One or both partners can be afraid of intimacy. In fact, in Western Culture, 17% of the population is fearful of intimacy. It seems counterintuitive when two people love each other, but it does happen, and this can be asource of conflict in the couple.
To connect with someone intimately, you have to let your emotional and physical guard down, put aside your pretenses and ego, and approach the other person with an open heart.
For any healthy relationship, it is crucial that the partners connect with each other through emotional and physical intimacy.
What is a fear of intimacy
If you’ve noticed you’re avoiding getting close to someone, you might be experiencing a fear of intimacy. Often we think of intimacy as sexual or romantic, but intimacy is much more than that.
Growing up, we learn to build fictitious walls and shields to protect us from imminent physical and emotional dangers. Over time we start to inhabit roles that present a sense of familiarity and comfort in our lives. This is what we call fear of intimacy.
However, these walls and roles are shuddered and interrupted when we start anintimate relationship with someone. Your mind and body start exhibiting signs of fear of sharing your emotional and physicalvulnerabilities.
A fear of intimacy causes us to struggle when trying toget close to someone emotionally and physically. Moreover, a fear of intimacy in men and women can make anyone feel humiliated and unworthy of love.
So if you think or feel that you may have a fear of physical intimacy or are uncomfortable with physical affection, you are not alone.
There are countless numbers of people around the world who experience awkwardness, uncomfortable feelings, or even displeasure at the thought of physical intimacy.
Unfortunately, this fear of physical intimacy or physical intimacy issues can often translate intoproblems in marriages because of how it can affect both you and your partner.
If you believe that you have a fear of physical intimacy, there are some things you should take into consideration, especially if your fear of physical intimacy is currently affecting your marriage.
Before you can know how to get over intimacy issues or how to overcome the fear of physical intimacy, you have to figure out why you are scared of intimacy or have an aversion to expressions that are physically intimate in nature.
The reason why anyone would be uncomfortable with intimacy, be itemotional or physical, is many times rooted in some past childhood experiences. It can be hard to understand the reasons for fear of physical intimacy unless you and your partner find a way tocommunicate with each other.
There are many underlying reasons why you might be uncomfortable with intimacy.
The most common reasons for fear of intimacy include, but aren’t limited to:
1. Constant judgment
Feeling embarrassed at engaging in certain behaviors in public (kissing, hugging, cuddling, etc.).
Feeling constantly watched or judged by others for yourdisplay of affections towards your partner is known to make many people uncomfortable. It doesn’t always mean that your partner is afraid of sex and intimacy but, they might want certain aspects of your physical relationship to remain private and away from prying eyes.
2. Need for space in the relationship
Wanting more physical space than what your partner wants to give. Fear of being controlled ordominated in a relationship can lead your partner to try and distance themselves from you.
Not that you are a dominating person, but their fear of engulfment could be a product of some childhood trauma or having been brought up in an enmeshed family.
An enmeshed family is one where there are hardly any boundaries meaning that the roles and expectations of family members are not set. Either parent are overly dependent on their children, or the kids areemotionally dependent on their parents.
Not feeling as physically attracted to a partner as you were before. If you find your partner struggling with physical intimacy as soon as you cross the initial phase of your relationship, then it could be a possibility that they never truly bonded with you.
They may exhibit signs of being bored, trapped, or smothered and eventually start disengaging from you. It simply means that you two were not the right match for each other, and it’s better for both of you to move on.
5. Past trauma
Your partner might have gone through a difficult phase of life that deeply impacted them.
In cases where an experience in the past may be affecting your ability to be physically intimate, you may want toseek the services of a professional who has experience in helping people overcome their past traumas.
Read on for some signs of a fear of intimacy and tips for getting over your intimacy phobia. Here are the reasons you may experience a fear of rejection in relationships and tips for managing such intimacy anxiety disorders!
1. Avoiding commitment and deeper connection
Do you find yourself holding back from really committing or connecting? You may have a fear of intimacy.
