Strategies To Identify, Understand, And Overcome Intimacy Issues

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, one-on-one support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Intimacy issues can take many forms. For some people, the word correlates directly to sex— while others might view it as an emotional closeness shared with a romantic partner. From the definition of intimacy to how love should be expressed, miscommunication can lead to many relationship difficulties. Read on to learn more about identifying, understanding and how to fix intimacy issues with your partner.

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Are emotional intimacy issues affecting your relationship?

What is intimacy? Physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, and more

Intimacy is defined by many as the way you can connect with and relate to others. It can take many forms depending on the type of connection and the parameters of the relationship. 

We’ve summarized several different forms of intimacy below: 

  • Physical intimacy is considered by many to be the bodily closeness between yourself and another person. It can range from platonic hugs and other types of physical touch between friends to sexual attraction and contact between romantic partners.

  • Emotional intimacy can be defined by many as the sharing personal fears, feelings, and thoughts with someone close to you. Depending on the nature of the relationship, this intimacy can be romantic or platonic. 

  • Intellectual intimacy generally occurs when two people share ideas, life perspectives, and opinions with one another in mentally stimulating conversations that often lead to learning or an expansion of mindset. 

  • Spiritual intimacy can involve feeling safe and validated in sharing your personal ideas and beliefs about a higher power and the purpose of life. 

How intimacy affects relationships

When the partners in a romantic relationship have a strong sense of emotional connection and intimacy, they may likely both feel loved, secure and valued. Both partners might also trust each other without reservation and communicate regularly about their thoughts, emotions and ideas.

What causes intimacy issues in a romantic relationship?

There are many possible causes that can underlie intimacy concerns. Understanding the range of causes can help you to reach a higher quality of life within your relationship, as all members continue to support each other. 

We’ve summarized common root causes below: 

Fear of Abandonment—If you are constantly worried that your partner will leave you, much of your attention might go toward preventing that outcome or seeking reassurance that they won’t go. Many people may experience the fear of abandonment after a parent or other pivotal adult disappeared from their lives as a child.  

Fear of Engulfment—Some people might worry about “losing themselves” in a relationship, with their individual identity being consumed by their role in the couple. Many who grew up in enmeshed families with few boundaries may have this fear.  

Additionally, anxiety disorders and related conditions, such as avoidant personality disorder, can make it difficult or overwhelming to share emotional intimacy with someone, possibly due to an intense fear of rejection, judgment, or ridicule. The fear of intimacy can result in emotional distance and other intimacy problems that can make it challenging to have a satisfying relationship.

Possible risk factors for intimacy issues

Many people can trace the risk factors of intimacy issues back to early childhood development and the consistency of the care and emotional support they received from parents or caregivers. Children can establish an attachment style—otherwise known as how they relate to others and form emotional connections—during their childhood and adolescent years.   

As a result, common risk factors for intimacy concerns can include: 

  • Abuse, neglect or traumatic experiences during childhood

  • Parents or guardians who did not provide emotional support or encourage healthy boundaries in children and adolescents.

  • Death of a parent or partner

  • Verbal abuse

  • Mental illness

Identifying and understanding intimacy issues

Emotional intimacy issues can be hard to detect early because they don’t happen all at once. Instead, partners might experience a gradual decline in the intimacy level until the problem becomes significant. 

This can be a concern if partners fall into unhealthy routine(s), possibly taking their partner’s presence for granted. Often, close, intimate relationships require continual effort, empowering both partners to actively work to maintain the bond between them and enjoy a healthy relationship. 

What do intimacy issues look like?

Intimacy issues can take many forms in many people.

Some of the most common intimacy issues can include presentations such as: 

  • A fear of commitment or serial dating

  • Difficulty accepting physical contact

  • Trust issues and not being able to feel safe in a relationship
  • Relationship-related sabotage

  • Perfectionistic tendencies

  • Trouble expressing emotional needs

  • Poor communication skills or avoidance of “deep” conversational topics with partners 

  • Difficulty trusting your partner with important decisions or information. 

  • Unwillingness to share goals, dreams, or plans for the future

  • Avoidance of physical and sexual intimacy, actively refraining from spontaneity or a sense of adventure related to your sex life.

If you frequently feel lonely and without support, your relationship may have emotional intimacy issues. Online therapy and other supportive strategies, like seeking professional help through in-person couples counseling, can support all members of a relationship through times of transition or strain and can be worth the investment for many. Alternatively, you might also try sitting down to have a calm discussion about working together to rebuild the emotional intimacy in your relationship. 

