Intimacy

Woman whispering in man's ear

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.

Reference:

  1. Defining and overcoming a fear of intimacy. (n.d.). Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/fear-of-intimacy#causes
  2. Descutner, C. J., & Thelen, M. H. (1991). Development and validation of Fear of Intimacy Scale. Psychological Assessment, 3(2), 218-225. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232424389_Development_and_validation_of_Fear_of_Intimacy_Scale
  3. Fear of Intimacy Scale [PDF]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://depts.washington.edu/uwcssc/sites/default/files/hw00/d40/uwcssc/sites/default/files/Fear%20of%20Intimacy%20Scale.pdf
  4. The four types of intimacy. (2017, August 29). Retrieved from https://infidelityrecoveryinstitute.com/the-four-types-of-intimacy

 

Last Updated: 05-14-2019

  • 18 comments
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  • barry

    barry

    January 29th, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    My partner is married although there is no love or intermency in there relationship and he tells her he is dying due to inference she wants to be with me is he using his illness as a weapon

  • Wanda

    Wanda

    May 3rd, 2018 at 8:43 AM

    I am 58 and I am having an issue with my partners not giving me foreplay before sex. I always give them lots of foreplay but it seems as if I am doing all the giving and can never get it back. I seem to be the one who always starting first by getting him arouse first and once erection happen they are ready for to penetrate or ejaculation happens prematurely so I am left unsatisfied is the normal. I go all in to please my partner and when its all over they never seem to be interested in pleasing me. Any thoughts on why a man would make this a habit.

  • Tierney

    Tierney

    May 31st, 2018 at 11:05 AM

    A good place to start is with communication outside of the bedroom. Intimacy also involves sharing innermost needs and feelings. Tell your partner what you want and how it is he can help you achieve the satisfaction you desire. Be specific as to what is stimulating to you. Also, let him know that you aren’t going to follow the same pattern that has become the status quo because that isn’t working for you. Hopefully, he will hear you and respond to your needs without becoming defensive, especially if you carefully preface your statements with “I want this or need that” instead of “you don’t do this or that”. In other words own your own feelings and needs and resist blaming someone else for what you aren’t experiencing.

  • Robin

    Robin

    March 16th, 2016 at 7:45 PM

    I was abused asexually by my father as a teenager and now am in a relationship that means the world to me but I am having problems being a good lover to him because of my childhood abuse

  • Paul

    Paul

    March 18th, 2017 at 9:32 PM

    If by being a good lover you mean being less inhibited about sex then I believe this is less important than emotional intimacy. Good communication with your partner is so important. Talk to him; sometimes it seems men don’t listen but they do, they just need time to think before they react. You sound like a loving person with a lot to give. Trust your instincts and follow your heart.

  • Donovan

    Donovan

    March 24th, 2017 at 11:48 AM

    My wife was abused as a child and becomes distant and cold from time to time (more often than not). She refuses therapy and believes she has dealt with the issue. I believe I am the only person she’s told “something” has happened to her and that she’s never dealt with the issue apart from trying to forget about it. When I mention she needs therapy I’m told I’m simply identifying her flaws even though I reassure her I love and accept her regardless.

    We’ve been “happily” married for 12 years but the isolation is killing me and my love for her is dwindling as she’s okay to go through life without showing any affection towards me.

  • Kim

    Kim

    July 9th, 2017 at 2:02 PM

    What makes us do this ? I did not have a very good relationship with my Dad and I have never been able to stay with one man more than 3-7 years mostly 3 years ! I seem to find relationships that I am able to remain cold and keep the man enough of a distance not to have it all in the relationship. Then when things go bad I would blame them for cheating. When they just wanted it all with me I was not able to give that ?

  • Scott

    Scott

    August 7th, 2017 at 12:22 AM

    My fiance has severe relationship issues due to mental and physical abuse from her ex husband. A month and a half ago she up and left me because i slipped up and did one act which she says she has issues with, she moved back into the facility she was previously in due to a couple suicide attempts. She says she loves and misses me but she communicates very little if at all. She no longer wheres my ring. I also see her at work where she has issues direcly talking with me, but none talking with coworkers. I text her and tell her i love her and im here for her, but it is getting very stressful for me to the point of wearing on my mental heath. I dont know what to do at this point.

