Fear of intimacy is understandable—and common—but the inability to overcome that fear will wreck your relationships. First, you need to recognize the subtle fear-of-intimacy signs, then you have to address the problem: Here’s what the experts recommend.
You’re angry—a lot
There are many types of anger, and it helps to figure out what type you’re expressing. A deep, subconscious fear of intimacy can rear its ugly head, showing up in response to a relationship that is becoming uncomfortably close, and one way this fear can manifest is via anger. “Constant explosions of anger indicate immaturity, and immature people cannot form intimate relationships,” says John Mayer, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand. Everyone gets angry sometimes, but if you find feelings of anger bubbling up constantly, or inappropriately, a fear of intimacy may be lurking underneath. The fix may not be easy, or quick, but communicating your feelings to your partner can help. “Talking it out is key here. Foster vigorous, frequent, honest, and open communication. Don’t deny these intimacy issues exist, and put them on the table with the person you are interested in,” suggests Dr. Mayer.
You’re scared not to be perfect
We all want to be loved, warts and all, but that takes trust, and the ability to risk rejection. “People in relationships are constantly asking themselves, in one way or another, if they can trust the other person. Can they show their flaws, or risk being embarrassed? The way to move past this fear is to take measured risks,” says licensed marriage and family therapist, Jenn Kennedy. Being loved for who you really are is an incredible gift, but you have to show your partner the real you, if it’s ever going to happen. “Give your partner the chance to show up for you, and see how it works out. If it goes well, risk doing something bigger, and more important,” suggests Kennedy, who also stresses the importance of verbalizing your fears, and feelings. “This is a great way to help the other person soften, and be more open. For example, if you say ‘I’m afraid you won’t respect, love, or find me attractive if I do this,’ It lets your partner express a willingness to not reject you,” she explains. Nobody’s perfect. No matter who are you, or might have done in the past, coming clean about it will free you up, allowing emotional intimacy to take the place of fear.
You’re sexually immature
Maybe you love sex, but can’t connect with your partner during the act—ever. If so, your intimacy issues may be fostering a level of sexual immaturity, which has nothing to do with chronological age. “Sexual immaturity can show up as an excessive interest in porn, or in sex acts, as opposed to making love. Sexually immature individuals may also insist upon using toys, or the accouterments of sex, rather than concentrating on their partner. It includes inattention to the other’s needs, and sole concentration on their own need for sexual release, or gratification,” says Dr. Mayer.
People with a fear of intimacy may also recoil from sex, altogether. Both ends of the spectrum display an inability to emotionally let go or to communicate intimately. Dr. Mayer suggests letting yourself be emotionally naked towards each other, so that you are not afraid to bring up your fears, and insecurities. If you are able to do this in all aspects of your life, it will be easier to do it sexually, as well. “Remember, by doing this, you are allowing the other person to get to know the real you, and that’s the best path to intimacy and love,” he explains.
You’re there in body, but not in spirit
You can share a home and still have intimacy issues. Maybe it’s the television set which is always on, even during dinner, or the video games you play incessantly on your own, in the basement. You don’t have to be attached to your partner at the hip, but if you never take the time to talk to each other, fear of intimacy may be the reason why. “Simple, nonverbal ways to build intimacy include eye contact, staying off technology, and being present for your partner. Physical contact, such as cuddling in the morning, or a real hug when you come back together after work, can be especially powerful,” says Kennedy. “These expressions of intimacy communicate to the other person that they matter to you. It builds safety, which results in deeper intimacy,” she adds.
Your record precedes you
If looking back yields nothing but a steady stream of relationships that didn’t work out, your fear of intimacy may be to blame. It can be agonizing trying to find a negative pattern in your own behavior, but find it you must, if you’re ever going to break free, says Kennedy. Dig deep, and look at all of the important people in your life, not just your romantic partners. Fear of intimacy can also affect familial relationships and friendships. “If you always prefer to spend time in groups, rather than one-on-one, that may represent a fear of intimacy,” says Kennedy. As reported in PsychAlive, fear of intimacy which runs this deep may have its roots in childhood. No one has a perfect upbringing, but if yours is getting in the way of your ability to be an adult, working it out with a therapist may be your best bet.
