Is a Fear of Intimacy Affecting Your Relationships? Learn How to Overcome It

Have you ever been in a relationship that was going quite well, and then suddenly, you felt the need to end it? Maybe it felt like it was moving too fast, or you were becoming uncomfortable with spending so much of your time with another person and you started to feel suffocated. If this sounds […]

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Have you ever been in a relationship that was going quite well, and then suddenly, you felt the need to end it? Maybe it felt like it was moving too fast, or you were becoming uncomfortable with spending so much of your time with another person and you started to feel suffocated.

If this sounds familiar, it’s possible that you have a fear of intimacy. 

Alternatively, you may have been on the receiving end of this scenario, and someone broke up with you suddenly, seemingly for no reason. In such a case, it’s possible you were in a relationship with someone who fears intimacy.

But what makes people who fear intimacy want to break free and run? In this article, you will discover why some people find it difficult to embrace intimacy in partnerships, along with some tips on how both partners can deal with a fear of intimacy.  

What Is Fear of Intimacy?

Fear of intimacy is the fear of having close and vulnerable relationships with others, whether it’s emotional, physical, or sexual. If a person has a fear of intimacy — also known as intimacy avoidance — they may deliberately avoid intimacy or, sometimes, not even be aware that they’re keeping intimacy at arm’s length. “Someone may be fearful of getting hurt and therefore they are not capable or willing to have emotional connections that contain vulnerable aspects as most intimate relationships do,” says Grow Therapy provider Karina Hester, LMFT.

But if romantic relationships can potentially bring so much happiness, why avoid them? Fear of rejection or getting hurt might be a couple of the reasons, especially if you’ve opened up to a significant other and made yourself vulnerable.

To be vulnerable and show the innermost parts of yourself to someone else takes great courage and a certain amount of risk. After all, no one can ever really know for sure that they’re not going to get hurt, so embarking on a meaningful relationship requires not just courage, but also some faith and trust in others. 

Signs of Fear of Intimacy

We’ve all seen enough movies to know what it looks like when someone is trying to steer clear of serious relationships. But some of them aren’t so obvious. Here are some signs that someone has intimacy issues:

Relationship Sabotage

To protect themselves against being vulnerable and opening themselves up to the possibility of being hurt by another, those who fear intimacy might try and destroy the relationship somehow.

Studies carried out by Raquel Peel and Nerina Caltabiano confirmed a phenomenon called the Relationship Sabotage Scale, which contains three factors: defensiveness, trust difficulty, and lack of relationship skills. All three of these factors can contribute to why a person may sabotage a relationship. 

To combat any feelings of vulnerability in close relationships, a person might show advanced signs of defensiveness as a form of self-protection. They may have also experienced their trust being broken in the past and therefore assume that it’ll happen again. This assumption then triggers behaviors that confirm their beliefs and the trust issues continue. Lastly, some people don’t know how to be in relationships, whether it’s from bad past experiences or not having positive relationships modeled to them in their lives. 

Avoiding Physical Contact

People with intimacy issues might not like being hugged and may avoid sexual intimacy. They may also show indifference or no reaction to displays of affection. This isn’t to be confused with a low libido, which can be another sign of fear of intimacy. 

Difficulty With Emotional Intimacy

Sharing feelings and expressing emotions might be very hard for someone who has a fear of intimacy.

More Short-Term Relationships

Instead of forming long-term partnerships, those who fear intimacy (and are of an avoidant attachment style) tend to have more short-term or casual-sex encounters because they find long-term relationships unsatisfying. 

Fear of Abandonment

Early childhood events or negative previous relationship experiences might lead to someone having a fear of being left. To tackle this, a person with intimacy issues may either not enter a relationship, or find a way to end it before it gets serious.  

Negative Behavior Towards Your Partner

From becoming paranoid or suspicious of romantic partners, to criticizing or lashing out in anger at them, this negative behavior towards a significant other can be another sign of intimacy anxiety. 

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can have a negative impact on intimacy-building, as those with low self-esteem tend to be less open.

What Causes a Fear of Intimacy?

There are several possible causes that result in someone having a fear of intimacy; here are a few:

Fear of Engulfment

One of the reasons a person may have intimacy issues is that they’re scared of their lives being taken over by a long-term relationship. They don’t want to be controlled, have their time and space invaded, or lose themselves. If they sense this happening, they may shut down or avoid intimacy to protect themselves from being dominated by a partner. 

