Curing Your Fear of Intimacy in Relationships

250px-Dramaten_mask_2008aMost everyone carries fears about intimacy and being vulnerable.  We are afraid of being hurt, abandoned, rejected, humiliated, or betrayed.   Some of us are more afraid than others because of experiences that shaped us growing up.  Attachment style with our parental relationship serves as a model for adult experiences, particularly in the most intimate of relationships.  When a parent is emotionally absent, dismissing, inattentive, constantly distracted or downright cruel and rejecting, the distress confuses the child and desperate behavior begins to intensify.  As adults these children fear the threat of rejection or abandonment more than others.  They can become extremely clingy and angry, overwhelmed by their unmet dependency needs and unable to contain anxiety.  Often, they become people pleasers to receive approval from others.

Adults that have a negative self-image are fearful and doubting in their ability to keep a partner interested and maintain a loved one’s attention.  They worry excessively about rejection.  They are emotionally dependent and constantly feel unappreciated.  In intimate relationships they are romantically obsessive and jealous.  They tend to take hostages and are preoccupied with their partners.

Some adult children are dismissing and come across as emotionally disconnected, cold, and uninterested in intimate relationships.  They can waver between being distant and cut-off emotionally, to being critical and controlling.  These people are cynical and have negative views of others.  They are particularly guarded, mistrustful, and reluctant to self-disclose in most intimate relationships.  They tend to have more break-ups and are less invested in partnerships.  They feel less grief or distress when they have break-ups than others experience.  They just don’t seem to care as much.

Those who don’t care at all and are emotionally shut down as a result of trauma are often incapable of human intimacy.   If their behavior is characterized by a lack of remorse, lack of empathy, manipulations, and emotional coldness they may be a psychopath.  True psychopaths are constitutionally incapable of normal human interaction.  If you are in a relationship with someone like this, run, get out.  You cannot experience genuine intimacy with someone who abuses power and control and deals with emotional discomfort by blaming and attacking.

Many of us have these problems because we are afraid of being hurt or betrayed.  We still want intimacy, but are afraid of depending on someone and then getting wounded again.  These experiences are a driving force in ambivalence about intimacy.  The more painful and unresolved our earlier experiences are the more we crave intimacy and the more we feel threatened by it.  This is demonstrated by “come close”, “go away” relationship behavior.  We get close, get afraid, find fault with our partner, feel hurt and sabotage the relationship.  We then find ourselves alone, crave closeness again, and the repetitive behavior starts all over.  So if you sabotage intimacy and see it as a negative behavior you want to change, focus on the fear that fuels your actions.  You can learn to be compassionate with your fears and with others.  When you can see your fears and needs more clearly you can stop the cycle.  Love is what we really want and often we are afraid of love without consciously knowing it.

If you love someone and want more intimacy, and a decent relationship, you can learn how to create intimacy better.  Find out what your partner needs and how to support those needs.  If you pay attention and care about your loved one’s feelings, you can learn to be a better (not perfect) partner.  And when you stay in a relationship over time you can build your capacity for intimacy.


Thank you for reading this article. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create healthy relationships.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.


9 thoughts on “Curing Your Fear of Intimacy in Relationships

  1. I had to walk away from a relationship with a man who just wouldn’t commit. He has many great qualities, but as a commenter above stated, there was ONE HUGE THING that was an issue. It’s like he wanted to be in a relationship, but he just could not commit….he was never really there. He would become this big jerk, and you could see the “shields” go up around him anytime the subject came up. He involved me in his life, and the life of his family, and as far as I know, we would be together forever as long as things stayed as they were. When I tried to talk to him about his behavior, he would either dismiss me, or he just couldn’t understand why I was upset. It was like he was another person. When I forced the issue, he finally admitted that he’s never been able to move forward in a relationship due to fear of what might happen. Once I stood up and stated my feelings ( and I didn’t blame him for anything), he let me walk away, and never heard from him again. And, he’s telling people he doesn’t know what happened….that I just got mad about something he said, and left. He wouldn’t be in the relationship, but he wouldn’t get out either; he made me do it all, and I’m now the bad guy.

    I have read a lot about attachment theory, and this sounds so much like his behavior. I wonder what in the heck happened to him; his siblings are not this way. He did say his dad is very negative, and does act negatively towards his mother. His mother is extremely soft spoken, and he said there was a time when his mother cried every day. I wonder sometimes if I should have stayed, if things could have been salvaged, but at the same time, I see a very capable, intelligent man who has engineered his life to be free (he’s even self employed), with no responsibilities. This topic of being “committed” has come up before, so for him to sit there and tell me that “he doesn’t know what he wants” really makes me angry. Is that really the truth….that he’s scared? I cannot imagine this man ever letting himself live in fear of anything. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone being so blind to their blatant bad attitude and behavior. He knows he has a problem, but has done nothing in 30 years to change it…I doubt that he ever will. The whole situation is terribly sad.

