Welcome to Episode 86, Is Fear of Intimacy Holding You Back? Today we will talk about what fear of Intimacy is, where it comes from, and steps to overcome it for a deeper connection.
Fear of Intimacy
Fear of Intimacy is often a subconscious fear of closeness that frequently affects people’s relationships. This fear of intimacy appears in people’s closest and most meaningful relationships.
According to Psychalive.org, psychology for everyday life, “Even though the fear of intimacy is a largely unconscious process, we can still observe how it affects our behavior. When we push our partners away emotionally or retreat from their affection, we act on this fear of Intimacy. These distancing behaviors may reduce our anxiety about being too close to someone, but they come at a significant cost. Acting on our fears preserves our negative self-image and keeps us from experiencing the great pleasure and joy that love can bring.
You can be married for a long time and still fear Intimacy preventing you from having a deep connection. My husband and I have struggled with the fear of Intimacy for most of our marriage. It wasn’t until we sought help five years ago that we realized we had this fear.
Intimacy is the ability to genuinely share your true self with another person and relate to the experience of closeness and connection. Here are different 5 types of Intimacy that I learned in the work my husband and I did together.
- Intellectual: The ability to share your thoughts and ideas.
- Emotional: The ability to share your innermost feelings
- Sexual: The ability to share yourself sexually (physical affection is included.
- Experiential: The ability to share experiences with another. Life events. What’s going on in your life.
- Spiritual Intimacy: The ability to share your beliefs beyond yourself, in a higher power, or individual connection to others and the world. And when I say spiritual intimacy it encompasses any belief system whether religious or not. You can have a spiritual life without being a religious person.
The fear of Intimacy may involve one or more of these types of Intimacy to differing degrees. Meaning your fear of Intimacy in one of the categories may be higher than in another. We did some of these well in my marriage, but some were lacking. For true Intimacy to happen, you must attend to each type of Intimacy in your marriage.
Fear of Intimacy Origins
It comes from our past relationships. Children are naturally open and will tell you just about anything that comes to their little minds. There isn’t a guardedness in children. They are honest and trusting. But because of the nature of life and human interaction, that openness can be shut down. Relationships we have with parents, siblings, extended family, friendships, colleagues, teachers, coaches, romantic partners, and spouses influence our ability to be intimate. Each experience affects all future experiences.
For instance, it will be hard to be intellectually, emotionally, and experientially intimate if your thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences are minimized, criticized, or ignored. The message you’ve gotten is that what you have to say, what you feel, and what is going on in your life isn’t essential so keep it to yourself. After all, if those who have loved and cared for you aren’t safe, who is? Intimacy won’t come naturally if you’ve been hurt by those you trusted. You’ll seek to keep yourself in a cocoon of safety.
If sex was a hush-hush subject in your house, talking about the sexual relationship might feel uncomfortable-even impossible, thus causing the breakdown in sexual intimacy
I’ve found that some people have sexual hangups because of their religious upbringing. In religious circles, sex outside of marriage is a sin, so you might have grown up thinking sex is somehow a dirty thing. The godly, submissive wife who believes that she is responsible for meeting her husband’s sexual needs may not feel she can speak up for herself. And let me say that sex is the most complex topic for couples to discuss.
Spiritual Intimacy comes naturally to a couple that shares a common faith, but if you’ve been shamed for questioning your belief system or some of the tenets of the faith, you’ll be less likely to share those doubts.
If you feel like you have to be perfect or without struggles, you might hide your mistakes or struggles from your spouse. You’d be surprised how many couples do this. You don’t have to be religious to have spiritual intimacy. You don’t even have to have the same belief system as long as you can discuss without trying to change your spouse’s mind.
All these experiences and I could list many more examples, are birthed in this self-defeating message. If you knew me, you wouldn’t like me. If I get close to you, you will hurt me.
You imagine what response you will get in your vulnerability and perceive a threat, whether there isn’t one or not. You play at Intimacy, but you keep most of yourself hidden and safe.
In reality, that is the most natural thing for us to do. But it is a hindrance to meaningful Intimacy with another human being.
I need to say this here. The fear of Intimacy is not always because we aren’t loved or accepted by our spouse. The toxic messages and negative experiences we’ve picked up along our life’s journey can have us feeling so defective that we can’t even accept a loving and loyal spouse.
If you were to ask my husband or me, we would both say we feel loved and accepted, but we couldn’t trust each other to continue to love and accept us as our true selves because of the experiences. If you knew me, you wouldn’t like me. If I let you in, you will hurt me.
