Partners would be equally invested in developing intimacy in an ideal relationship. But often, the ability to be intimate, incredibly emotionally intimate, is not aligned.
One or both partners might be experiencing the fear of intimacy. 17% of the population is fearful of intimacy in Western culture. It seems counterintuitive when two people love each other, but it does happen, and this can be a source 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.
The partners must connect through emotional and physical intimacy for any healthy relationship.
What is fear of intimacy in a relationship?
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 an intimate relationship with someone. Your mind and body start exhibiting signs of fear of sharing your emotional and physical vulnerabilities.
How does a fear of intimacy influence your life?
A fear of intimacy causes us to struggle when getting 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 fear physical intimacy or are uncomfortable with physical affection, you are not alone.
There are countless numbers of people worldwide 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 into problems in marriages because of how it can affect both you and your partner.
Suppose you believe that you have a fear of physical intimacy. In that case, there are some things you should take into consideration, especially if your fear of physical intimacy is currently affecting your marriage.
10 Causes of the fear of intimacy
What causes fear of intimacy?
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.
Anyone would be uncomfortable with intimacy, be it emotional or physical, is often 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 to communicate.
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.).
It doesn’t always mean that your partner is afraid of sex and intimacy. Still, 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 or dominated in a relationship can lead your partner to try and distance themselves from you.
You are not a dominating person, but your fear of engulfment could result from childhood trauma or being 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 parents are overly dependent on their children, or the kids are emotionally dependent on their parents.
3. Any form of abuse
Verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse or neglect, and even the loss of a parent or a loved one could have led your partner to face difficulty in being physically intimate with you.
4. Loss of spark in the relationship
Not feeling as physically attracted to a partner as you were before. Find your partner struggling with physical intimacy as soon as you cross the initial phase of your relationship. 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.
Watch this video to learn how you can reignite the lost spark in a relationship:
5. Past trauma
Your partner might have gone through a difficult phase of life that profoundly impacted them.
A traumatic experience in the past caused physically intimate gestures to feel threatening, uncomfortable, or even painful.
In cases where an experience in the past may be affecting your ability to be physically intimate, you may want to seek the services of a professional who has experience in helping people overcome their past traumas.
Some people fear abandonment, and they constantly worry that their partner might leave them. This fear is mostly a projection of past events, possibly because a significant adult abandons that person in their childhood.
7. Fear of engulfment
Some people fear giving up control of their life. They are afraid of being dominated or influenced by people and losing themselves. Most people who experience this fear have been controlled too much by someone in their family or seen someone close to them being a victim of it.
It is one of the most common reasons that trigger the fear of intimacy in a person. Anxiety leaves a person feeling unsafe and unheard of among people.
It makes people afraid of others’ judgment, opinions, and rejection. A person suffering from anxiety can quickly develop a fear of physical intimacy.
People who have had their parents physically present and emotionally unavailable can suffer from a fear of physical intimacy. It makes them think that they can’t rely on others and have attachment issues.
10. Loss of a loved one
People who have suffered a loss of a loved one experience reconnecting with the world. They find it hard to let anyone else in as they fear losing these people surrounding them. The thought of the potential loss in the future makes people fear intimacy in their present.
15 Signs of fear of intimacy
Yes, you can have a fear of physical intimacy, but you can also experience emotional intimacy issues. If you find yourself with commitment issues or avoiding opening up to people, you may struggle for intimacy.
Wondering, “Why do I fear intimacy?” or “How to get over a fear of intimacy?”
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 with friends and colleagues. 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.
Overcoming fear 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. It will be uncomfortable at first, but it is worth a little discomfort to deal with intimacy issues!
2. Having impossibly high standards
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 intelligent? 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 high, you may struggle 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.
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 do you believe that your partner needs to make a lot of money?
Can you 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 knows you
There are other fears of intimacy signs that don’t look like a fear of commitment or isolation!
Maybe you have a ton of friends and you date 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 misunderstand.
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.
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.
Please identify what you appreciate about the people you spend around you and try opening up to that person!
You’ll start to build comfort with intimacy, and the other person will probably feel pretty great too!
When you are confident in yourself, you don’t need someone else to validate you.
If we feel validated and confident, we can be less afraid to be intimate because we trust ourselves to be able to handle any outcome.
5. You’re angry
A person who has above-average displays of anger is likely to be a person who is fearful of intimacy.
Instead of sitting down maturely and talking over the things 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 avoid becoming close with your partner by 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 a workaholic, it may signify you are fearful of real-life intimacy. Burying oneself in work is a common way to deflect the obligation of intimacy that a good relationship requires.
Because it is socially acceptable to call oneself a workaholic—indeed, it is a badge of honor. No one but the partner realizes the consequences of living with a person who dedicates little or no time to increase the intimacy in their primary relationship: their marriage.
7. You are more comfortable with online relationships
If you fear intimacy, you may gravitate to cultivating online relationships. These are far easier to maintain than real-life relationships because they can be turned off and back on again.
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 an excellent example of this type of person. They relate to others in their gaming community through 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.
