Fear of Intimacy in Relationships and Dating
Fear of intimacy is a term we often hear in the world of dating, romance and relationships but few understand what it really means. Is fear of intimacy some kind of psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo that has been popularized in self-help books or is this condition real?
More important, if fear of intimacy truly does exist, what are the warning signs you should look for?
Fear of Intimacy Defined
A working definition of the term, fear of intimacy, is as follows: an individual who has fears and problems being emotionally and physically close to another person.
Fear of intimacy is a very real psychological issue that is has been clinically explored, reviewed and documented in both men and women using the Fear of Intimacy Scale. Many people mistakenly believe that only women develop a problem with intimacy. This is a myth and simply not true.
Fear of Intimacy Clinical Issues
The current research suggests that people who have a fear of intimacy may suffer from some kind of a social phobia, which falls under the umbrella of an anxiety disorder according to the DSM, which is short for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
This means the problem is deeply ingrained in the person and has been part of their emotional and psychological makeup for a long time with its causal roots being traced to childhood.
Fear of Intimacy Causes
There are a number of reasons a person might develop problems with intimacy in personal relationships. Some of these causes include but are not limited to:
- An abusive childhood
- Child sexual abuse
- Drug addiction
- Self-esteem problems
- Body image issues
- Performance anxiety
- Previous abusive relationship
Fear of Intimacy: 5 Warning Signs
There are a number of potential warning signs you should look at for when assessing if someone you are romantically interested in may have problems formulating close relationships, which is sure-fire indicator of possible fears of intimacy.
What follows are five warning signs. Please note that the signs listed here are somewhat generalized, meaning you have to take all of the signs and put them together in order to arrive at a place of thinking intimacy issues may be at play.
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!
1. Sketchy relationship history
A person struggling with a fear of intimacy will often have a difficult time committing to one person in a romantic relationship. As a result, their relational history is usually scattered at best, hallmarked by a lack of longer term romantic relationships. Some of become involved in open relationships because they are unable to emotionally and physically commit to one person.
2. Problems communicating emotions
Individuals with a fear of intimacy have a hard time communicating their emotions. They may find it difficult to say the words I love you and other terms that demonstrate emotional affection. While these terms may be uttered during bedroom activities, they are usually devoid of emotional depth.
A good way to know if you are dealing with someone who has a fear of intimacy is to notice how many times you find yourself trying to get them to express how they feel. You may also notice they only communicate surface feelings during private, bedroom related activities.
3. Engages in forms of infidelity
A person who has intimacy fears may engage in various forms of infidelity. The reason is distracted in nature, meaning they believe on the subconscious level that they need to be distracted from their primary relationship in order to avoid what they may be truly feeling about their wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or significant others. Infidelity can be physical, emotional or both.
4. Addicted to new relationships
Persons who have a fear of intimacy may be relationship addicts. While this may sign may be difficult to reconcile in the context of fears of intimacy, it makes perfect sense.
Relationship addicts by definition cling to the newness of a given romance during the honeymoon period. Once that period ends however, they often move on to someone new to replicate the feelings and emotions experienced during the previous relationship. It is the “high” of the honeymoon that causes them to jump from one dating experience or relationship experience to another.
5. Emotionally and physically distant
Generally speaking, people who have a fear of intimacy can seem cold and distant in romantic relationships. This distance is both emotion and physical. You will find yourself feeling aggravated and confused about how they feel about you and your relationship, primarily because they simply don’t know how to express themselves.
While it may seem the person can have moments where they are warm and affable, their constant emotional state is withdrawn, hallmarked by a blunt affect.
Fear of Intimacy Treatments
One thing you need to understand now is that you will not be able to “fix” this person or somehow magically get them to “love” you. Fears of intimacy cannot be treated in couples counseling either. Instead, the person has to recognize the problem exists in their lives and then go about the business or reaching out for help and guidance.
This necessarily means the person you are involved with will need to talk to a helping professional, such as a relationship counselor, on their own. Trying to repair past emotional wounds that happened during a person’s childhood through couples counseling or marriage therapy is never a good idea.
With that shared, it is not uncommon for fears of intimacy to surface during couples therapy sessions. This can happen as counselor begins to help the couple work through various relationship challenges and material from the past is uncovered from both people in the session.
If you currently dating someone who you suspect may have fears of intimacy, the five signs mentioned here may help you to better understand what you are dealing with. Keep in mind that men and women can have fears of intimacy, including people who are straight and gay.
If you looking for more insight about fear of intimacy, a great book to read is Relationship Saboteurs by Gunther. This is a book that many of the couples and marriage counselors at our center recommend to clients. It is chocked full of insight with helpful tips!
If you are looking for couples counseling services or individual therapy, please give us a call at the Couples Counseling Center at 773.598.7797 or send us a confidential note through our secure online contact form.