A couple snuggles on the couch, representing how to overcome fear of intimacy

Intimacy is the essence of deep and meaningful relationships. But it can also be pretty darn scary. When you struggle with fear of intimacy, opening yourself up to others can make you feel threatened and overexposed. It can feel much easier to put up an emotional wall that separates you from authentic connection, but this will hinder your personal growth and keep you from forming close, satisfying relationships. 

Many couples counseling clients and individuals in therapy show up to my office wanting to overcome fear of intimacy. Resolving ‘intimacy issues’ can be an important step in your personal growth journey, and I’ve created this article to show you the way. We’ll explore how you can recognize the signs of fear of intimacy, both in yourself and your partner, and most importantly, how to overcome fear of intimacy to pave the way for deeper, more fulfilling connections.

What Is the Fear of Intimacy?

The fear of intimacy, often referred to as “intimacy anxiety” or “intimacy avoidance,” is the fear of sharing your true self with others. It creates a barrier to emotional closeness and can leave you feeling isolated, disconnected, and alone in relationships. This fear shows up as an aversion to vulnerability, a deep-rooted anxiety about rejection, and an overwhelming fear of emotional pain or abandonment. 

People with a fear of intimacy are sometimes labeled “emotionally unavailable,” and it’s true that they can struggle to connect on an emotional level with others. But by addressing the anxiety that comes up in intimate relationships, they can form closer connections. 

What Causes Fear of Intimacy?

Understanding the origins of fear of intimacy is paramount to overcoming it. It can be caused by a variety of things, such as past traumatic experiences, broken trust in previous relationships, a lack of emotional safety in childhood, or even cultural differences that discourage open expression. It can also be influenced by deeply ingrained personal beliefs and self-esteem issues. Recognizing these roots is the first step to overcoming the fear of intimacy.

Why the Fear of Intimacy Is a Problem in Relationships

The fear of intimacy is a barrier to individual wellbeing and happy, healthy relationships. It hinders authentic connection, leaving partners feeling unheard, unknown, and emotionally isolated from each other. It often results in shallow, superficial relationships that lack the depth and trust necessary to develop into long-lasting, loving partnerships. For personal growth and for healthy relationships, overcoming the fear of intimacy is essential.

Signs You Fear Intimacy 

Here are a few of the signs that you might struggle with the fear of intimacy: 

  1. Avoidance of Vulnerability 

You instinctively guard your emotions and shy away from sharing your true feelings, thoughts, and desires. You may omit certain details about your past, or avoid being vulnerable by always saying you’re “fine,” rather than opening up about what you’re struggling with. 

  1. Affection Makes You Uncomfortable

Do you ever squirm when someone close to you leans in for a hug or a kiss? If affection makes you uncomfortable, that could be a sign that you fear intimacy. 

  1. Push-Pull Behavior

You may exhibit a push-pull dynamic, where you desire intimacy but then fear it when it becomes too real. This is especially true for those with an avoidant attachment style

  1. Shallow Relationships

Your relationships may lack depth, authenticity, and emotional connection, leaving them feeling lonely and unfulfilling. You may have been told by past partners that you’re emotionally unavailable. You also may believe that you are chronically dating people who are emotionally unavailable themselves (which may be true — people who are afraid of intimacy often unconsciously seek out relationships with people who are emotionally unavailable. This is especially true for those with an anxious attachment style). 

  1. Difficulty Trusting 

You find it hard to trust others, believing that you will be hurt or be betrayed if you open yourself up too much.

  1. Difficulty with commitment

People who fear intimacy often end relationships when they’re on the verge of becoming more serious. If you’ve ever felt panic at the prospect of making things official with a partner, moving in together, meeting each other’s friends and families, or getting engaged, that can be a sign that you fear intimacy. 

