About 17% of adults in Western societies are afraid of close relationships or tend to avoid them. While the fear of intimacy can lead to many unpleasant feelings among those who experience this problem, it may also impact those who are in relationships with them.

When one of the partners avoids closeness in the relationship, that can make the other partner feel dismissed and frustrated. When you’re in a relationship with an avoidant person, you may feel like this relationship is unfair, giving emotions and not receiving them in return.

When you’re the avoidant partner, you may also feel uncomfortable, feeling like your partner’s emotional needs are unreasonable or not understanding what they want from you. You may also feel misunderstood hearing your partner say that you’re not there for them and don’t care about them.

Unfortunately, intimacy issues are very common. Some couples experience problems when it comes to physical intimacy, while others are dealing with issues that have to do with mental intimacy. In this article, we will think of what intimacy is, consider some common signs of intimacy issues, and share some tips on how to overcome fear of intimacy.

What Fear of Intimacy Is

First of all, let’s take a closer look at the concept of intimacy. When people mention intimacy, they mean either physical intimacy or the feeling of closeness and the ability to share your emotions and self with someone else. Mental intimacy can be achieved in different situations, as we may share different things with another person.

As a result, there are also different types of intimacy.

  • Sexual intimacy implies sharing your body;
  • Intellectual intimacy means sharing your ideas and thoughts;
  • Experiential intimacy means sharing common experiences;
  • Emotional intimacy means sharing your feelings.

Given that all kinds of intimacy imply sharing something that belongs to us, the fear of intimacy is often rooted in our desire to protect ourselves. However, there is a difference between the fear of vulnerability and the fear of intimacy. Some people who aren’t afraid of being vulnerable may still avoid intimacy because they only allow themselves to be vulnerable to a certain extent.

What Triggers Fear of Intimacy

Sometimes, we might be fully aware of our distrust and avoidance, but in this case, it can be easy to look for explanations in our partners’ behavior. The thing is that fear of intimacy can actually be a response to a partner’s actions and negative experiences associated with the relationship.

For example, it may develop as a result of toxic relationships, infidelity, or a lack of healthy boundaries. Therefore, it’s important to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. If you’re feeling uncomfortable in your relationship, you can talk to a therapist and share your concerns with the professional.

For instance, you can use online counseling platforms that allow you to get the necessary help and advice from virtually everywhere, with no need to commute to a therapist’s office.

However, the fear of intimacy can be triggered not only by negative experiences but also by positive ones, as well. Moreover, the more we care about a person, the more likely we are to be afraid when it comes to emotional and physical intimacy. In this case, the problem might be rooted in past experiences and mental health.

There are many reasons why people might have intimacy issues. Perhaps, the most common reasons are the fear of abandonment or engulfment. Besides, such issues may arise because of anxiety.

●       Anxiety

The fear of intimacy is quite common among people with anxiety disorders. For instance, social anxiety disorder often leads to avoidant behavior and makes people afraid of judgment and rejection. As a result, people with social anxiety may avoid any personal connections and develop a fear of intimacy.

●       Fear of engulfment

Fear of engulfment implies being afraid to lose yourself in another person, as well as the fear of being dominated and controlled. This sort of fear is particularly common among people raised in enmeshed families because children in such families often deal with a lack of boundaries and independence.

●       Fear of abandonment

Similar to the fear of engulfment, the fear of abandonment often develops as a childhood problem. People who experienced physical or emotional abandonment as children may be afraid that their partner will also decide to leave them. As a result, they might feel afraid of intimacy sometimes or even avoid romantic relationships altogether.

What Are the Signs of Fear of Intimacy?

The fear of intimacy may manifest itself in different ways and in all kinds of relationships, including platonic and family relationships. When dating someone with a fear of intimacy, it’s important to understand that the way this fear manifests itself often contradicts the person’s actual desires.

For example, people with a fear of intimacy may want to build a strong close relationship with someone but their fear may make them do things that will actually prevent them from building this relationship. Unfortunately, such people are most likely to unintentionally sabotage relationships that are most valuable to them.

Here are some of the common signs that you might be afraid of intimacy.

●       Perfectionism

Quite often, people are afraid of intimacy because they feel like they are not worthy of love and support. As a result, they may want to prove themselves lovable and perfect themselves. However, such efforts can ultimately result in a lack of intimacy. For instance, a person may distance themselves from their partner to focus on work and demonstrate how much they can achieve.

●       Fear of commitment

People with a fear of intimacy might be able to achieve a certain degree of closeness, but as the relationship develops, things start to go sideways. To avoid the uncomfortable level of intimacy, a person may end the relationship before it gets too intimate. As a result, people with a fear of intimacy often get caught in a never-ending cycle of dating and short-term relationships.

●       Sabotaging relationships

As we’ve already mentioned above, when you’re afraid of intimacy, you may intentionally or unintentionally sabotage your relationships. Sometimes, acts of sabotage may look like simple avoidance, and sometimes, they involve criticizing the partner in order to present yourself as unlovable and motivate them to distance themselves from you.

●       Physical intimacy issues

Sometimes, people who are afraid of intimacy avoid physical contact completely. At the same time, the person may want to be touched and hugged. However, their fear can be stronger. Although sex may not be the most important part of your relationship, it’s important to know the benefits of healthy sex life and think of whether or not your partner is satisfied with how often (or rarely) you two have sex.

●       Problems with expressing needs

Quite often, people with a fear of intimacy experience difficulties with expressing their needs and desires. This problem can be caused by the feeling that such a person doesn’t deserve to be loved. Given that their partner cannot read their mind, these needs and wishes often remain unfulfilled, serving as a confirmation that they don’t deserve love and support.

So, What Can You Do If You’re Afraid of Intimacy?

The reasons why one’s afraid of intimacy may not be obvious, and overcoming this fear may also be quite difficult. Most often, overcoming this fear means reflecting on your thoughts and dealing with your past experiences, which may include childhood traumas.

No matter why you’re afraid of intimacy, you should keep in mind that you don’t need to deal with this problem alone. You can always talk to a licensed counselor who will help you figure out the causes of your fear and suggest effective coping practices that will work in your specific case.

If you don’t have much time for traditional in-person sessions, online therapy platforms like Calmerry allow you to get help with no need to commute to a counselor’s office. You can benefit from relationship counseling and talk to a professional from the comfort of your home. Learn more about the advantages of counseling and therapy to know what you should expect.