Fear of Intimacy
Fear of intimacy is a term we common hear in the world of dating, romance, and relationship. As a sex therapist, marriage counselor, and couples therapist, I hear more women using the term” fear of intimacy” to describe their partners than men. Women are frustrated with their partners’ fear of intimacy. Men are frustrated with their own fear of intimacy. They both know how this fear of intimacy has created loss of intimacy in their relationships.
Fear of intimacy in men is a big problem for many men. They might feel loving and caring towards their partners or someone they just met, but this fear of intimacy can still creep in and block further connection. A man that is unable to move forward with his fear of intimacy runs the risk of losing emotional intimacy and connection with his loved one but also with himself.
Men have fear of intimacy, does that mean they don’t want intimacy?
That’s is another popular question I get a lot in my practice when my individual clients and couples come in for couples therapy and/or sex therapy. My answer to that fear of intimacy question is generally a “No.” Of course there are exceptions but in general, I see men craving intimacy, and wanting intimacy. They are frustrated with their own fear of intimacy, which makes that fear worse and create more distance in the relationship. Eventually, fear of intimacy takes over their relationship and their sex life. It becomes a vicious, frustrating, defeating cycle. But the truth is, men can have intimacy too. (Please Read: I Need Deeper Intimacy. But How?)
Fear of Intimacy Causes
Fear of intimacy can come from many different sources. There are a number of reasons that men develop a fear of intimacy. I can’t put down all of them so I would just list 8 of the biggest ones that I’ve read in literature and see in my couples therapy & sex therapy practice.
1. Early Disconnection & Lack of Encouragement and Practice
Intimacy requires that we show up as who we are and unmask ourselves from the inside out. It requires us to take risk and be vulnerable. Vulnerability and men is not a popular mantra and highly encouraged in our society. Men get the pressure to be hard, logical, strong, and independent. That pressure also sets men up to be emotionally distant, arrogant, numb to their own feelings, and inconsiderate about others.
Another observation I have seen is that women don’t know how to properly respond when their partners are being “intimate” even though that’s what they have been asking for. When their partners are being vulnerable, being emotionally open, and taking the risks to show their deeper longings and feelings, many women miss those opportunities and fail to interact as an attuned partner. Some women are uncomfortable with men being that way, because they wanted their men to be “strong, hard, the macho man.” Women simply lack the practice of how to be there to hold their partners too. Such dynamic only further shut down any inclination men might have to be more intimate.
Moreover, on average, girls are cut off from their primary care takers at the age of 13. Men are disconnected around the ages of 3 to 5. Can you see how many more years women get to have the encouragement to explore their internal experience and permission to feel what they are feeling and expressing them? Women get to have more dialogues about their emotional experience. Encouragement and practice with permission can have a huge impact on our ability to be vulnerable, and hence be intimate.
2. Neglect & Abuse in Childhood
Any form of neglect and abuse (physical, mental, relational, psychological, & sexual) can all lead to fear of intimacy issues later in life. Early childhood adverse experiences can cause us to be stuck developmentally and sexually, and they play out even more so in our intimate relationships. Those experiences can make any of us feeling hard to open up and develop connections with other people. Men with those experiences and growing up in a culture that does not support men being vulnerable will have more fear of intimacy and challenges with emotional and sexual connection. Men might not know and/or have the skills to deal with their early traumatic experience.
3. Abuse in Past Relationships
I know it’s rare to hear that men can be victims in intimate relationships but that is a hard fact. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “one in seven men age 18+ in the U.S. has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in his lifetime. One in 10 men has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. In 2013, 13% of documented contacts to the Hotline identified themselves as male victims. Although they make up a smaller percentage of callers to the Hotline, there are likely many more men who do not report or seek help for their abuse, for a variety of reasons.”
If a man has been through some sort of trauma or hurtful experience in his previous experience, it is normal and natural for him to have fear of intimacy. He will shut down and be more guarded in his subsequent relationships. Don’t we all do that? Who wants to take risk again when doing that did not do them any good in the past? It is a healthy, smart protective mechanism. The trick is to get proper help like PTSD/Trauma Therapy or Individual Therapy so a man can move forward with guidance and support. His past does not have to be the barrier for him to have the intimacy and passion that he wants in his relationship.
Please check: Men Can Be Victims of Abuse, Too, for more information.
Fear of Intimacy: Help for that?
Men want intimacy but don’t know how to have intimacy. Women want their men to be intimate but they don’t always see it when their partners are being intimate. Men can be intimate but they just need more skills and practice. Women ask for intimacy but they are not always being the intimate partners they need to be. The on going misconnection creates more miscommunication and misunderstanding between men and women. Therefore, more conflicts arise and more pain created in relationships.
I also wanted to share that I have started to see more and more women having fear of intimacy due to society, cultural, technological, and generational changes. (That’s another topic I can go on and on about). The above reasons for fear of intimacy can apply to women as well.
Fear of intimacy is not unresolvable. It is not hard science. Partners who can be intimate because they have received the right information and the right guidance. Intimacy can be learned and how to be an intimate partner can be taught.
Does your relationship need more intimacy? Do you want more intimacy? Are you and your partner stuck in this frustrating, painful war of intimacy?
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