This can show up with romantic partners but can show up with friends and colleagues as well. You may avoid hanging out too frequently or in intimate settings. You might favor large groups or dates where you are less likely to have to talk or connect 1-on-1.
*Tip: Overcomingfear of commitment and managing your fear of intimacy symptoms is possible if you’re willing to try! Find an accountability buddy (someone you trust and are already comfortable with- like a close friend or a sibling) and ask them to practice vulnerable conversations with you.
Talk about your feelings, fears, joys, and hopes; any topic that feels deeper than you want to go. Yes, it will be uncomfortable at first, but dealing with intimacy issues is worth a little bit of discomfort!
Do you have a checklist for your friends and lovers? Things like they need to make X amount of money, be fit, tall, funny, and smart? Maybe they need to have attended a certain kind of college, wear specific clothes, or work in a certain field?
There’s nothing wrong with having values for your friends and partners. Still, if your list is particular and your standards are ridiculously high, you maystruggle with relationships and intimacy.
By setting crazy high standards, you avoid connecting with a real human being who doesn’t tick all the boxes but might still be a great friend or romantic partner for you.
*Tip: Figure out the “why” for your “what.”
For example, I want a partner that makes a lot of money. “A lot of money” is what… but why do you want a partner that makes a lot of money?Do you want stability? To be able to travel? Do you want to have nice things or a reliable car? Why is it that you have a belief that your partner needs to make a lot of money?
Is it possible you can fulfill these things for yourself or be fulfilled without a partner making a lot of money? Could you figure it out together?
Explore what’s possible, and you might find your “checklist” diminishing!
3. Having lots of relationships, but feeling no one really knows you
There are other fears of intimacy signs that don’t look like a fear of commitment or isolation at all!
Maybe you have a ton of friends and yourdate regularly, but you still feel alone or like no one knows you. You have plenty of people around you, but you aren’t opening up and connecting with them. Despite having a full social calendar,you still feel alone and misunderstood.
You may push hard to make lots of new connections, only to sabotage and break them later. This can leave you in a revolving door of friends and lovers, with little to show for it.
*Tip: Decrease your number of events and increase quality! Try slowing yourself down a bit and be more selective of who and how you spend your time.
Identify what you appreciate about the people you spend your time with and try opening up to that person about it!
“I really appreciate that you listen without judgment so I can share my thoughts openly.”
“Your great sense of humor makes it easy to open up.”
You’ll start to build comfort with intimacy, and the other person will probably feel pretty great too!
In the video below, Lana Blakely shares her experience of loneliness when one experiences disconnection from oneself and from the environment.
Trying to be perfect and convincing yourself you aren’t can be a fear of intimacy.Low self-worth can lead us to push others away.
If you don’t believe you are pretty enough/thin enough/smart enough/ anything enough… then you won’t believe anyone else can see that either.
This can lead to problems with intimacy.
If you aren’t happy with what you see in the mirror, it can make you self-conscious and afraid of connecting in a physically intimate way with someone else.
*Tip: Work on your inner critic. The inner critic loves to pick you apart, tell you you aren’t good enough and make you feel awful.
A person who has above-average displays of anger is likely to be a person who is fearful of intimacy.
Instead of sitting down in a mature way and talking over the things that are bothering them, you explode in anger. This quickly shuts down any possibility of a civil conversation, and thus you unconsciously avoid going deep into the real reasons behind their anger.
It’s what is called an adaptive technique. It is an effective way to not become close with your partner by instead becoming angry.
It is an unpleasant way to live for both the intimacy avoidant person (because they dwell in anger) and the person that loves them (because they become the target of the anger). This calls for therapy!
6. You spend more time at their job than with you
If you are becoming aworkaholic, it may be a sign you are fearful of real-life intimacy. Burying oneself in work is a common way to deflect the obligation of intimacy that agood relationship requires.