This keeps you at an emotional distance from others because they never let out their natural feelings of fear, vulnerability, weakness, or need. The intimacy-avoidant individual avoids showing their real self, as it would mean uncomfortable feelings or even foreign to them.
9. You don’t show your needs
If there is a problem expressing your needs and wants, you might be suffering from a fear of physical intimacy. One might never express what they feel, want, or need because they feel undeserving of people’s support.
Such people keep waiting for people to understand what they need, due to which, most of the time, their needs get overlooked. It would help them understand that their needs should be spoken openly since no human is a mind reader.
A person who has a fear of intimacy experiences major difficulties with physical contact. This person can either have a constant need for physical contact or altogether avoid it.
So next time you wonder why intimacy makes me uncomfortable, try to find out if you fear intimacy and if you do, focus on how to overcome the fear of physical intimacy and move past it.
11. You have created an emotional wall around you
People who fear intimacy may shut down themselves, try to push their partner away, or ghost their partners for a long time. It is not because someone else is doing something wrong but the baggage of past trauma.
People who prefer intimacy avoidance tend to act in ways that are familiar to them. They try to seclude themselves from others to feel safe.
12. You keep yourself busy
You may overwork or over-exercise as a way to avoid physical interaction. You keep yourself engaged in things other than meeting people or forming stronger bonds.
Such people have good chances of becoming workaholics as they use it as their coping mechanism.
13. You are a pseudo-social person
You may appear as a social person who loves to talk to people or have a lot of friends, but the truth is that nobody knows you. You don’t share anything personal about yourself. Instead, you keep the conversation going about things unrelated to you.
14. You are sexually immature
A lot of people have less knowledge when it comes to sex. You might be very interested in the act yet feel disconnected entirely from your partner. Such intimacy issues arise when there is half-knowledge or excessive consumption of porn which sets false expectations.
A sexually immature person focuses on their expectations rather than concentrating on their partner during sex.
15. You lack confidence
You are not comfortable in your own body and skin. Your self-confidence is low to the point that you feel uncomfortable being intimate with others.
Your lack of confidence makes you run away from physical intimacy. It would help if you talked about these feelings to people so that they can understand where you are coming from. Expressing how vulnerable you feel can help you build a better connection with yourself and others.
How to overcome fear of physical intimacy?
If you are experiencing a fear of physical intimacy, you don’t have to stay that way.
You can change your life and start to overcome your fear so that you, too, can enjoy excellent intimate relationships in the future. Awareness is the first step to healing when you know your avoidant style. You can start to recognize when you avoid intimacy and what triggers your responses.
Becoming self-aware in relation to how you project your fear of intimacy enables you to begin to correct your patterns, enabling you to slowly begin to push yourself and build your trust in others by doing the opposite to what you want to do in these situations.
Take small steps toward ringing the changes and facing your fears, and you’ll soon overcome this fear of intimacy.
If you overwork, take an evening off, make sure you spend it with somebody important, and then remind yourself to be in the moment and enjoy the company.
If you are too hard on yourself, try accepting your flaws in front of someone close to you and watch how they appear to show respect, love, or delight that you love yourself as much as they love you.
Walk in the face of your fears, opposite what you usually do, but do so in small, consistent steps so that you don’t become overwhelmed and watch how intimacy starts to unfold in your life and how your fear of intimacy seems to become a thing of the past.
It’s possible for everyone, and worthwhile too.
To overcome a fear of intimacy, you have to start to let people in, even on a small scale.
How to improve physical intimacy?
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. Still, they may help you get over intimacy 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 optimistic about physically intimate behaviors.
The following are some small ways you can help curb your fear of sexual intimacy in marriage:
Establish slow intimacy
You may have some excellent, attractive qualities, but the lack of ability to open up their true selves to another person can be a deal-breaker relationship.
Take it slow. Instead of kissing or hugging in public, go for a small gesture like holding your partner’s hand or putting your arm around their arm.
The next time you and your partner watch 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.
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 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 its root cause. 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.
Suppose your partner reacts poorly or still doesn’t understand why you fear being intimate. In that case, you may need to have a series of open, clear discussions about your and your partner’s expectations for intimacy in the future.
Skills you may wish to learn
There are some communication techniques that you can learn that will enable you to better communicate with your partner gently. 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.
Know when to leave
It may be that you will never be able to be happy with the level of intimacy that your partner can provide. In that case, you need to take a personal inventory of what you gain from staying in the relationship with this person and what you would lose if you left.
After looking at the costs and benefits, you decide to stay or go.
Treatment of fearing physical intimacy
When it comes to professional treatment for fear of intimacy, you need to make sure that you choose a therapist that is the right fit for you. You need to understand that the fear you have is rooted deep in your past, and you will only connect with a therapist who would provide a therapeutic approach, mutual respect, and trust.
Choose a therapist who would understand your point of view and provide you with the proper process to heal. You might have to visit several therapists before you find one. It would be best to remain transparent about your fear of physical intimacy.
Be as honest as you can about your past, things, and people that might have caused the problem. Some people who have a fear of intimacy tend to have other problems such as anxiety and depression; some tend to become a victim of substance abuse. It would be best for you to ask your therapist to assist you in other problems related to your mental health.
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.