Overview On How To Identify And Overcome Intimacy Issues

Updated March 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised that 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 discuss freely or talk with doctors about, it's believed that many adults in Western cultures live with intimacy issues, fear of intimacy, or intimacy avoidance. From one to ten, where would you rate yourself on an authentic intimacy scale? If it’s something less than a ten, keep reading.

What Are Intimacy Issues?
Learn about how to resolve your issues with intimacy.

The intimacy definition is the ability to true closeness and connection with another person. There are several types of intimacy – sexual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and romantic intimacy (or an intimate relationship). Not only does this include romantic relationships and sex but also other types of human relationships that involve being intimate. Social relationships can be considered intimate too, as in the example of having a strong, healthy relationship with your best friend.

Many people with intimacy issues, especially those in a sexless marriage, have few close relationships outside of their families, and even familial relationships may be distant.

Online therapy can help you navigate these relationships and intimacy issues with a licensed professional. A therapist can help you unmask negative attitudes about intimacy, help you develop more positive emotions around it, and help you have a more satisfying sexual relationship.

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 that person 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. Intimacy in marriage issues are classified as social phobia; it is a bona fide anxiety disorder, and it can have a devastating effect on a romantic relationship.

An example of showing intimacy issues is someone who constantly pushes away people they care about without meaning to or realizing they are doing it. A person with intimacy problems might not desire physical contact with a partner and their sex life may be nonexistent. In extreme cases, someone who struggles with intimacy in relationships may begin to have commitment phobia.

Your issues might even prevent you from attracting the right kind of people into your life or forming intimate relationships. Research shows that a lack of being intimate may lead to a shorter lifespan, not to mention the negative impact it has on your relationships. This is one of the main reasons it's important for people who have fears to find healthy ways to deal with intimacy disorders and emotional intimate discomfort.

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

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

Signs Of Fear Of Intimacy

  • Your relationships tend to be short-lived
  • You have communication problems
  • 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 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 being intimate signs is a sure indicator that you have this fear. 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 intimate connections.

What Can Cause Problems With Intimacy?

Many indirect factors 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 being intimate in adult relationships may show up as communication problems, family problems, and a lack of close intimate relationships. Many adults who have a fear of intimacy can also have attachment issues developed in early childhood. One of the most common fears of being intimate that can lead to problems with being intimate is the fear of abandonment or loss. Abandonment and fear of being intimate are often developed in early childhood and can show up in adult relationships as communication problems and waning being intimate 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 being intimate as a defense mechanism is probably one of the more common causes of intimacy problems. 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 being intimate.

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
  • Having any sort of mental illness
  • Personal history of depression

What Are The Different Types Of Intimacy?

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 problems 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 overcomingfear 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 this fear. Get help from a professional therapist if this fear affects the quality of your life.
  • 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 being intimate begin? Can you remember the first time you realized you had an intimacy issue? Did it happen when your partner attempted to make physical contact with you in an intimate way?
  • Be brave. Opening yourself to others, exposing your true self, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable takes courage. Learning to overcome your fear of being intimate is a leap of faith, where you jump and hope that someone will catch you. Don’t let this fear keep you from taking that leap of faith to the degree it destroys a romantic relationship.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist to heal your fear of being intimate. 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 it, the more stressed and anxious you’ll feel. This cycle of behavior only reinforces the development of this fear. 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 it manifests in your current life) is the first step to overcoming it. An enmeshed family lacks boundaries with intimacy and overinvolvement in your life can cause relationship issues.
  • 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, and 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 your authentic self with the world rather than hiding behind a mask of fear and heavy intimacy issues.
  • Work on your communication skills. Talk with your partner about why intimacy is so hard for you.
  • 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

Learn about how to resolve your issues with 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 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 problems 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 part 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 problems 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 on the intimacy problems you are having.

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 problems 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. An online format is especially helpful for people living with anxiety disorders. 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. A therapist can also help treat anxiety or other mental health conditions. You can choose a time that works best for you or you and your partner and receive counseling in your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar intimacy problems.

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.”

How do I get over my fear of intimacy? Start by addressing the problems 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.

Intimacy progression: 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 an emotional connection.

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

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

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

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

Why does intimacy or being intimate 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 themselves by avoiding intimacy. Low self-worth can also cause someone to stray away from intimacy.

How do you date someone who has intimacy problems?

Dating someone with issues with intimacy 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, a lack of intimacy can strain a relationship. Learning to communicate your thoughts & feelings regarding intimacy is an important step toward fixing issues regarding intimacy. 

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 from close counterparts and friends. This is the case even if only for short periods of time. Our bodies and minds are wired for intimacy.

If you’re still curious about the answer to this question, ask your mental health counselor during your next appointment.

Below are additional commonly asked questions on this topic:

What are signs of intimacy issues?
What are examples of intimacy issues?
How do you fix intimacy issues?
What causes lack of intimacy?
What are the three C's in a relationship?
How do you fix lack of emotional intimacy?
Why is my partner not intimate with me?
How do I explain intimacy issues with my partner?
Can a relationship survive without intimacy?
What causes a sexless relationship?

How do I know if I am asexual? People who are asexual often experience little to no sexual attraction toward others. Being asexual is not a mental illness. 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.

What are the symptoms of abandonment problems? Some of the most common symptoms of abandonment fears include the inability to trust others, a lack of emotional intimacy or being able to be emotionally intimate, 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? Men who are afraid of commitment are sometimes hard to spot. Some men don’t want to admit that they have commitment fears, or intimacy fears, while others grow confused whenever you try to bring up the 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 fears. A guy that is scared of commitment may jump into a sexual relationship too quickly or may not want one at all.

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

Learning to overcome the fear of commitment or possible intimacy issues is not easy.

If you are seeking medical treatment for your problems with intimacy or are concerned about other mental health conditions, 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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