Seeking therapy on an individual level can also be helpful. If you live with a mental health condition or struggle with low self-esteem that may be contributing to relationship issues, spending time learning coping strategies from a mental health professional can be challenging but rewarding. When you’re fully engaged in your own healing process, you may find that your relationship naturally improves as your self-esteem grows and you feel less afraid to speak up for your basic needs.

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Tips for navigating conversations about intimacy issues

Intimacy issues can seem overwhelming to address. Here are some helpful tips that can help you to tackle possibly difficult subjects: 

  • Listen to your partner’s concerns without judgment. It can be helpful to take responsibility for your actions and openly discuss what you can do to make them feel valued in the relationship. 

  • Consider where and how you feel the lack of intimacy in your emotional and sexual relationship. This can help you to acknowledge your experience, correctly expressing those concerns to your partner.

  • Create a safe, understanding environment for discussion. This can help you both feel comfortable giving and receiving emotional vulnerability and intimacy. 

  • Set and respect healthy boundaries. 

  • Make a plan for how you will move forward together. This can help you all to grow closer as you work to address your intimacy issues. 

  • Work with a licensed therapist. You can do this either in individual therapy or couple's therapy. 

How to treat intimacy issues

There are many possible ways to address intimacy issues in a relationship. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one of the commonly recommended treatment options for intimacy issues. Working with a licensed therapist can help you explore your past experiences and how they relate to the way you think and act today. 

In addition to therapy, building an evolving repertoire of coping skills can help you manage intrusive, negative thoughts and feelings that could interfere with the emotional intimacy in your relationship. We’ve summarized some of the most common possible strategies below: Accepting Uncertainty As A Necessary Part Of Life

Uncertainty can be scary, and for many people, it can lead to a fear of giving others the power to hurt them. Rather than live in fear, you can be intentional about your efforts to accept that a certain amount of uncertainty is a necessary part of life—actively working to live with it. You can then evaluate the potential reward you could gain from a healthy, loving relationship against the risk you take. 

It can be helpful to remember that humans can have a biological predisposition toward social connections. While staying distant can defend you from the emotional pain of a lost love, it also safeguards you from everything else—good and bad.  

Develop future goals together

One possible way to remain connected is to plan for a future together. You may take time to daydream about what you’d do if you won the lottery or design your dream house together. No matter what you choose to do, establishing a list of goals that both of you work toward accomplishing gives you a common motivation and a way to relate to each other moving forward. 

Understand that changes don’t occur immediately

It can be helpful for many to acknowledge that rebuilding the bond between yourself and your partner will take time and continued effort. It can also help to accept that while the intimacy may have deteriorated over time, you are both aware of the decline and are working toward fixing it. 

Additional tips for building intimacy with your partner: How to fix intimacy issues

  • Put down your phone and interact directly with your partner. Technology can interfere with relationships when one partner feels ignored. 

  • Make yourself emotionally available for your partner. While it might require you to be vulnerable, intimacy can flow in all directions, allowing as much impact for all relationship participants as possible.

  • Maintain your own support network, interests, and social circle alongside what you share with your significant other. Many studies have suggested that continuing your individual connections while with a partner can help you find a balance between your identity and your role in the relationship.

  • Establish time with your partner as a top priority in your life. A place to start for many can be to schedule regular date nights—communicating daily to maintain your emotional intimacy. 

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Are emotional intimacy issues affecting your relationship?

How therapy can help rebuild intimacy in your relationship

Working with a licensed couple's therapist can help you and your partner learn communication skills to effectively express your feelings and needs, possibly allowing you to reconnect emotionally. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can offer flexible appointment formats like phone, online chat and video call, putting the support and guidance of a mental health professional just a click away. This can encourage many partners to seek treatment due to the reachability and possible benefit of the service. 

Is online therapy effective for couples? 

According to multiple recent studies, online couples therapy can be just as effective as in-person intervention.  Many patients said the convenience of addressing sensitive personal topics was easier from the comfort of their own homes, and the lower costs of virtual treatment are a tremendous draw for a lot of people.

Takeaway

Intimacy can be vital to a close, functional and romantic relationship where both partners feel loved and valued. The information presented in this article may offer insight into how emotional intimacy can affect relationships, how to spot problems and how couples therapy can teach the communication skills necessary to help you stay connected with your partner. Online therapy can be a support to many couples as they begin the healing process. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

Gain insight into healthy intimacy

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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