Does it seem like every time you start to get close to your partner, she or he finds a way to prevent you from connecting on a deeper level? If so, your partner may be struggling with fear of intimacy.


In order to understand fear of intimacy, it is necessary to understand what defines intimacy. As reported by Miodrag Popovic (2005), the word intimacy originates "from the Latin term ‘intimus’ which means ‘innermost’ and refers to sharing what is inmost with others" (p. 31).

Intimacy can be used in reference to various kinds of relationships and generally refers to mutual intellectual, experiential, emotional, or sexual expression which fosters feelings of closeness or connectedness. The four major types of intimacy are:

• Intellectual – exchanging thoughts and ideas
• Experiential – participating in activities together
• Emotional – sharing feelings
• Sexual – sensual sharing


Trust is an important part of creating intimacy within a relationship. Problems with intimacy often stem from childhood experiences that set the pattern for how one deals with trust. It is likely that your partner survived some form of trauma that made it difficult to trust others. Such trauma could have included the death or separation of a parent or guardian. Your partner may have also experienced physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional abuse.

As a result of losing the freedom of expression and the autonomy to develop and enforce personal boundaries, your partner may have learned to cope with trauma by using unhealthy strategies. Following a traumatic experience, your partner may have become overly trustful and involved in relationships that led to exploitation, or your partner may have resolved never to trust anyone. Extreme methods of coping like these are intertwined with fear of intimacy.

Signs of fear of intimacy may include: avoiding physical/sexual contact or having an insatiable sexual appetite, difficulty with commitment, history of unstable relationships, low self-esteem, bouts of anger, isolation, difficulty forming close relationships, difficulty sharing feelings, difficulty showing emotion, and difficulty trusting.


I. Create a Safe Space. When your partner feels you are getting too close, he or she will (often unconsciously) act in ways that push you away. It can be difficult and scary for your partner to accept that he or she deserves your love, respect, and affection. It is sometimes easier for your partner to resort to behavior that will maintain the pattern of rejection and isolation that is familiar to him or her. Yet, it is likely that one of your partner’s greatest fears is that he or she will be abandoned or rejected. Your partner may also fear that getting close to you will lead to being controlled by you. Break the cycle by maintaining a balanced distance – resist the urge to withdraw from your partner, but avoid infringing on his or her personal space. Try your best not to react to your partner’s distancing behavior with anger or frustration. Instead, try to understand the reasoning behind your partner’s behavior. Your partner needs you to be supportive, patient, and nonjudgmental.

II. Confront Fears. If intimacy issues have become a problem in your relationship, let your partner know that you want to understand why the two of you are not connecting and that you want to work through these issues together. Don’t force your partner to talk about past issues that may have affected his or her ability to trust, but let him or her know that you will be ready to listen when the time is right. When your partner has indicated that he or she is ready to work on improving your relationship, follow his or her lead. You may also consider using the following exercise to facilitate the process. This exercise is aimed at helping you and your partner identify problems as well as positive aspects associated with your relationship. You and your partner should complete the exercises alone without any distractions. Fill in the blanks with the first thought that comes to mind. When both of you are done, take turns reading your answers out loud to each other. At this point, you can replace the words “my partner” with the word “you” for a more personal feeling. Encourage your partner to read his or her answer to the first item and you can then read your answer to the first item and so on until each of you finishes all 10 items. Be open, attentive, interested, and really engage in a discussion about your answers to the following items:

1. I feel safest when ____________________________________
2. Trust is _____________________________________________
3. Sex is _______________________________________________
4. When my partner touches me, I __________________________
5. My greatest fear is _____________________________________
6. I like when my partner _________________________________
7. It helps me feel safe when my partner___________________
8. I like talking to my partner about ______________________
9. Sharing my emotions ___________________________________
10. What I enjoy doing most with my partner is ______________________

III. Consult a Professional. The preceding exercise is a good way to begin discussing relationship problems. If attempts to solve the problems on your own are not successful, your partner may have to seek in-depth individual therapy to deal with any unresolved issues that may be impacting your relationship. You may also consider attending couples therapy with your partner. You and your partner can ask your primary care physicians for a referral to a therapist or you can do an online search for therapists in your area.


Intimacy issues don’t have to ruin your relationship. Creating a healthy relationship takes time, but it is possible as long as you and your partner are willing to put in the effort to make your relationship work.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Shonda Lackey is a clinical psychologist in New York City. She helps filmmakers and authors create entertaining and realistic characters. For more information about Dr. Lackey, please visit her website and follow her on Twitter @ArtofIntrospect.