Common Intimacy Issues And How To Deal With Them
By Joy Youell
Updated May 27, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
Intimate relationships involve physical and emotional interaction. For some people, intimacy is easy. For other people, it can trigger thoughts and behaviors that make intimacy uncomfortable. There are intimacy disorders that cause issues in close relationships. There are also many intimacy issues that are not rooted in phobias or related to disorders.
Some intimacy problems surface when a couple becomes sexually active. Some problems surface when a couple becomes emotionally intimate. Some couples begin to experience intimacy issues as they mature, which can be due to health problems or emotional and mental issues.
Regardless of the severity of the problem, there is help. Sometimes, learning about common intimacy issues can help individuals and couples work through their problems. For example, you may find that a medical exam reveals health problems that are wreaking havoc on your sex life. Or, you may be in a season of depression or anxiety that negatively impacts your relationship. Finding a qualified therapist or couples counselor can help put intimacy problems into perspective and help you and your partner find the answers and make changes to better the relationship.
Fear Of Intimacy
Fear of intimacy can be a social phobia. Intimacy issues may stem from an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to form close, intimate relationships. Many people with a fear of intimacy resist close relationships, even in their own family. This disorder is related to adult attachment theory. There are many causes of this issue, including a neglectful or abusive childhood and trauma.
People who struggle with a fear of intimacy have difficulty believing they are worthy of love and avoid others out of fear of rejection. Other symptoms include feelings of vulnerability, discomfort with emotions, extreme privacy, being highly sensitive to criticism and problems communicating feelings. These symptoms can range from slight to severe and impede an individual's ability to form lasting intimate relationships.
Dealing with a fear of intimacy requires more than an understanding of the disorder. This problem can make it difficult to form a relationship with a therapist, which may be essential for overcoming this issue. The first step is to find a therapist or psychologist. Talk Therapy is one type of therapy that may be introduced. If the problem is more demanding, medications may be used to help calm the anxiety and make it easier to engage in talk therapy.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder can affect intimacy. The same thoughts, behaviors and emotions that are related to social anxiety disorder can seep into established relationships and trigger intimacy issues. Avoidant behaviors are one symptom of social anxiety that can cause intimacy issues. Intimate interaction is something that requires trust. The invitation to trust can create a feeling of vulnerability that is reminiscent of the feelings and thoughts that accompany social anxiety disorder.
The best way to keep social anxiety disorder from affecting intimacy is to seek help for the anxiety problem. Those who suffer from social anxiety are more likely to suffer from fear of intimacy too. It is important to work through negative thoughts and emotions as they surface. Avoidance is one of the main behaviors that stem from anxious thoughts about rejection or fear of vulnerability.
The best way to deal with these anxious thoughts and emotions is to work to recognize them for what they are; they are based on fear not reality. A good therapist can help by talking through negative thoughts and emotions as they surface.
Connecting with a qualified therapist can be a vital step in overcoming social anxiety disorder and other intimacy issues. Individual and couples counseling are both forms of therapy that may help. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that most people with social anxiety disorder found improvement through psychotherapy and talk therapy. Whether you find a local counselor or an online counselor, this may be the right approach for you or your partner.
Intimacy avoidance is a behavior that makes it difficult to create or maintain a healthy intimate relationship. One of the main reasons an individual develops avoidance behaviors is childhood trauma, abuse and neglect. As an adult, avoidance becomes a defense mechanism that protects the psyche from potential pain and hurt.
Adults with avoidant personality disorder, social anxiety disorder or fear of intimacy disorder almost always engage in intimacy avoidance when relationships become serious. Symptoms of intimacy avoidance can be as simple as working late to avoid intimacy with a partner or as severe as avoiding intimate relationships altogether. Dealing with intimacy avoidance behavior begins with recognizing the symptoms and finding help.
Intimacy avoidance defaults to isolation. It is important to find a therapist and work with them to learn about the symptoms and work toward changing the behavior itself. There are many therapies designed to address avoidance behaviors,and they are very successful. Finding the right therapist is the first step to facing intimacy avoidance and finding happiness.