Because it is socially acceptable to call oneself a workaholic—indeed, it is a badge of honor. No one but the partner actually realizes the consequences of living with a person who dedicates little or no time toincrease the intimacy in their primary relationship: their marriage.
7. You are more comfortable with online relationships
If you have a fear of intimacy, you may gravitate to cultivating online relationships. These are far easier tomaintain than real-life relationships because they can be turned off and back on again at will.
They do not demand an investment in sharing anything emotional.Online relationships allow you to feel like he has a community but without the cost of contributing emotions, honesty, and authenticity to that community.
Gamers are a good example of this type of person. They relate to others in their gaming community through the use of an avatar, which allows them to distance themselves and their feelings from the others in the gaming group. While this works perfectly for the intimacy-avoidant person, it is difficult for the people who love him in real life.
8. You never show their real self
If there is a lack of intimacy in a relationship, you may work to maintain the “perfect image” when in public.
This keeps you at anemotional distance from others because they never let out their real feelings of fear, vulnerability, weakness, or need. The intimacy-avoidant individual avoids showing their real self, as it would mean feelings that are uncomfortable or even foreign to them.
How to overcome a fear of intimacy? How to deal with intimacy issues?
The following fear of intimacy treatment may not apply in certain extreme cases, but they may very well help you get overintimacy issues and decrease your fear of intimacy in small, seemingly insignificant ways.
Over time, these small gestures may go a long way towards making you feel more comfortable and even positive about physically intimate behaviors.
The following are some small ways you can help curb your fear of sexual intimacy in marriage:
Take it slow. Instead of kissing or hugging in public, go for a small gesture likeholding your partner’s hand or putting your arm around their arm.
2. Show affection
The next time you and your partner are watching a movie together at home, sit close to them on the couch. You can even put your arm around them or hold their hand!
Instead of a long, dramatic kiss, try giving your partner the occasional peck on the cheek or lips. It will show them affection without requiring as much intensity.
4. Reflect on the whys of your relationship
If you are a person who has a fear of intimacy, why have you chosen a partner who values and needs a good deal of intimacy in your personal relationships? Observe the various breaking points of the relationship.
Open up, and it can only be possible with your active participation. Try to talk to your partner about your fear of physical intimacy and figure out what is the root cause of it. Seek professional help if you need to.
If your partner doesn’t know why you aren’t being physically intimate, then there is no way for them to help you or help improve the situation. Whenever possible, you should share the reasons for your fear with your partner. Healthy communication is the key to overcoming intimacy concerns.
Focus on self-care. Relax your mind and body, meditate, do yoga or exercise. This would help you control the build-up of stress due to anxiety.
If your partner reacts poorly or still doesn’t understand why you fear being intimate, you may need to have a series of open, clear discussions about your and your partner’s expectations for intimacy in the future.
7. Skills you may wish to learn
There are somecommunication techniques that you can learn that will enable you to better communicate, in a gentle way, with your partner. These include sharing your thoughts on what you think you may be feeling and why you think this.
This method of communication can provide your partner with an emotional mirror that can help them increase their awareness about your avoidant behavior.
8. Know when to leave
It may be that you will never be able to be happy with the level of intimacy that your partner is able to provide. In that case, you need to take a personal inventory of what you are gaining fromstaying in the relationship with this person and what you would lose if you left.
Only after a true look at the costs and benefits should you make the decision to stay or go.
A fear of intimacy hits most of us at one point or another. Being intimate and emotionally connected can be scary. You don’t have to keep pushing people away out of fear. Practice the tips above, and notice the connections you can build.
**If the future of the marriage is on the line over intimacy issues or you see intimacy issues signs in marriage, take the save my marriage course or consult a relationship coach or therapist.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Mary Fisher is a writer experienced with helping couples understand marriage, love
and relationships. She completed her studies in 2011 and is currently involved in
writing articles on intimacy, relationships and family.