  • Patterns of Behavior

    Patterns of Behavior

    August 25th, 2017 at 3:18 PM

    Scott, I see similarities with my own previous relationships. I don’t know what you did, but do you believe it was something utterly unforgivable to the extent of being a rational reason for a loving person to abandon the relationship? To me it sounds like whatever happened was used more like an excuse for a breakup. Try to think about the time before she left, was it a trying period or were you intimate and loving to each other? Is it possible she was having doubts about the relationship and used whatever happened as an exit-strategy that is more justifiable than just straight up “I don’t feel our relationship is wrong, so I decided to leave”? Healthy relationships shouldn’t be a minefield where one misstep means game over. The fact she has difficulty talking to you could mean she cares for you and is trying to protect you but she is very emotionally conflicted, maybe she feels like her own issues are dragging you down (wearing your mental health even) and it breaks her heart to see you suffer because of her? Abuse victims often feel very guilty in general, they feel guilty for whatever happened to them and what they perceive they are causing to others, think how it would feel to be abused and blamed ‘you brought this onto yourself!’ and what that kind of abuse would do to you eventually. This burden gets carried on to future relationships and the victim of abuse eventually often begins to feel very guilty when their partner is feeling bad for whatever reason, they could feel like it’s their fault when it isn’t, they could have painful memories of abuse when their ex-partner lashed out on them for no reason other than feeling bad etc.

    Just trying to explain what could be going on in her mind, the fact that she took off the ring is a sign she feels the need to distance herself from you, for reasons unknown. I know it’s hard, but consider the option of giving that space, if you love her and want what’s best of her, maybe that is the best course of action? It could be healthy for you too, to get some rest and regain your mental health remembering that you definitely didn’t abandon her or anything.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    December 29th, 2017 at 3:47 AM

    I have been in my relationship for 14 years and I feel like its do damaged due to no trust, cheating in the past, less sex, and many other factors but I don’t want to without him. What should I do?

  • birdy

    birdy

    December 30th, 2017 at 4:09 AM

    i have been molested by three men when i was little. took me years to talk about it. but still kept quiet about the third person. i did see a psychologist and she did say i will have very bad scars. over the years since i saw her i never understood what she meant, but now i do. ive been single for almost 10 years, because it is difficult for me to get romantically involved with men. especially white men, i have a male friend who is muslim. known him almost 8 years, but i have found comfort and love and acceptance with him. is this because the men who molested me, was white men, and see the resemblance with all white men? why is it now different with him who is a muslim and i am white? why cant i fall in love or find the safe space every women wants or seeking for in white men?

  • NoExcuse

    NoExcuse

    March 26th, 2018 at 4:17 AM

    How many times could you mention white. All colors molest/rape. Sounds more about racism and less about intimacy. Good luck with the Muslim beliefs regarding women.

  • Jo

    Jo

    July 30th, 2018 at 7:24 AM

    Before being mean to someone and calling them a racist, do inform yourself that the brain functions a certain way with PTSD. If you have been in car crash, there will be car related disturbing memories. If you have been abused by a white male – there will be negative associations there too.

  • charles

    charles

    March 22nd, 2018 at 1:29 AM

    this is my first time doing this or even talking about it I’ve been having itimacy issues with my girlfriend it seems like i dont get her off like a real women should i just want to to b able to give her a uncontrolable orgasm where i know i did a **** good job i dont care about me its easy for a man to get off but knowing you got your woman off and she truly enjoyed it and you believe her when she says wow it doesnt matter about size its the motion of the ocean there also has to be a cure for pre-mature ejaculation so i can last long enough for them.

  • Ken

    Ken

    December 6th, 2018 at 4:09 AM

    I think you are not the problem. It’s complicated and simple at the same time. It not just your actions that will get her off. She has to be a willing partner and persue the same goal.

  • Ananthi M.

    Ananthi M.

    April 19th, 2018 at 12:01 AM

    Spicing things up in the bedroom and making your partner uncomfortable are two absolutely different things. Physical intimacy in the bedroom is a two-way street! You get what you give. You can ask him why you want to role play this situations. People like have all kind of new ways and find new ways for physical intimacy spicing up in bedroom. Depend on you if your comfortable and if your not tell them. Because Physical intimacy in the bedroom is a two-way and both should enjoy it.

  • I am

    I am

    June 26th, 2018 at 7:57 AM

    Is intimacy sex?

  • aaaaaaaa

    aaaaaaaa

    October 19th, 2019 at 6:26 PM

    yes

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