Bad Childhood Experiences

Childhood trauma, such as a history of child abuse or neglect from caregivers or other people close to them, may result in someone developing a fear of intimacy. This is because they’ve learned that others can’t be trusted and relied upon or that they’re not worthy of love. 

Avoidant Attachment Style

It’s possible that someone’s avoidant attachment style is affecting their personal relationships and their ability to establish emotional connections. Not only does an avoidant attachment style cause people to fear intimacy, but it also sabotages close relationships. 

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Characterized by the avoidance of social situations or interactions, avoidant personality disorder makes people feel extremely inadequate, and therefore unable to cope with situations where they might be thought of negatively. Therefore, they tend to completely avoid those kinds of situations and may experience an inability to connect with others. 


Studies have shown that people who have abnormally perfectionist tendencies have a fear of intimacy and therefore experience less relationship satisfaction. 

Dealing With Your Fear of Intimacy

According to The Gottman Institute, before you start the process of getting over your intimacy issues, you should ask yourself the following questions:

Dealing with a fear of intimacy isn’t easy, but here are some ways to improve your capacity for closeness. 

Examine Your Beliefs

You may have an underconfident view of yourself and this is why you’re struggling with self-doubt and self-acceptance. Try reading the following sentences from The Gottman Institute:

If you believe they’re true, it may be time for you to start challenging your thinking and trying to discover the source of your fear of intimacy.

Show Vulnerability in Small Steps

Set yourself small goals to be more vulnerable with your partner. Start by sharing your thoughts on everyday situations and eventually build up to expressing deeper feelings when you feel ready.

Create a Vision Board

Try some manifestation with a vision board. Think about what you want your relationship to look like, then collect pictures and words that reflect that type of relationship and that you’re comfortable with. 


To help you recognize the behaviors and patterns that keep repeating themselves when it comes to your relationships and intimacy fears, try speaking to a therapist. You’ll be able to gain an understanding of why and when you start behaving in ways that speak to your intimacy avoidance and whether those behaviors are rational or not. 

Therapy is very helpful, as it can teach the individual to practice self-awareness toward their choices, actions, thoughts and emotions related to intimate relationships.

- Karina Hester, LMFT

“Therapy is very helpful, as it can teach the individual to practice self-awareness toward their choices, actions, thoughts and emotions related to intimate relationships,” Hester says. “Not to mention, individuals will learn to replace unhealthy habits and relationship patterns with ones that will facilitate healthy connections.”

This will help you create new behaviors that are more consistent with what you really want from your intimate relationships.

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How to Deal With a Partner’s Fear of Intimacy

Maybe it’s not you who has a fear of intimacy, but your partner. This can be tough to navigate, so here are some tips on dealing with a partner who shows signs of intimacy avoidance. 

Don’t Take It Personally

You know the saying “It’s not you, it’s me.” Well, in the case of people with a fear of intimacy, it really is them. Therefore, it’s important not to take their words and behaviors personally, despite how challenging it might be. 

Model Vulnerability

If your loved one has insecurities about showing vulnerability, show them how it’s done! Try sharing your emotions and being vulnerable yourself, and when they’re ready, encourage them to join you. Hopefully, this will create a new pattern in your relationship of expressing emotions in a safe space.

Show Compassion

Adult relationships aren’t easy, especially if your significant other has issues with intimacy. However, it’s important to show compassion and support when you can. Be mindful of their process and maybe even encourage them to participate in some self-exploration or therapy so that they can begin to discover and understand the root cause of their fears. 

Confront Your Feelings With a Therapist

If you fear intimacy, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you. You may want to have healthy, adult relationships but are genuinely afraid of letting yourself get too close or get too hurt. 

Like with all fears, while they may never completely disappear, they can be managed and minimized so that they no longer hold you back from living the life you want and knowing your self-worth. 

Psychotherapy can help with this. Maybe you’re seeking individual therapy to deal with your intimacy fears, or, you think couples therapy could help treat your relationship issues. Whichever you choose, our qualified professionals are ready to offer support and guidance via online therapy or in-person so that, eventually, you may be happier with your relationships. 


  • While it's not uncommon to experience some fear of intimacy, if it starts to interfere with your relationships or your mental health, it might be time to consider therapy.

  • Attachment-based psychotherapy may be a good option, and if both partners want to be involved in the healing journey, couples therapy could be successful, too.

  • As there are different types of intimacy — spiritual, experiential, physical, intellectual, and emotional — it really depends. In the short term, a couple may be able to sustain a relationship without intimacy, but eventually, one or both partners might begin to struggle.

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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