How To Identify And Overcome Intimacy Issues

By: Sarah Cocchimiglio

Updated August 26, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

Although it’s not a topic most people would like to discuss freely or maybe even talk with their doctors about, it is believed that many adults in Western cultures live with intimacy issues, fear of intimacy, or intimacy avoidance.
What Are Intimacy Issues?
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Intimacy is the ability to share true closeness and connection with another person. Not only does this include romantic relationships and sex but also other types of relationships that involve intimacy. Many people with a fear of intimacy and intimacy problems have few close relationships outside of their families, and even familial relationships may be distant.

It may seem like the banter that gets tossed around the locker room or at the office water cooler might be something like “Wow, does he have intimacy issues?”, but it’s a serious thing. It’s not imagined, and it’s not something that your partner is using as a lame excuse not to commit. Fear of intimacy is classified as social phobia; it is a bona fide anxiety disorder.

An example showing fear of intimacy is someone who constantly pushes away people they care about without meaning to or realizing they are doing it. Your issues with intimacy might even prevent you from attracting the right kind of people into your life or forming intimate relationships. And although the fear of intimacy won’t kill you (you live without intimacy in your life), it will likely be a lonely and unhappy life, perhaps even a shorter one. Research shows that lack of intimacy may lead to a shorter lifespan, not to mention the negative impact it has on your relationships. This is one of the main reasons people who have a fear of intimacy need to find healthy ways to deal with intimacy disorders and emotional intimacy discomfort.

Lack of intimacy in your relationships and physical issues can cause health issues. People who rate higher on the fear of intimacy scale report more physical ailments and mental health concerns. Many people aren’t aware that fear of intimacy can lead to physical symptoms like chronic pain and mental health issues like anxiety disorder, or depression.

Other effects of issues with intimacy can be social isolation, increased risk for depression or substance use disorder (or both), short-term serial relationships, and relationship sabotage.

Signs You Might Have A Fear of Intimacy

  • Your relationships tend to be short-lived
  • You have communication issues
  • You push people away when they try to get close to you
  • You sabotage relationships when they begin to get serious
  • You avoid physical and sexual contact
  • You have an insatiable sexual appetite
  • You have low self-esteem
  • You experience inexplicable bouts of anger
  • You have difficulty establishing close relationships
  • You have difficulty trusting other people
  • You have difficulty sharing feelings with others
  • You struggle with showing your emotions
  • You avoid commitment
  • You usually seek out partners who are obviously not right for you or relationships that are unstable
  • Your partner accuses you of not being there for them
  • You are a perfectionist
  • You have anxiety at the thought of being touched
  • You are consumed with the fear of being rejected or abandoned

Not every single one of these fear of intimacy signs is a sure indicator that you have a fear of intimacy.But if you think any of the above apply to you, it might be worth a bit more self-reflection on the subject. Speaking with a professional counselor or therapist can help resolve communication issues and teach you new ways of building intimacy.

What Causes Issues With Intimacy?

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There are many indirect factors that can contribute to developing a fear of intimacy. While no specific factor has been named as the number one contributing factor, the following are common experiences that people who have a fear of intimacy often report.

Childhood experiences, such as neglect or a history of abuse, may contribute to developing a fear of intimacy in adulthood. Fear of intimacy in adult relationships may show up as communication issues, family problems, and a lack of close intimate relationships. Many adults who have a fear of intimacy also have attachment issues developed in early childhood.

One of the most common fears of intimacy that can lead to intimacy problems is the fear of abandonment or loss. Here the problem lies with people who have a fear of intimacy, complicated by related issues of abandonment. Abandonment and fear of intimacy are often developed in early childhood and can show up in adult relationships as communication issues and waning intimacy over time.

If the thought consumes you that your partner might leave, it makes sense that you would shy away from investing your whole self as a means of self-preservation. Avoiding intimacy as a defense mechanism is probably one of the more common causes. You can’t get hurt by anyone if you don’t let them get close to you. This is a direct route to the development of issues with intimacy.

Other possible risk factors for developing a fear of intimacy include the following:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Loss of a parent
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Abandonment by a parent
  • Illness or mental illness in a parent
  • Substance use disorder in a parent
  • Unhealthy family relationships
  • Rape
  • Personal history of depression

What Are The Different Types Of Intimacy?

You may not even be aware that you have a fear of intimacy issues. If your partner raises the issue, try to avoid getting angry or defensive. Ask yourself what fear of intimacy signs you may be displaying to your partner. Are you having communication issues or does the problem lie in a deeper fear of intimacy?

If fear of intimacy comes up in your relationship, remember to treat your partner with grace. It can’t be easy to be in a relationship with someone who withdraws and shies away from a genuine connection. In some cases, fear of intimacy may even cause you to reject your partner’s sincere love and affection. Many people who fear intimacy aren’t able to recognize when their partners and loved ones are displaying genuine signs of affection.