Signs Your Partner Fears Intimacy 

If you suspect your partner is afraid of intimacy, here are a few signs to watch out for: 

  1. Inconsistent emotional availability 

Your partner may seem emotionally available at times, but then pull away when things become too close. This may leave you feeling anxious and insecure about the relationship

  1. Fear of commitment 

They exhibit hesitation or commitment-phobia in the relationship, resisting putting a label on things or progressing the relationship, especially after the honeymoon period. 

  1. Difficulty sharing vulnerabilities

Your partner struggles to open up about their feelings, thoughts, or personal history. They may shut down in conflict especially, or always be “fine” when you ask how they’re doing. 

  1. Communication challenges

Difficulties in communication or a pattern of avoiding conflict or avoiding difficult conversations. Your partner may deflect from intimacy by making jokes, changing the subject, or through people pleasing behavior, like agreeing with whatever you say but not offering their own perspective.

How to Get Close to Someone with ‘Intimacy Issues’

Getting close to someone with intimacy issues requires patience, understanding, and open communication. It helps to build trust through consistent and reliable behavior. Creating an emotionally safe space where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings at their own pace, without judgment, is also key. Be aware of their boundaries and respect them. If you are struggling to get close to a partner with intimacy issues or fear of intimacy, couples counseling can be an effective tool for deepening your connection and strengthening your emotional bond. Developing a close relationship with someone who struggles with intimacy takes time and patience, but with your support and care, they can gradually open up and learn to trust.

How to Get Over the Fear of Intimacy 

So, if the fear of intimacy is a problem for you or for your partner, what can you do about it? Here are a few steps you can take that will help you to get over the fear of intimacy and begin to nurture a deeper, more intimate connection. 

  1. Self-exploration

Begin by understanding your fear of intimacy through self-reflection. Identify its sources and the beliefs that reinforce it. Fear of intimacy can be based in difficult past experiences (like betrayal trauma, abandonment, or abuse), in low self-esteem, social anxiety, and more. Working with a good therapist can help you identify the roots of your fear of intimacy so that you can resolve them. 

  1. Build trust gradually

It’s healthy and normal to let intimacy in relationships develop at a gradual pace. The antidote to fear of intimacy is not rushing intimacy intimacy or trusting people before you’re ready. Be discerning about how much you share and with whom, and don’t push yourself too hard if intimacy is feeling uncomfortable. Instead, you can communicate about the anxiety that’s coming up for you as you try to open up and what you need from them to work through it. 

  1. Challenge negative beliefs

People who fear intimacy often develop self-protective beliefs to justify their hesitation about getting close. They may start believing negative narratives about their partners (“they wouldn’t understand if I shared this with them” or “they’re just being nosy and intrusive”) rather than looking inward and realizing that the fear is coming from inside of themselves. If you notice yourself finding reasons to remain walled off, challenge those narratives and consider that they may not be based in reality.

  1. Build emotional safety

Focus on mindful communication and deep listening, especially if your partner has a fear of intimacy. Open, honest, and respectful dialogues are essential for intimate relationships because they create emotional safety. You can build emotional safety in your relationship by validating your partner, practicing empathy, and allowing all feelings to be expressed without judgment. 

The Role of Therapy and Counseling in Overcoming Fear of Intimacy

Working with a therapist or couples counselor can be transformative in overcoming the fear of intimacy. Individual therapy and couples counseling offer a safe space to explore your emotional barriers, learn to trust again, and practice vulnerability. Working with an LMFT can be especially helpful, because their expertise in relationship dynamics can guide you toward healthier, more meaningful connections. Studies have shown that narrative therapy and narrative couples therapy are particularly useful in overcoming the fear of intimacy.

Support to Overcome Fear of Intimacy

Intimacy can be scary, but it’s essential for building authentic, loving relationships. By learning the signs of fear of intimacy in yourself and your partner, you’ve already taken a significant step forward. If you’d like help to overcome fear of intimacy, I encourage you to seek out support from a good couples counselor or individual therapist. 

And if you’d like to do this important work with a clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — For more advice on forming close, connected relationships, check out my “Emotional and Sexual Intimacy” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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