You prefer emotional affairs to your real-life relationship
If you find yourself talking through all the intimacy issues in your relationship with someone else, that may represent fear of intimacy. This emotional relationship may be especially damaging if the someone else is a potential sexual partner. It won’t matter if you’re connecting online, at the office, or in a bar. What matters here is that you’re not communicating honestly with your partner or working on your relationship. “Emotional affairs are all about shattering trust. When you go behind your partner’s back, and share information you wouldn’t dare talk about if your partner was standing there, that’s an emotional affair,” explains life coach and author, David Essel. He warns, if you’re leaning on your emotional affair for support and self-validation, this is a big-time fear-of-intimacy red flag.
Even if you’re not having sex within your emotional affair, acknowledging that it is hurting your primary relationship is the best, first step you can take towards rectifying the situation. Communicate honestly with your partner, and yourself, about what this connection represents to you, and recognize how much easier it is to be pretend-intimate with someone you hardly know, rather than going deep with the person you truly love.
You’re married to your job
Being a workaholic is not a badge of honor, but rather, may be a powerful sign of emotional intimacy issues. Worse, long hours can be hard on your physical health. “When we bury ourselves in busy work, it might be because we are unconsciously avoiding intimacy. Many people who avoid intimacy do so because they are trying to dodge feelings of sadness, shame, or anger. By staying busy all the time, you can easily ignore those feelings, and avoid having to deal with them,” says A.J. Marsden, PhD, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College, in Leesburg, Florida. “If you’ve been with your partner for a while, it’s easy to fall into a routine, and evade intimate moments. Start a weekly date night, but alternate who gets to pick the activity each week. This helps you share your intimate interests, while at the same time staying in a rather positive environment,” suggest Dr. Marsden, who also suggests doing things together at home, such as cooking a meal or growing a garden. “While doing these activities, talk about what you like, and don’t like, and ask each other questions,” she adds. It may also help to do nothing together, letting the day take you where it wants to go. Just make sure to keep your phones off, and your communication skills on. And don’t forget to make time for sex. Sex is important in building intimacy in a relationship. It also confers a lot of health benefits.
You’re wearing a mask
Maybe you’re an unending perfectionist, and it’s ruining your life, or maybe, you’re afraid to take your mask off and show fear, worry, or concern. According to Dr. Marsden, another subtle sign of emotional intimacy fear is always being incredibly positive. “People who avoid intimacy, want to be perceived by others as always being in a good mood, and never getting angry, or upset about anything. By forcing this positivity all the time, you’re not sharing empathy, and therefore, avoiding deep connections with others,” she explains. This can also manifest as always needing to be the strong one, in every situation, or by being perfectly perfect, all the time. These techniques all mask an inability to show your true, warts-and-all self, to other people. “By not allowing others to see your vulnerability or mistakes, they are less likely to grow close to you.”
You keep your partner away from your people
Can’t stand the thought of your mom sharing old baby pics with your honey? Or maybe it’s fear of the stories your best friend from back in the day will tell. Keeping your partner away from your family, or friends, is a clear sign of a fear of intimacy. It allows you to remain segmented in a way, almost guaranteed to eliminate true, complete knowledge, of who you are. Your behavior may be fueled by the anxiety of embarrassment about your old self. Maybe you were chubbier (or clumsier, or bad in school) than you want to let on, or maybe you don’t wish to share your family’s closeted secrets with someone new. No matter what the reason, it’s unlikely that you can go the distance in a romantic relationship, and never let them know about your family, or past. The fix? Coming clean about what you’re hoping to hide, biting the bullet, and scheduling a get together with a relative, or friend. Start with one person, rather than Thanksgiving dinner, and you’ll be more likely to work yourself up to full family gatherings, and full intimacy, over time.
You lack confidence
If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, it’s hard to let someone else in. “The ability to be intimate with another, results from a personal sense of confidence, and balanced self-esteem,” says Dr. Mayer. Without those fundamental attributes, it’s easy to fear being mocked, or not taken seriously. Lacking confidence often results in intimacy issues with someone else. The way to combat this is often a solo excursion but still requires letting your partner know your feelings.
Originally Published on Reader’s Digest