I do know that couples both intentionally and unintentionally cause their spouse to retreat from Intimacy due to bad behavior as well. I’ll talk more about creating a safe place in your marriage for Intimacy.
Signs of Fear of Intimacy
Here are some common ways people distance themselves as a result of a fear of Intimacy:
- Withholding affection
- Reacting indifferently or adversely to affection or positive acknowledgment
- Becoming paranoid or suspicious of a partner
- Losing interest in sexuality
- Being overly critical of a partner
- Feeling guarded or resistant to being close
- Keeping the relationship on a safe surface level.
If I keep you at arm’s distance, I’ll be safe.
Overcoming your fear of Intimacy is possible, but it takes risks and some reprograming, and for someone with fear, that might seem like an impossible task. However, if you want an intimate relationship with your spouse, you must give it your best shot.
5 Ways to Begin Overcoming Your Fear of Intimacy.
It’s best for you and your spouse to answer the first 5 questions for yourself first, then take it to the marriage table, which I’ll explain.
First, look at the 5 elements of Intimacy I mentioned earlier. And rate on a scale of 1-5 where you see that intimacy in your relationship. 5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest.
What part of Intimacy are you holding back or pushing away? Is it emotionally, intellectually, sexually, experientially, or spiritually?
Second, once you can identify where you are holding yourself back, ask yourself, “What messages from my life are holding me back? Where or from whom have I received those messages?”
For instance, I heard that what was happening in my life, my thoughts, and my feelings weren’t important. My dad didn’t listen and never showed any interest in what I had to say.
Say you had a very needy parent that overwhelmed you. You might hear the message that if you love and care for someone, they will need too much of you, so you pull away. The prospect is overwhelming.
Third, ask yourself, “When did I start believing this message? Depending on the time in your life, you could have picked up this message at any age. And let me say here that some of the messages you’ve started to believe about yourself have come from your marriage. We don’t always provide the safest place for our spouse to be vulnerable. Being married is living with another imperfect human who can and has hurt us at some point. Even the best marriages carry their own set of hurts that can result in a pulling away.
Fourth, ask yourself, “Is it their truth or mine. Is it a fact?” Most of the time, we take another’s truth as our own. You are not what has happened to you. Any negative messages or experiences in your life should not determine who you are. If you’ve been hurt, betrayed, minimized, ignored, put down, experienced failure, or shamed for being you, it has caused a negative narrative in your head. If that has become your identity, you will have trust issues and a fear of Intimacy. You’ll fear a repeat of those negative experiences. I highly suggest reading books, listening to books, listening to podcasts, and reading articles about healing yourself from your past so it doesn’t determine your future.. There is no shortage of resources if you take the time to look. This is where you have to work on yourself.
Fifth, now think about a time in your marriage you felt connected emotionally, spiritually, physically, intellectually, and experientially. What was different? What changed? Has something in your relationship caused you to pull away?
Take it to the Table
Now it’s time to get intimate. Once you have taken a good look at yourself and your relationship, take 24 hours to process it and then take it to the table.
- Using the previous questions, start a discussion. Share the experiences and messages you might be hearing that make you pull away. What insights have you had?
- I want to clarify that you don’t make connections for your spouse. You only make connections in your own life. Don’t say to your spouse, ” Well, I think you have THIS fear of being intimate, and explain why you think it is. You’ll kill any hope of Intimacy. You might have your ideas about your spouse’s fear and why, but that is their connection to make, not yours.
- Ask your spouse if there is anything you are doing that keeps them guarded or disconnected from you. And vice versa. Determine what would provide an open and safe place for your Intimacy to flourish.
- For someone with fear of Intimacy to begin opening themselves up and becoming more vulnerable, you must be in a safe place. As I said in my own experience of not feeling seen or heard, my husband provided me a safe place to start sharing myself. He didn’t know what that safe place looked like until I shared it.
- To want to share my feelings with him, the safe place I needed is he had to give me his full attention when I was talking to him, not answering emails that came in on his phone. He couldn’t minimize my feelings or tell me I shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. He had to respect my feelings. He had to be interested and have a dialogue with me.
- You must provide a safe place for your spouse to open up. What feels safe to them? What would make them more apt to open up to you?
Let me say that These kinds of conversations are a steroid to Intimacy.
You can move past your fear of Intimacy.
You can develop yourself to stop being afraid of love and Intimacy in a way that gives your spouse access to your deepest self.
You can recognize the behaviors that are driven by your fear of Intimacy and challenge these defensive reactions that thwart love.
You can be vulnerable in your relationship without engaging in distancing.
You might have to work through the anxiety of being close if it is a new path, but you will gradually increase your comfort level as you face your fears.