Negative Body Image And Intimacy
A negative body image may indicate a disorder called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. This can accompany or exist alongside anxiety disorders. Whether it is a full-fledged condition or simply a personal insecurity, a negative body image can undermine intimate relationships. Body image is a personal perception of one's own body and it affects how an individual perceives their sexual attractiveness.
A positive body image is something everyone would love to have, but the modern ideals of attractiveness are not easy to achieve. Ultra-thin models are only one part of the modern portrayal of sex appeal. Digital enhancement makes changes that no real person can achieve. Comparing our bodies to an unattainable standard damages more than the ability to feel comfortable in our skin. Digital manipulation can distort definitions of normalcy and trigger eating disorders and other mental health issues.
It can be difficult to enjoy intimacy with a negative body image. This may manifest in infrequent sex and unsatisfying sexual encounters. Intimate relationships can fall apart or never take off at all if a negative body image interferes. Keeping an intimate partner at a distance or ignoring their sexual advances can destroy a relationship. Instead, try to talk about the thoughts and feelings. Talking about how negative body image interferes with intimacy allows both partners to understand avoidance behaviors and find ways to overcome the problem.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a treatable condition. Talk therapy is one successful method used for people who struggle with BDD. Numerous therapists specialize in treatment methods for this kind of condition.
Sexual Performance Anxiety
Sexual performance anxiety is one source of intimacy issues. Some health problems impact sexual performance. These included:
- Heart issues
- Vascular issues
- Neurological disorders
- Chronic diseases
- Kidney or liver failure
- Hormonal imbalance
- Substance abuse
Ignoring health problems and performance problems generates more stress and anxiety over the issue, which can lead to more performance-related issues.
At the first sign of performance problems, discuss it with your partner and make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Ignoring the problem and letting it spiral out of control can take a toll on intimate relationships. Sometimes partners blame themselves for the performance problem and this just adds another issue that must be dealt with. Whatever you're experiencing, this is not your fault.
There are many things a doctor can do to help alleviate performance problems that are due to health-related issues. First, get an exam, and find out where the real problem lies. There is no reason to stress and worry over performance problems; finding and addressing the underlying health issues will make all the difference in the world.
Sexual Communication Issues
Many people are uncomfortable talking about sex with partners. Experts say that both new and long-term relationships have sexual communication issues. Sexual communication issues are can be a source of intimacy issues. Even if talking about sexual likes and dislikes is not a problem for one partner, the other partner may not be as comfortable.
Sexual communication can be more than a verbal exchange. You may use body language to express sexual desires. Body language is used everyday to communicate with others without using words. Changing position, kissing, guiding and caressing can also be used to communicate without words.
Learning to communicate sexually is a facet of self-help. Try reading a few self-help books to get advice on how to communicate about sex. Women should search out books written by men on how they deal with sexual communication issues and men should search for books written by women on the subject.
One great option is to invite a nonbiased professional into the conversation. A counselor is a mental health professional who is trained to help you communicate. When you encounter barriers you just can't overcome alone, it's time to get help. A ReGain counselor can help you as an individual or the two of you as a couple work through intimacy issues. Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors for you to review, from people experiencing similar issues.
FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
How do I know if I have intimacy issues?
You may be wondering if you have intimacy issues. Forming intimate relationships comes easy to some, and can be challenging to others. These problems are more common than you might think! If you fear intimacy, you’re not alone. These worries can cause relationship issues and lead to conflicts between partners. Troubles with intimacy often stem from issues with attachment. Before we get into the causes of this fear, it’s crucial to discuss the types of closeness people have in relationships. There are a variety of types of intimacy and different fears for each connection. People fear intimacy at times because it exposes them to being hurt. No matter what the relationship, if you tell another human being your feelings and reject you, it stings. These sorts of problems could be the result of attachment issues, which is why you need to find out what they are.
