It began with him shrugging her hand off from his when they were walking together. It showed up with him shutting down in conversations when she would discuss their relationship. It came out when all she wanted was to be held, and he walked away. She knew they had something special, but he was trying his best to sabotage it. His ‘fear of intimacy, both physical and emotional, was driving a wedge between them, and the relationship that got off to such a wonderful start was heading south.
‘Fear of intimacy’ is a very real problem faced by many couples in their relationship. It is a subconscious fear of closeness that one partner experiences that affect their personal relationships. This fear of physical and/or emotional intimacy is very often triggered by the closest and most meaningful relationships. While dealing with a person who suffers from this fear can be one of the most daunting challenges, things can work out with his/her help.
Why are they ‘distant’?
Most of the time your partner is fighting an inner demon that keeps tugging at his/her self-esteem. The deeper the relationship the more insecure your partner will feel. They may fear abandonment, rejection, loss of control, or feel like they are losing themselves in the relationship. All these come from past experiences that could have occurred in childhood or early adulthood. A person who suffers from a fear of intimacy knows that the only way to deal with the fear is to shut themselves off from anything meaningful. So, if you’re wondering why he/she is distant and does not share their thoughts, feelings, and themself with you, chances are that they are reacting to their fear of intimacy.
It is important to understand that fear of intimacy often comes when the relationship is valued and cherished. It comes from a positive place and therefore merits a strong resolve to be dealt with.
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Signs to look for:
Fear of commitment: You will notice that things were easy breezy in the beginning but as your relationship gets deeper your partner is becoming more withdrawn and less committed.
A serial dater in the past: Superficial relationships with multiple people are far easier for a person who has a fear of intimacy rather than committed long-term relationships.
A perfectionist: In his/her desire to avoid rejection by their beloved, they tend to put in a lot of effort at being ‘perfect’. This could manifest as becoming a workaholic which will, in turn, push people away rather than bring them in closer.
Difficulty in expressing: He/she doesn’t tell you what they want but sulk when they don’t get it. Most people with a fear of intimacy have difficulty in expressing what they want and need from their partners. This comes from a place of feeling ‘undeserving’ and leads to frustration at being unfulfilled for both parties.
Physical intimacy, an issue: Hugs and kisses, if they happen, happen only in the bedroom. Physical contact is a bone of contention for people who fear intimacy. They want it, yet they work to avoid it as well. Opening themselves up sexually to their partner means they have to open themselves up emotionally too, and this drives them to be insatiable in bed but averse after.
Their meanness is pushing you away: Relationship sabotage is common with people with a fear of intimacy. This can be in the form of being overly critical, suspicious, or accusing their partners.
What causes fear of intimacy?
The fear of intimacy is a very complex issue that develops from childhood. It is linked to many situations your partner may have experienced growing up. Neglect from parents, feeling abandoned as a child, growing up in an enmeshed household where they did not feel heard or relevant, being abused as a child -physically or sexually, all of these factors can lead to anxiety disorders that manifest as the fear of intimacy. The person develops trust issues where they may feel that they can only rely on themselves and subconsciously push others away. Essentially the fear of intimacy comes from a lack of and a deep desire for intimacy. It comes from feeling inadequate, unloved, and undeserving.
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Coping with a partner with fear of intimacy
The most important aspect of any recovery process is the acknowledgment of the problem. This has to come from both partners. The person suffering from a fear of intimacy has to understand that they need to work on the problem, and their partner needs to realize that recovery or rehabilitation is a long journey with many potholes.
Here are a few techniques you can employ to overcome your challenges:
- Communication – Talk to each other. Keeping the conversation open and free of judgment will encourage your partner to open up about their insecurities and you will be able to handle them better. Discuss their triggers and see if you can work around them.
- Empathy: Your partner is struggling in the relationship and unknowingly drowning in their own anxieties. What they need most is your empathy at this critical juncture. Knowing that there is a loved one who has their back and understands their struggle is a great weapon to slay the anxiety demons.
- Therapy: Since fear of intimacy comes under the purview of anxiety disorder, seek professional help from a therapist who can guide you and your partner in this journey.
- Mindfulness: Be aware of the challenges ahead, the relationship you are in, and what’s at stake here. Your partner and you have something beautiful and enjoying the fruits of love is one of the most fulfilling aspects of life. Remind each other of the wonderful things you have together and be mindful of the life you enjoy with each other. A relationship grounded in mindfulness and gratitude can overcome any challenge.
- Patience: Change does not happen overnight. Years of conditioning and negative behaviour will take time to alter. You will need to support your partner by giving them time and patience. Things might derail a bit, but don’t give up on them.
Important note: Don’t lose yourself in the relationship
The fear of intimacy, like all psychological problems, is a complex issue. It requires professional intervention along with support from loved ones. While you may be doing your best to help them open up, make sure you yourself don’t get emotionally drained. Remember, nothing – not even a special relationship – is more important than your own mental health and wellbeing. Be realistic in your approach and practical in your expectations. It is not your responsibility alone to fix things. Make sure your partner is fully on board with putting in the time and effort to work on the issue. ‘Fear of Intimacy’ can only be dealt with when both the partners acknowledge the problem and work on it together.
Have you ever been in such a situation?
Tell us in the comments below.