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Intimacy Issues: What It Looks Like, 39 Signs, Causes & Tips to Date with It

If you don’t know how to handle intimacy issues, that can cause problems in a relationship. Learn all about the fear of intimacy and how to help your partner.

intimacy issues

Intimacy is crucial for a happy, healthy relationship. If you have intimacy issues, you’ll never be able to build the connection needed for long-term love unless you address them as quickly as possible.

Without working on them, you’ll start to drift apart. Vulnerability can make or break a relationship, and respecting your partner’s hesitations and boundaries can do the same.

What does having intimacy issues look like?

Nearly everyone has heard about intimacy issues, but not everyone knows what it means to have them.

The majority of the population can’t understand these problems. For most of us, this type of barrier doesn’t exist because we enjoy getting close to other people and sharing ourselves with them.

For so many others, however, those problems are real. They might share very little about themselves. They won’t indulge you with stories of their childhood. They’ll even hold you at arms-length to keep you from getting close physically, too.

As you can imagine, this makes getting to know someone nearly impossible. [Read: Unique ways to build intimacy with your partner]

1. Perfectionism

A lot of people with intimacy issues suffer from feeling that they’re not worthy of love and close relationships.

They genuinely feel that they don’t deserve it.

Because of this, those with intimacy issues often work extra hard to be a person that does “deserve” love. They make every attempt to be perfect, despite the fact that perfection is unattainable. They’ll practically do anything in their power to gain the approval of others.

2. Serial dating

The thing about intimacy issues is that they don’t stop someone from having any type of relationship.

They simply interfere whenever relationships start to get a bit more serious. This means that the moment any value is placed on the relationship, the fear of intimacy will rear its ugly head. [Read: Serial dater – 19 signs to instantly recognize a smooth operator]

It acts a lot like the fear of commitment. The person can’t hold a relationship down, so they jump from one superficial connection to another.

3. Difficulty stating one’s needs

A person with intimacy issues isn’t usually very talented when it comes to expressing what they need.

A lot of this has to do with their feelings of being undeserving of love, and a lot of it stems from the fact that expression of needs indicates a type of closeness that they just aren’t comfortable with.

4. Having a hard time with physical contact

Feelings about physical contact can go one of two ways for a person with intimacy issues.

On the one hand, they might be completely unable to handle it. Physical contact might make them uncomfortable and anxious.

They typically choose to deal with this by avoiding physical contact as much as they can. They aren’t huggers or cuddlers. Physical touch is definitely not their love language. [Read: The health benefits of hugging that’ll make you want to cuddle more]

On the other hand, they might crave physical contact. They believe that physical intimacy reinforces their worth.

5. Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem is the hallmark trait of a person with intimacy issues. Its origin can vary greatly, but it’s the most common feeling among those with a fear of intimacy.

This directly correlates to feeling inadequate and kind of help them believe that they aren’t immediately worthy of love. Their low self-esteem reinforces the thought that they have to work for and earn the love of others.

6. Trust issues

Intimacy issues and trust issues tend to go hand-in-hand.

Trust issues can be closely related to fearing rejection, which is linked to the same feelings of inadequacy that are so prevalent with intimacy issues. [Read: Pistanthrophobia – why you fear trusting people, 16 signs, & ways to overcome it]

What causes intimacy issues?

There isn’t one definite thing that causes intimacy issues, but there are a number of things that can contribute to the problem.

Generally, intimacy issues are rooted in a person’s childhood. They’re often triggered by their adult relationships, and those triggers will undoubtedly manifest those intimacy issues in whatever way suits the person.

1. Fear of engulfment

Engulfment is essentially becoming fully taken over by something.

In relationships, engulfment looks like relying on your significant other for practically all of your needs. You depend on them physically and emotionally, and you forget to foster other healthy relationships.

If you have a fear of engulfment, you worry that you’ll become so fully immersed in your relationship that you’ll lose your sense of self and independence.

To combat the possibility of this fear becoming your reality, you might sabotage your own relationships or completely avoid getting involved in a relationship in the first place. [Read: Spirited steps to be independent in a relationship & love better]

2. Fear of abandonment

The fear of abandonment is the overwhelming fear that the people you love will leave you either physically or emotionally.

This is often caused by the sudden or traumatic loss of a loved one, past relationship issues, or parental abandonment.

Having a fear of abandonment can come out in many different ways, but it most often involves quick attachments and possessive behavior, which can ironically cause the very abandonment that those with this fear try to avoid.

3. Anxiety disorders

Intimacy issues come along with all kinds of anxiety disorders. [Read: Signs of social anxiety that hold you back & how to overcome it]

Usually, having extreme anxiety issues causes someone to be overwhelmingly concerned about being judged or rejected by others. In order to avoid this happening, they might choose to avoid personal connections.

4. Past sexual abuse

Sadly, sexual trauma has a great deal to do with intimacy issues. Sexual abuse brings an array of troubles with it, and it’s the most difficult thing to tackle.