    • Cg13
      Your boyfriend watched his mother stay in a marriage where she was frustrated and unfulfilled. It is likely he will repeat this pattern in his own relationships. My experience working many years with emotionally insensitive (abusive) men is that they know the frustration and hurt feelings they are inflicting because they have told me so. If you look in your heart I bet he is not what you are looking for. Please build endurance to sit in the sad feelings. Give yourself the time to think about and identify what you really want. I am wishing you the best. Thank you for commenting on my post.

      • Don’t worry…I won’t be going back. It’s just been very hard to reconcile the jerk side of him with the generous, fun-loving, gregarious side. It’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He uses his cynicism as a weapon and a shield. He just doesn’t get it. It’s like no one else exists to him in those moments. We had been friends for several years before we got together….he was supposed to be my friend above all else. He knew that a real relationship was very important to me, and he seemed to want it…..he did everything you are supposed to do in a relationship, but then things started changing, and kept getting worse. I feel like I have been lied to, and now I’m the bad guy in the eyes of his friends and family. I also feel like an idiot for letting him in. Lesson learned. This will never happen again. I always look for the good in people, but I realize I was very mistaken to think things would work with us just because we were friends.

        And what I find really strange, is that when he’s confronted with the issue, he won’t OWN it. He is vague and evasive. If he wants to be free, then just admit it, instead of dragging others into his world, only to never give back. I think it’s just very cruel behavior.

  2. I have a middle aged partner who for two decades was romance less. She raised her kids and was a workaholic, single mom. She met me and we have become incredible together – extremely strong connection in every way. But then when it is so really close she breaks up with me. She cites mundane reasons all of which are obviously trivial. It is shocking actually. I know her father was not supportive of her beloved mother, but she appears to turn into him and gain personal power from ending our relationship. What should I do? I know she has insight into this but does it anyway. Rather than communicate her feelings of being trapped in a relationship like her mother, she shuts it down. I will say that except for this – and of course “this” is huge, everything between us is the best either one of us has ever had. We were talking true love, marriage and permanency. But after every amazing time together she pulls away in almost a comical attempt to “escape.” Yet she knows with her head and heart that I am in all likelihood the perfect man for her. Sometimes I feel like she is compelled to be cruel even by the dismissive nature of the breakup. But she never does give any valid reason for her actions. I try to comfort her and thus far it works, but I want to get past this. Does she lack identity as Eric Erikson said? Is this role confusion? Or is it the bad example from her parents. The single most important thing in her life – the intimate, loving relations between us becomes some risky chore to her and she sabotages everything like clockwork. Can this relationship be saved? What can I do? Is couples therapy warranted and effective? I love her so much and feel if I give up she will go on like a zombie in the world.

    • Alexander,

      I can hear that you love your partner and want to build a decent life with her. Based on the distancing you describe about your loved one she may be experiencing extreme fear of intimacy. She is also use to being in charge of her life, working hard, and doing it alone. Is she willing to address your concerns in therapy? Have the two of you defined your relationship together? Are both of you committed to doing the work of a satisfying relationship? You cannot change or save your partner. Attempting to do this is a set-up for resentment and feeling victimized. She has to be willing to identify, have, and talk about problems? Both of you need to be emotionally available.
      A long-term satisfying relationship requires two people that can talk openly about things that are important and communicate where each person stands on key emotional issues. Both partners need to feel safe to clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable. If your girlfriend is amenable to therapy it can help your communication. Couples relationship retreats can be beneficial and sometimes less threatening. Given that your partner has been alone for so long, proceeding slowly with the understanding that small changes are acceptable will be necessary.
      Each person who enters our life has a unique lesson to teach us. I want to encourage you to explore the lessons you are learning about yourself. Do you see a pattern in your partner’s emotional behavior and past relationships or those with family members? Thank you for writing to me. I am wishing you an abundance of love with your partner.


  3. Your insights are excellent. I just found your website today and many of your posts are very apropos to much that has and is going on in my life. Thank you.

    • Thank you for commenting on my post. Your courage to admit that you sabotage relationships opens the door to insights on how to improve your love life. It sounds to me like you are getting ready to let go of your self-defeating behavior. More power to you!

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