Intimacy Issues in Relationship and Marriage
Fear of intimacy and difficulty with deeply close emotional relationships affects many people. This article focuses on the following issues:
- What is Intimacy – Intimacy is defined as a close and deep emotional connection with another person that involves trust and reciprocal sharing and vulnerability.
- Why are we Afraid of Intimacy – Common reasons for being afraid of intimate relationships include fear of trusting another person, fear of being vulnerable and past experiences.
- What are we Afraid of Losing in an Intimate Relationship – Very often, fears around intimacy involve protecting ourselves from being hurt and fear of losing ourselves and our boundaries.
- Ways in Which a Professional Counsellor Can Help – Professional counsellors can help individuals understand their reasons for fearing deeply close relationships, learn better relationship skills, how to value yourself and hold personal boundaries and improve communication skills.
FEARING INTIMACY: WHY AM I AFRAID OF LOSING MYSELF?
Human relationships are one of the most difficult things we attempt in our entire lives. They are fraught with emotions, physical passions and sometimes conflicting wants and needs. There are a number of things that can contribute to a person being reluctant or afraid of getting close to others. Often, past history, conflicting internal desires, or poor basic communication skills can stand in the way of achieving truly deep and intimate relationships. However, close relationships are one of the most enriching experiences life can offer us. Intimate relationships satisfy a range of basic human needs, such as our need for connection, acceptance and affection (1). Intimacy also leads to more stable, satisfying and harmonious relationships (2), which is why it’s so important to address this issue.
WHAT IS INTIMACY?
Intimacy is often used as a polite euphemism for sex. However, real intimacy is not limited to sex. Instead it involves deep emotional connection with another person. The most intimate of moments is when we share something very special with a partner – something we do not share with others, that we hold close to our heart and that we protect for fear of being hurt.
But it is this exact vulnerability that opens the door to intimacy. Sharing our feelings and emotions with another in a way that develops trust is a process of exchanging vulnerabilities. I share with you and take a risk by revealing something of myself – in response, you share with me and take a risk of your own.
Developing this level of trust with someone else is not a process that usually happens overnight. Instead, it is often a slow event that happens over time as each person becomes comfortable and is able to share even more deeply.
WHY AM I AFRAID OF INTIMACY?
Sharing ourselves and becoming vulnerable with someone else takes not only the ability to trust that person, but it also takes a willingness to take the risk of being rejected because of what we reveal about ourselves.
For most of us in today’s world, trust is not a simple or easy process. At some point in our lives, all of us have been hurt and that hurt leads us to not trust and not be willing to open ourselves up and become vulnerable. Like the snail who shies away from being touched or light that is too strong and reveals too much, we are often fiercely protective of ourselves and our vulnerabilities. For most of us, society tells us that in order to be successful you have to be strong, tough and “never let them see your sweat.” We translate this into our personal relationships and frequently carry that shell of protection around with us.
Another reason for being afraid of close, intimate relationships is because of past experiences (3). Whether difficult relationship experiences happen in childhood or adulthood, they can impact someone’s willingness to make themselves vulnerable again. When someone has been let down, hurt, abandoned or betrayed by a loved one, they may try to protect themselves from future pain by avoiding intimacy. This can be a conscious choice or a subconscious defence mechanism.
WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF LOSING IN AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP?
One of the greatest fears many of us have is that we will lose ourselves if we allow ourselves to become truly intimate with someone and allow ourselves to really deeply love. The very nature of love is that you have to risk rejection and pain in order to receive it in return. This can be an extremely scary prospect, particularly for those of us who have traveled down that road and been hurt in the past.
Not only are we fearful of being hurt, but many of us are afraid that we will fall and become so willing to do anything to please and be accepted by the other person that we will forget and abandon those qualities and interests we have fought so hard to maintain. This particular fear can be especially large for women. Historically, women in society have been expected to forego their career, their personal interests and talents in order to place those of their partner first. Contemporary women work very hard for their education, to establish a career and to develop their own personal sense of identity and value. And far too often, women find that the moment they become part of a couple, all of those qualities that they worked so hard to gain go out the window and everything – activities, interests, friends – become about either their partner or about them as a couple. Even their sense of having alone time or space to themselves becomes secondary to maintaining the relationship.
HOW CAN A COUNSELLOR HELP WITH FEAR OF INTIMACY ISSUES?
Professional counsellors and relationship therapists can help you work through the fears that you may have about making yourself vulnerable and revealing yourself to another person. In some ways, the therapeutic relationship is a perfect opportunity to role model and practice just this type of emotional intimacy and sharing. Therapy involves the need to develop trust and as you become comfortable and that foundation of trust emerges, then you may become more willing and able to emotionally connect with another person.
Another way in which a counsellor, psychologist or therapist can help is by helping you learn ways in which to hold personal boundaries about your own value within a relationship. By learning ways in which to maintain personal identity and interest, it becomes more possible to become involved in an intimate relationship with someone who values you for those qualities and also is not only willing, but also wants you to remain the interesting person you were when you met.
Counsellors, psychologists and therapists also can help you uncover the reasons for your reluctance to engage in a truly emotionally intimate relationship, whether it be because of family history, past relationship experiences or fears of losing your own personal boundaries and suffocating as an individual. For many of us, the more we understand the reasons behind our behaviors and fears, the less those issues become problems and instead we begin to integrate new ways of being and thinking.
Finally, one of the foundational ways in which a counsellor or psychologist can be helpful is to teach and improve communication skills. One of the largest problems with real intimacy is the inability to clearly express our thoughts and feelings to another. A therapist can help you learn and practice the skill of listening and really hearing before you respond to the person you are speaking with. He or she can also help you learn how to talk to a partner in a way that lets you know that what you are trying to communicate and express is actually being heard by that person.
HOW DO I SEEK HELP FOR INTIMACY FEARS?
If you or someone you know is having problems with relationships and intimacy issues, a counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be able to help. They can help you learn about emotional intimacy and connection, help you learn to conquer your fears about deeply close relationships and uncover the underlying reasons for those fears.
If you or someone you know is struggling with relationship problems related to intimacy and close relationships and would like to book a consultation with a qualified relationship or marriage counsellor or would like to obtain further advice please contact:
ASSOCIATED COUNSELLORS & PSYCHOLOGISTS SYDNEY
- ￪1Fletcher, G. J. (2008). The new science of intimate relationships. John Wiley & Sons.
- ￪2Yeganehfarzand, S., Zahrakar, K., & Mohsenzadeh, F. (2019). The Effectiveness of Narrative Therapy on Reducing the Fear of Intimacy in Couples. Journal of Practice in Clinical Psychology, 7(2), 117-124.
- ￪3Yeganehfarzand, S., Zahrakar, K., & Mohsenzadeh, F. (2019). The Effectiveness of Narrative Therapy on Reducing the Fear of Intimacy in Couples. Journal of Practice in Clinical Psychology, 7(2), 117-124.