Especially if it occurred in childhood, sexual abuse could contribute to lifelong behaviors that aren’t easy to combat. A person might avoid sexually intimate relationships entirely, or they might over-indulge. Sexual trauma causes trust issues that are also related to intimacy issues.

Types of intimacy issues

There’s never one type of anything, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that there are multiple types of intimacy, and each can come with a unique set of intimacy issues. [Read: Relationship closeness inventory – 20 ways to test your intimacy]

Each of these types of relationships is important in the formation of a truly whole intimate relationship. Being unable to establish intimacy in any of these areas will likely cause tension in the relationship. Understanding and being proactive about your weaker areas is a significant help.

1. Experiential

Our experiential relationships are formed when we bond with someone over shared interests. You might form an experiential bond with someone because of your shared love of hiking, reading, or sports.

2. Emotional

Emotional bonds are formed by, of course, sharing emotions.

Being able to be vulnerable with one another and comfortably share your feelings is fundamental in forming intimate relationships. [Read: Emotional connection – 38 signs, secrets, & ways to build a real bond]

3. Spiritual

Having a spiritual relationship with someone is arguably just about as intimate as it can get. Spirituality tends to encompass most other types of relationships within itself, but only if spirituality is important to you.

A spiritual bond means that you connect with your partner on levels outside of the physical earth. You share similar beliefs in a higher power or your individual connections to the universe.

4. Intellectual

Being intellectually intimate with someone means that you’re comfortable sharing your thoughts and ideas with them.

You might bond and feel the closest to someone when you’re able to have meaningful and intellectual conversations with them.

5. Sexual

Sexual bonds are intense, physically intimate bonds. [Read: Erotophobia – the variety of fears related to sexual intimacy]

This means that you feel comfortable and respected when sharing your body and sexuality with your partner.

How to date someone with intimacy issues

Just because it might mean a little more work doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There are plenty of people in successful relationships despite their partner’s intimacy issues.

They just figure out how to make it work by supporting their partner in the best way they can.

It may take some time, and it’ll definitely be a learning process, but you can do it. After all, anything worth having is worth working for. [Read: The hardships of having a fear of intimacy]

1. Never push them

Pushing someone to open up to you will typically only make them shut down even more. You can’t force someone to tell you everything about who they are and why they have these issues. You have to allow them to open up on their own terms and in their own time.

2. Gently offer opportunities for them to open up

If you want them to let you in on their own terms, you have to give them opportunities to do so.

You can’t avoid trying to get to know them, but give them the space they need. If you allow them to pull you in, they’ll do so. [Read: Foolproof ways to get your man to open up to you]

3. Open up to them

You can help them open up by sharing parts of yourself and opening up to them. When you’re forthcoming with them, someone with intimacy issues will realize that there’s no reason for them to hold back.

They’ll be more likely to show you who they really are.

4. Show them your flaws

Another way to successfully date someone with intimacy issues is by showing them your flaws. Show them that you’re not perfect and that you make mistakes.

Doing this will help them understand that they don’t need to be perfect, either.

5. Don’t allow them to avoid questions

Most people with intimacy issues have basically perfected the art of evasion. You ask a question, and they find a way to dance around answering it while still giving you something to work with.

Don’t let them do this. If you ask an innocent question and they seem to be avoiding it, bring the conversation back to it.

You don’t want to do this in a way that seems pushy, however, or it’ll have the opposite effect. Instead, you have to gently steer the conversation. [Read: 60 questions to ask to get to know your partner even better]

6. Reassure them of your feelings

Most people with intimacy issues fear being hurt.

So, they shield themselves from others to avoid the risk of pain. By letting them know that you have strong feelings for them, they’ll be more likely to open up because they won’t be as afraid of being rejected. Sprinkle in some doting every once in a while, and make sure they know that you care for them.

7. Recognize their most intense pattern and focus on that issue first

You can usually pinpoint specific things that trigger someone to pull away from you.

Is it when you try to get frisky with them? Is it when you ask about their past relationships?

When you find the specific moment when they start to build their wall, it’ll be much easier for you to figure out how to go about breaking it down so they can open up.

8. Talk about your past, and encourage them to talk about theirs

Not only should all couples discuss their past relationships, but learning their history can help you figure out why they’re so closed off.

Bringing up some of your own history and its negative parts will make them feel more comfortable telling you about theirs. Just be careful and respectful because they may take it the wrong way if you’re too aggressive. [Read: How to talk about your past relationships with ease]

9. Don’t just allow it to happen

Don’t ignore their intimacy issues just to skip around the confrontation and awkwardness. Sure, it might be easier to do that, but you need to address them and work to get past them if you want to have a successful relationship.

10. Determine whether or not you care enough to help them through it

Do you have strong enough feelings for this person to go through the process of getting past their intimacy issues? This is not a journey for the weak, so you need to care about them enough to be patient and understanding.

