Intimacy usually denotes mutual vulnerability, openness, and sharing. It is often present in close, loving relationships such as marriages and friendships. The term is also sometimes used to refer to sexual interactions, but intimacy does not have to be sexual.
Intimacy can be vital to maintaining a healthy social life. If you avoid intimacy, you may find yourself isolated or in constant conflict with others. When fear of intimacy disrupts a relationship, couples counseling or individual therapy may help.
WHAT IS INTIMACY?
Intimacy is important because humans are social creatures who thrive on close personal relationships with others. While intimacy connotes images of romantic relationships, it can also occur in close friendships, parent-child relationships, and siblinghood. There are four types of intimacy:
- Experiential Intimacy: When people bond during leisure activities. People may “sync up” their actions in teamwork or find themselves acting in unison.
- Example: A father and son work together to build a model train, developing a rhythm to their teamwork.
- Emotional Intimacy: When people feel safe sharing their feelings with each other, even uncomfortable ones.
- Example: A woman confides in her sister about her body image issues. She trusts her sibling to offer comfort rather than using her insecurities against her.
- Intellectual Intimacy: When people feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions, even when they disagree.
- Example: Two friends debate the meaning of life. They enjoy hearing each other’s opinions and don’t feel the need to “win” the argument
- Sexual Intimacy: When people engage in sensual or sexual activities. When people use the word “intimacy,” they are often referring to this type.
- Example: Two lovers engage in foreplay, knowing how each other prefers to be touched.
Intimacy in a romantic relationship is usually something that is built over time. New relationships might have moments of intimacy, but building long-term intimacy is a gradual process that requires patience and communication. Many people judge the quality of their relationships based on the depth of intimacy and the degree to which they feel close to their partners.
FEAR OF INTIMACY
Intimacy can help you feel more loved and less alone. But intimacy also requires a great deal of trust and vulnerability, and you may find this frightening. Many people struggle with intimacy, and fear of intimacy is a common concern in therapy.
People can fear intimacy due to a variety of reasons. Some of the most common causes include:
Abandonment Issues: You may fear that once you become attached to someone, that individual will leave.
Fear of Rejection: You might worry that once you reveal any flaws or imperfections, the other person will no longer want to be with you.
Control Issues: You may fear losing your independence as you become emotionally connected to others.
Past Abuse: A history of childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, may make it difficult for you to trust others
When seeking professional help for intimacy issues, you may be asked to take the Fear of Intimacy Scale (FIS). This scale measures how much you fear emotional intimacy in a romantic context. It asks you to agree or disagree with statements like, “I would probably feel nervous showing my partner strong feelings of affection.” Research has linked a high FIS score to increased loneliness.
BUILDING INTIMACY IN A RELATIONSHIP
It is possible to overcome fears of intimacy. A compassionate counselor can help you understand the underlying emotions driving your fear. They can help you address these feelings and find healthier ways to cope with them besides isolating yourself.
Sometimes mental health issues like avoidant personality disorder can also contribute to intimacy issues. Treating these diagnoses can also offer significant benefits.
Even when neither partner fears intimacy, a couple may still have trouble opening up to each other. The following suggestions may allow you and your partner to grow closer.
- Be patient. Getting to truly know someone is a serious time commitment. The trust-building process is often a slow one. Intimacy is not a race.
- Start with the easy stuff. If you find it easier to talk about the future than the past, then start by sharing your dreams and goals. As trust builds, you may find it less frightening to talk about the more difficult topics.
- Talk openly about your needs. Are you someone who needs a lot of time alone to recharge? How often do you like to have sex? You can prevent a lot of misunderstandings if you tell your partner plainly what you want instead of assuming your desires are “obvious”.
- Respect each other’s differences. Even the most intimate partners still have their own identities. You and your partner do not need to agree on everything in order to love each other.
If you and your partner struggle to get closer to each other, there is still hope! Couples counseling can help you strengthen your communication and solve misunderstandings. It can also help each party overcome any fears of intimacy that may be holding them back. There is no shame in getting help