Here are some tips to help with overcoming fear of intimacy issues:

  • To begin overcoming fear of intimacy issues, be open to your partner’s observations and concerns. Be willing to talk openly and honestly about what is causing the fear of intimacy. Get help from a professional therapist if fear of intimacy issues become worse.
  • Start thinking about why you feel this way. Giving your feelings a name can help you to process your memories and experiences. When did your fear of intimacy begin? Can you remember the first time you realized you had an intimacy issue?
  • Be brave. Opening yourself to others, exposing your true self, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable takes courage. Learning to overcome your fear of intimacy is a leap of faith, where you jump and hope that someone will catch you. Don’t let the fear of intimacy keep you from taking that leap of faith.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist to heal your fear of intimacy. If you learn how to rework and reframe negative thoughts, you might be able to shut down your inner critic and gradually resolve your fear of intimacy with loved ones.
  • Tension and fear of intimacy  are a vicious cycle. The more stressed and anxious you are, the more you’ll avoid intimacy. And the more you avoid intimacy, the more stressed and anxious you’ll feel. This cycle of behavior only reinforces the development of fear of intimacy. Try yoga or meditation to relieve tension and agitation. If that’s not your style, just setting aside some time for something you enjoy every day should help.
  • Reflect on your history. Identifying where your fear of intimacy began (and where they manifest in your current life) are the first steps to overcoming them.
  • If your partner has indicated that they are willing to stay the course with you while you work through your fear of intimacy, appreciate their dedication and commitment to making an effort to overcome your fears.
  • Make small changes. Practice being vulnerable as you learn to overcome fear of intimacy. Talk to new people, gently push your emotional envelope. Over time, you’ll be able to work your way up to taking larger risks and making bigger changes. Eventually, you’ll learn that there are benefits to intimacy and sharing your authentic self with the world rather than hiding behind a mask of fear and heavy intimacy issues
  • If talk therapy isn’t enough, in extreme cases, supplemental medication may be an option to reduce anxiety and other symptoms that result from fear of intimacy.Please consult with your doctor or primary care physician before considering any medication options.

When Your Partner Is Avoiding Intimacy

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If you think or know your partner is dealing with intimacy issues or if you feel your partner is pushing you away, resist the temptation to abandon ship or overcompensate by smothering them. If you chase after someone with intimacy issues, chances are it will make them withdraw even further from you. If you value the relationship and think your partner does too, try to be supportive, composed, and non-judgmental. Maintain a balanced distance until your partner lets you know that they are ready to work on overcoming these intimacy issues and on improving the relationship.

If you care enough about your partner and the relationship to put in the effort and see things through, talk to your partner openly and honestly. Let them know you want to understand their feelings and fears, without judgment, and that you’re willing to work through these issues as a team.

Don’t force your partner to talk about the past or experiences they aren’t comfortable discussing but let them know you’ll be ready to listen if and when they ever do want to talk about it.

Don’t give up. Healthy relationships take time and effort, on the parts of both parties, and as long as you’re both willing, you can make it work.

If open dialogue, patience, and understanding haven’t been enough to resolve your partner’s intimacy issues, you might also offer to make an appointment to speak with an in-person or online therapist who specializes in couples therapy and can help you navigate the veritable quagmire of issues with intimacy. Couples counseling offers a safe environment for partners to express themselves. Some people find it easier to open up to a therapist than on their own with their partner, and the therapist can also give feedback and advice.

If you’re considering online therapy, a study has shown that it’s just as effective as face-to-face therapy. In some cases, couples found online therapy more productive because they were able to focus on their issues more intently. They also experienced feeling less judged than they would have with traditional therapy. Overall, although there was a screen between them and the therapists, clients had a more positive experience with online therapy. This study also indicated that online therapy is also effective for treating mental illnesses, such as PTSD.

If you think it would be helpful to chat with a professional either on your own or with your partner, BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist specializing in intimacy issues who can help you work through your vulnerabilities, fears, and concerns. You can choose a time that works the best for you or for you and your partner and receive counseling in your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Janie has been listening to my concerns and the things that are affecting me and my relationship. We have just started working together but she has given me a lot of good things to think about, recommended some reading, and is going to send me some prompts to think of ways to phrase my questions and thoughts to my wife in ways that do not make her fell that I am attacking her or that she needs to be defensive. I look forward to continuing to work with Janie to hopefully save my marriage.”

“Cameron has helped me navigate some incredibly challenging things within my relationship. With his help I’ve developed confidence to be a more assertive person. Therapy had helped me understand myself and my partner much better, in addition to implementing practices and taking action to improve a situation whereas I otherwise may feel stuck or hopeless. I really loved that he took the time to get to know me and my history before trying to “tell me what to do.” I feel like he really understands how my mind operates and therefore can give great, valuable advice, in addition to being a comforting sounding board.”


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