If you don’t know if you like them enough just yet, work on getting to know them as much as you can.

11. Realize that it won’t be easy

Intimacy issues don’t happen overnight, and they won’t disappear that quickly, either. You have to work with them over a decent amount of time in order to improve the problems.

Some days will be harder than others, but it’ll never be easy, and it’ll never be quick. [Read: Big problems in a relationship and how to fix them]

12. Don’t give them reasons to pull back

If they open up about something personal and you make fun of them for it, they won’t feel comfortable doing it again.

Be accepting of the things they say, and don’t judge them for who they are.

13. Try to understand where they’re coming from

Put yourself in their shoes. If you felt like you could never open up to someone, it would probably be incredibly lonely. Think about how they feel and how you’d want someone to help you, and do exactly that.

14. Have an honest discussion

They know they have intimacy issues. They also realize that being in a relationship with them can be quite difficult. [Read: Conversations to have in order to feel closer]

Have an open discussion with them.

Let them know that you notice their detachment, but you want to make it work. Let them know that they’re worth it and that you can’t see yourself with someone else. Honest communication helps more than anything.

15. Be there for them when they need you

If they’re having a hard day and are upset, let them know you’re there to talk if they need you.

Being there for them during hard times can help them trust you more. The more trust they have in you, the more they’ll open up to you. [Read: How to be a good friend – 49 traits & friend codes that define a real pal]

The impact of having intimacy issues

Having intimacy issues can cause a host of other problems. These issues can and will affect almost every relationship you have, but they’re most prevalent in romantic relationships.

A person’s intimacy issues can wiggle right into relationships with friends, family, and co-workers by holding them back from forming deeper and more connected relationships.

Being unable to maintain intimate relationships only gets lonelier as time goes on and as they build more walls and create more boundaries.

Suffering from intimacy issues can bring on many other risks, including the following:

1. Higher risk for substance abuse

2. Sabotaging relationships

3. Greater risk of depression and anxiety

4. Social isolation

5. Having more short-term relationships than long-term ones

6. Serial dating

How to fix intimacy issues

While intimacy issues can’t necessarily be fixed, you can learn how to cope with them and manage them effectively. The most helpful thing that a person can do to “fix” their intimacy issues is to address them head-on. [Read: Fear of intimacy – the hardships of being afraid of love]

Therapy is the best tool. A good therapist can help you uncover the root of the problem. They’ll help you discover where your issues may have come from and provide you with excellent coping skills.

A therapist will also tell you that open and honest communication will help you manage your fear of intimacy. It’ll help your partner understand what’s going on inside your mind so that they can avoid being too pushy. This will help you establish healthy boundaries.

However, therapy isn’t a good option for everybody.

If that’s the case, managing your intimacy issues on your own is definitely possible. There are three pertinent things that you need to focus on the most.

1. Value yourself

Since a big part of intimacy issues is convincing yourself that you don’t deserve love, you have to figure out how to unlearn that.

Know that you’re just as valuable as the people you believe you aren’t worthy of. You deserve to be able to not only feel love, but you also deserve to feel that you’re worthy of feeling it.

[Read: Sense of self – what it is & 36 signs, tips, & steps to raise it and feel great]

It can take a lot to learn how to truly value yourself, but it can be done!

Practice positive self-affirmations. Compliment yourself and give yourself grace. If you can learn to quiet your inner critic, you’ll be a lot closer to self-acceptance.

2. Come to terms with where your intimacy issues come from

Knowing where your intimacy issues come from is absolutely necessary if you want to know how to handle them. You can’t solve a problem if you can’t identify it, after all.

You have to be able to pinpoint the root of the problem or what it is that triggers the problem.

Feeling like you have to tackle your intimacy issues as a whole can seem daunting, overwhelming, and just undoable. But if you make it more about understanding the root and less about fixing the issues, you’re more likely to have success.

[Read: 45 facts & psychological secrets to decode how the mind works]

3. Communicate your intimacy issues effectively

This is a hard one for anybody with intimacy issues because the very nature of intimacy issues is generally closing yourself off to deeper communication. You’ve got to get past that, and it isn’t going to be easy. It will, however, be the most beneficial thing for you in terms of maintaining future relationships.

You will never have a partner who can read your mind. They will never know what you’re thinking and feeling unless you tell them. They won’t know what your limits are unless you let them know.

You have to be able to effectively communicate about your intimacy issues.

Figure out how much you’re comfortable saying regarding the fact that you have intimacy issues and why you have them.

Let them know the types of things that tend to trigger you or make you uncomfortable. Make sure that you can tell them what you need from them and ask what they might need from you.

[Read: Communication techniques to finally get them to open up to you]

Intimacy issues can be so hard to understand and cope with because of how many different types there are and how many different things can cause them. Use these tips to help yourself better understand this problem and how you can help it.

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...