will leave or reject them. Here are some of the most common myths about intimacy fears.
I CAN FIX YOU
You're making a big mistake if you think that you can change your partner and their fear of intimacy. Healthy relationships are not about fixing the person or their problems. If you want long-lasting intimacy, then don't try to manipulate your partner out of their fears.
Instead, you should work on being open and honest with your partner. The best thing you can do is to give them a safe space to examine and work on their issues. It's not your job to fix them. It's their job to help themselves. You should concentrate on acceptance, not judgment.
YOU HAVE TO SPILL YOUR GUTS TO BE INTIMATE
One of the most common myths about intimacy is that it requires spilling your guts constantly. It doesn't. There are plenty of quiet people who thrive in relationships. It's not necessarily about what you say. It's about being your authentic self. If you're ordinarily verbose, then it could certainly help you to spill your guts to your partner now and then.
There are no hardened rules for real intimacy. It can look very different in different relationships. You may feel the closest to your partner when you're having a sincere heart to heart talk. Others may feel most connected when they're doing something simple like sharing a cup of coffee in the morning or quietly holding each other in bed.
EVERYTHING SHOULD BE EXCELLENT ALL OF THE TIME
The best relationships go through ups and downs. Everything is not continually going to be smooth sailing. Being intimate with a partner doesn't mean that your relationship will always be amazing. It won't. Instead, being intimate with your partner means that you are being open and honest, and sometimes that can cause friction.
FEAR OF INTIMACY MEANS THAT YOU DON'T CARE
If you are in a relationship with someone who has intimacy fears, it doesn't say that they don't care. It's quite the opposite believe it or not. Intimacy issues tend to show up in relationships that the person truly cherishes. Almost always it is positive emotions that trigger the fears rather than negative ones.
How Fear Of Intimacy Manifests Itself
Fear of intimacy can play out in many different ways. It's worth noting that people who have these issues very often have misunderstood motivations. Many times the fear causes people to pull away or do things that cause problems in the relationship even though they may sincerely desire closeness.
People who fear intimacy very often sabotage their relationships. And that is the most pronounced when the person genuinely values the relationship. It's ironic really. But it's something that you should understand if you're with a person with intimacy issues.
One of the specific behaviors commonly seen is fear of commitment. Serial daters are very often afraid of intimacy. Some other behaviors include perfectionism, difficulty expressing needs, relationship sabotaging, and difficulty with sexual contact.
What Does Real Intimacy Look Like In A Healthy Relationship?
Intimacy is an essential part of a healthy, loving relationship. That close bond makes people feel safe and secure and connected to a partner. It's amazing how much a relationship can grow and change for the better over time when you have real intimacy.
Even if you have a super strong connection initially, the more time that you spend together and the better that you get to know each other the more profound your bond will get. Emotional intimacy in a long-term relationship can be much more fulfilling than the emotional intimacy that you feel in a brand new relationship.
Javanne Golob, LCSW, is an expert in cultivating emotional intimacy and she says that "Emotional intimacy is the glue which holds a long-term relationship together." Golob says that there are three things that long-term couples who enjoy deep intimacy have in common. For one thing, couples who share emotional intimacy also tend to share physical intimacy. They also communicate well. And the third thing that they all have in common is that the partners feel safe in the relationship.
Ways To Overcome Fear Of Intimacy
The best way to overcome intimacy fears is to tackle them as a team. Practice and patience are the keys. No matter which one of you has a fear of intimacy, it can have detrimental effects on a relationship. But there are some things that both of you can do to begin working through these issues.
THINGS YOU CAN DO IF YOU HAVE A FEAR OF INTIMACY
First of all, don't be afraid of therapy. Frankly, I think that everyone should have a shrink. The truth is, it can work wonders. But even without a therapist, you can work on coping skills and accepting uncertainty.
Another thing that you can do if you have a fear of intimacy is to have self-compassion. That's really hard for a lot of people. You should also examine your past and listen to your inner dialogue. Set goals for yourself and share them with your partner. And remember that you won't get over your fear overnight. It takes time. Be patient and give yourself the time that you need.
THINGS YOU CAN DO IF YOUR PARTNER HAS A FEAR OF INTIMACY
The best advice that I can give you if you love someone who fears intimacy is, be patient! It is quite common to hit setbacks. You should expect that. It's also important to give your partner a safe place. Do your best not to react with anger or personal insult when your loved one pushes you away. Remember that they are not rejecting you. They are instead afraid that you will reject them.
It's also important that you give regular reminders of your love, both in actions and in words. Let your partner know that you are working with them. It is going to be a team effort. Your loved one needs support and to know that you have a willingness to listen whenever they are ready to share. And finally, you should be aware that intimacy fears usually show up in relationships that the person truly values. Intimacy issues aren't generally a problem in superficial relationships.
The Bottom Line
The fear of intimacy has ruined many great relationships. I know it's ruined several of mine. But it doesn't have to ruin yours. People with intimacy issues are scared. They're afraid of rejection and ridicule and abandonment and maybe many other things. And because of those fears they pull away or shut down emotionally.
It's really hard not to take that personally, I know. But if you love your partner and want to help them work through their trouble with intimacy, then you have to realize that it's not about you at all. What your partner needs is reassurance and compassion and patience. It takes hard work, but I promise you that it is worth it. Having a loving relationship that includes true emotional and physical intimacy can give you more fulfillment and a deeper connection than you ever imagined possible.
We'd love to hear about your experience. If you suffer from a fear of intimacy or if your partner does, tell us in the comments section below how you have dealt with it. And tell us what you did to help your relationship.