Is Fear of Intimacy Affecting Your Love Life?


Are you thinking it’s his/her fault that there’s no intimacy in your relationship? If he/she would only change, your relationship would be great!

To some extent you may be right. 

Maybe he/she:

  • Was abused as a child
  • Is currently recovering from a significant loss and not ready
  • Is dealing with a divorce or relationship break-up and still angry
  • Has wandering eyes and is never around long enough to get hurt
  • Is afraid of commitment because of past hurts
  • Gets into a fight with you every time you start to get close
The question is — why are you in this relationship to begin with? Why have you chosen to be with someone who is not open to intimacy? 

Some common reasons are:

  • It is alway his/her problem and you are innocent
  • You never have to face your own intimacy issues
  • It’s familiar and feels comfortable
  • You never have to risk being yourself

In my years of personal growth coaching I have noticed some common childhood experiences that can make intimacy a challenge:


This is when one of your parents leaves you. You have bonded with them and now they are gone. You think its your fault and decide you have to change in order to insure the love and attention you crave.

It doesn’t have to even be a forever abandonment. The younger you are, the more traumatic a temporary separation can become. A client of mind was put in an isolation chamber when she was only a few months old because of health issues. She survived. However, those  few weeks of separation from her parents gave her a profound fear of abandoned. When her husband died, a few years ago, that childhood abandonment patterns was re-triggered. It made her grief recovery a challenge for her. 

One behavior pattern the child may adopt is “pleasing.” The child stops being her true self and morphs into whatever she thinks the other person wants. This is not intimacy. You are not really present. You are always acting out who you think you should be instead of who you are. Being yourself feels too vulnerable and risks rejection. Without vulnerability, however, there can be no intimacy. 

Unsafe and Chaotic

Parent(s) fail to provide a secure and consistent environment of food, clothing, shelter and love. The child may learn to manipulate the parents or some other adult to provide for these needs. As he/she grows the child may eventually take over the tasks of survival her/himself.

Like the other pattern, there is abandonment, however, no amount of pleasing will rectify the situation. Control is the operative word. The child seek safety and stability and develops skills to create it. He/she learns to distrust his/her emotions. Intimacy will feel weak or out of control.  

Sexual, Physical or Verbal Abuse:

Physically threatened, the child will often resort to the classic survival patterns of fight/flee/freeze. Boys, as they grow, get big enough to defend themselves, while girls may seek the protection of outsiders, i.e. a strong boyfriend, who unfortunately may simply replace the father. 

If sexually abused, the child may develop seductive patterns that provide a sense of control which can then be used to in other relationships. This unfortunately may lead to subsequent abuse. Or the child may flee the body so as to avoid awareness. In both cases, intimacy is a challenge.

Verbal abuse may trigger an “I’ll show you” pattern which can leads to material success but avoids intimacy. As with the previous pattern, the focus is on control not connection.

Sexual Activity Involves Vulnerability

While nature has gone to great pains to protect those engage in the act of procreation, there are always risks. Animals may use sound, scent, visual cues, touch, and even taste to identify appropriate partners. Predators, however, often learn to mimic these cues to the demise of some of these amorous seekers. It is a matter of adaption and balance. Too much predation, no more frogs. Insufficient predation and some other life form may suffer.

This innate caution about the sex act is part of our human ancestry. Sex leaves you distracted, naked and vulnerable to attack either by your partner or an outsider.

In addition, humans are also vulnerable to social threat, e.g. rejection for not being good enough, sexy, beautiful, appealing, effective or desirable. This rejection is not minor. Humans, because they are social animals, are wired to crave approval and acceptance. Mother nature intends for us to live in  groups because it improves our survival and that of our offspring. Social rejection can feel life-threatening even when it is not. It is a rare and evolved human being who is unaffected by disapproval in that profoundly vulnerable moment of sexual union.

To protect ourselves from rejection, we develop protective patterns of behavior.

Here are some of the intimacy avoidance games people play:

“Your Decide.” This may begin with the choice of a restaurant or movie and continue right on into the bedroom. Putting the decision on the other avoids the responsibility for making the wrong choice, but this often yields unsatisfying results. Taking turns is one solution.

“How Open Are You?” You beat around the bush regarding what you really want in order to test the waters and see if there is receptivity or encouragement. If rebuffed, the plan is to retreat without ever asking for what you need. A common problem with this approach is miscommunication, misunderstanding, and of course, not getting your needs met. Frustration and resentment are the outcome. 

“If you loved me” . . . you would know what I want. This is a variation of you decide, with a moral twist. 

Expressing what you actually want can leave you open to disapproval, ridicule, even disgust. It is also the only way to self empowerment.

Beware of games of pretend intimacy that are really traps to make the other person the problem, i.e. hinting, whispering sub voche, sending psychic messages, coded communications and allusions, underlined self-help books, body wiggles, grunts, etc. Clear communication always works best.  

Real intimacy requires self ownership and self acceptance that can survive any response from your partner. Real intimacy requires inner work and healing as well as a large dollop of patience, understanding and compassion. If you would like to have short introductory conversation to find out how I heal intimacy issues, go to

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Dr. Michelle Peticolas is a national speaker, Life Transformation Coach and expert on loss, emotional wounding and unresolved grief. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology and Psychology and over 25 years of coaching people through major life challenges. If you’re ready to change your relationship patterns and looking for guidance, watch some of my other videos on my YouTube Channel.

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