The word intimacy means different things to different people. There is emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, and other forms of intimacy. If you struggle with intimacy, you may struggle with one of these types of intimacy or multiple intimacy issues. You will know that you experience fear of intimacy if you find yourself leaving or wanting to leave when a partnership gets serious and a particular way. For example, if you have a fear of intimacy that relates to physical or sexual acts, you may be tempted to leave a relationship when things start to move to a place where you were engaging in physical intimacy. If you have a fear of intimacy that relates to emotions or commitment, you might be tempted to leave a relationship when things start to progress or the level of commitment to one another increases. That is one of the biggest fear of intimacy signs, wanting to leave when things start to get more serious or involved in a way that relates to your specific fear of intimacy. Another one of the common fear of intimacy signs is that you shut down when things start to get intimate. Fear of intimacy can lead to a strained partnership, so it is essential to address your concerns related to a fear of intimacy once you realize that it’s there. Don’t ignore these problems. There could be deeper issues going on, which need to be addressed in therapy. You may even try taking a fear of intimacy scale with a licensed therapist to see what your issues are.
What causes fear of intimacy?
Many different things could cause a fear of intimacy. For some people, relationships are complicated because of vulnerability. Close or intimate relationships can be scary for some people. They’re afraid of getting hurt. Fear of intimacy is sometimes caused by things that happened in your past relationships. For example, if you got very close to someone and were deeply committed to them in the past, but they cheated on you, or the relationship became volatile, you may develop a fear of intimacy. Fear of sexual intimacy can stem from trauma, body image issues, or something else. Sometimes, fear of intimacy is also related to your attachment style. For example, if you have an avoidant attachment style, you might fear intimacy in your relationship. Regardless of the reason for your fear of intimacy, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you, and if it’s addressed, it can be resolved.
How do I develop more confidence in intimate relationships?
Many people want relationships with deeper intimacy and less superficial feeling. We want to get to know people well. Intimacy and closeness are a wonderful part of human relationships. One of the best ways to develop more confidence in intimate relationships is first to be confident in yourself. Be confident in who you are as an individual. Think of how you would want your most respected and closest friend to be treated in a partnership, and apply that standard to yourself. Work toward body confidence or body neutrality by using cognitive reframing techniques when thoughts of poor body image enter your head if that is something that arises for you and relates to your fear of intimacy. Know that your body is not the problem and that anyone who is with you wants to be with you because they are attracted to you. If they treat you as though anything less is true, drop them. There is someone who will appreciate you for you.
Another thing that’s important to develop confidence in intimate relationships is to talk about it with your partner. You want a partner who is willing to communicate with you and support you in anything that you’re going through, including fear of intimacy. Remember that they can’t support you unless they know about your fear of intimacy, so don’t let it go unknown.
How do I talk about intimacy issues with my partner?
It can be scary to talk about the fear of intimacy with your partner. You might worry that they won’t understand how you feel. Remember that there’s a solid connection between love and intimacy for many people. The closer you are to your partner, the deeper bond you share. However, it’s crucial to remember - If they don’t experience fear of intimacy themselves, they may not understand where you’re coming from initially. The good news is that, if you talk to them, they will most likely start to understand; fear of intimacy, or something that many people face. It is by no means abnormal. Initiating a conversation about fear of intimacy with your partner can be as simple as saying, “I have a fear of intimacy that stems from my past, and I want to break through it. I care about you and want to be emotionally, physically, and sexually intimate with you.” After you tell them, you can tell them what they can do to support you and what you are doing to address the problem. If you don’t talk about the fear of intimacy in a partnership, it could lead to relationship issues, because your partner might start to think that your fears or behaviors surrounding a fear of intimacy is because of them. Closeness and intimacy are essential in every relationship. The right partner will be receptive, communicative, and supportive as you go on a journey to resolve your fear of intimacy. It won’t necessarily develop right away. It’s possible to foster a sense of intimacy over time if you work towards that goal with your partner.
"Rhonda has been very helpful and consistent over the past few months as I worked through issues related to fear of intimacy. Her observations have shed light on aspects of myself that I took for granted, which I realize now are actually are holding me back and are in my power to change. I would gladly work with Rhonda again, and recommend her without hesitation."
"Emily is a very effective counselor in our very first call she drilled down and uncovered some of our intimacy issues and gave us a game plan to help resolve them. She's timely, easy to talk to, listens but also gives advice (which I've found uncommon with some professionals). We'd use her again and recommend her in a heart beat."
There is no shame in struggling with intimacy issues. Many aspects of your past and present contribute to feeling the desire to be alone, or to guard yourself from intimacy. If you or your partner is struggling in this way, reach out. Talking with a licensed counselor is the first step to recovering from intimacy-related issues.