How To Overcome Intimacy Issues

By: Sarah Cocchimiglio

Updated July 01, 2020

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.

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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 as many as 17 percent of adults in Western cultures live with intimacy issues, fear of intimacy, or intimacy avoidance.

What Are Intimacy Issues?

Intimacy is the ability to share true closeness and connection with another person - this includes romantic relationships and sex, of course, but other types of relationships can also experience intimacy and intimacy issues. 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 - like "Boy, 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 intimacy issues 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 can, of course, 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 in dealing with intimacy disorders and emotional intimacy issues.

Lack of intimacy in your relationships and physical intimacy 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 intimacy issues can be social isolation, increased risk for depression or substance abuse (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 him or her
  • You are a perfectionist
  • You have anxiety at the thought of being touched
  • You are consumed with the fear of being rejected or abandoned

Of course, not every single one of these fear of intimacy signs is a sure indicator that you're suffering from 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.

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What Causes Intimacy Issues?

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 suffer from 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 signs 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 issues that are complicated by related issues of abandonment. Abandonment and fear of intimacy issues 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 intimacy issues.

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

  • 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 abuse in a parent
  • Unhealthy family relationships
  • Rape
  • Personal history of depression

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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, don't overreact, or get 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?

Fear of intimacy is common and normal. 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, take courage. Learning to overcome your fear Intimacy is a leap of faith, where you jump and hope that someone will catch you. Don't let the fear of intimacy being there to 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 issues 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 issues. 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 issues began (and where they manifest in your current life) are the first steps to overcoming them.
  • If your partner has indicated, he or she is willing to stay the course with you while you work through your fear of intimacy issues, appreciate his or her 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 issues. 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.

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When Your Partner Is Avoiding Intimacy

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 he or she is ready to work on overcoming these intimacy issues and on improving your relationship.

If you care enough about your partner and your relationship to put in the effort and see things through, talk to your partner openly and honestly. Let him, or her 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 him or her 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 a therapist who specializes in couples' therapy, who can help you navigate the veritable quagmire of intimacy issues. Couple's 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 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.

What is an intimacy disorder?

An Intimacy disorder is a mental health condition that develops as a result of being afraid to make close or intimate connections.

Can you have a relationship without intimacy?

While you can have a relationship without intimacy, it's not recommended. People are socially inclined and often need physical and emotional support of closed counterparts and friends. This is the case even if only for short periods of time. Our bodies and minds are wired for intimacy.

However, this is a question you should definitely bring up to your mental health counselor during your next appointment.

Why am I afraid of physical intimacy? There are a number of factors behind your fear of physical intimacy. Someone struggling with a fear of physical intimacy may have trust issues, low self-esteem, or past experience of physical abuse. People who suffer from avoidant personality disorder often avoid physical intimacy as well. 

Why does intimacy make me uncomfortable? Intimacy can make someone uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. Some people’s brains are wired to avoid intimacy if their basic needs were not met during their childhood. Someone who has recently gone through a breakup may subconsciously attempt to protect themselves by avoiding intimacy. Low self-worth can also cause someone to stray away from intimacy.

How do you date someone with intimacy issues? Dating someone with intimacy issues can be challenging at first. You want to open yourself up to them so they understand that you are there for them whenever they are ready to begin tackling the issues. Encouraging your partner to open up about their past can also be helpful. However, you will want to avoid being pushy and overwhelming. Remember to take baby steps throughout the process. Practicing patience will be important.

Can a lack of intimacy ruin relationships? If left unaddressed or unfixed, a lack of intimacy can strain a relationship. Learning to communicate your thoughts and feelings regarding this subject is an important step toward fixing it. 

How do I know if I am asexual? People who are asexual often experience little to no sexual attraction toward others. Some people who are asexual still seek a romantic relationship with others. However, they are void of experiencing sexual attraction toward their partners. Contrary to popular belief, some asexual people do engage in sex. Living as an asexual person is not a singular experience that everyone can easily relate to.

What are the symptoms of abandonment issues? Some of the most common symptoms of abandonment issues include the inability to trust others, a lack of emotional intimacy, the tendency to push others away, and the need to control one’s partners or friends.

How do you know if a guy is scared of commitment? Guys who are afraid of commitment are sometimes hard to spot. Some men don’t want to admit that they have commitment issues while others grow confused whenever you try to bring up your relationship. If he has had negative experiences in the past or fails to understand the positive side of committing to a serious relationship, he may have commitment issues.

How do I get over my fear of intimacy? Start by addressing the issues at hand and reflecting back to when they began. Speak with a licensed mental health professional to learn new coping strategies for healing and resolving fear of intimacy issues.

Does physical intimacy lead to emotional intimacy? While physical and emotional intimacy can go hand-in-hand — these are two different types of connections. Physical intimacy may lead to emotional intimacy or other necessary factors that are present for developing and emotional connection.

What are the signs of intimacy issues? Having trouble being physically or emotionally close to your loved ones and close friends or family can be a sign of intimacy issues. This is especially true if this is a recurring behavior and not an isolated incident. If you think you're struggling with a fear of intimacy, contact a licensed therapist or counselor for support.

Why would a man avoid intimacy? Men and women may avoid intimacy in order to avoid feeling the pain of disconnection or loss. Fear of intimacy issues is based on each person's life, history, and temperament. Each person who avoids intimacy or has a fear of intimacy issues has specific factors that contributed to its development.

What is the fear of intimacy called? Fear of intimacy is often called intimacy disorder, intimacy issues, or fear of intimacy.

What are the signs of commitment issues? Some signs of commitment issues are unavailability, excuses, procrastination, and disinterest in making long-term plans or goals with a partner.

Learning to overcome the fear of intimacy and commitment is not easy. If you are seeking medical treatment for your intimacy issues, the licensed mental health professionals at BetterHelp may be able to help you. Contact the BetterHelp team today to get started.


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