During a recent couples counseling session, Jenna, 40, and Ethan, 41, discuss the lack of intimacy in their relationship. This couple has been married for eight years and they have two young children.
Ethan put it like this, “Lately, we’re more like roommates than husband and wife. Jenna shuts me out
and doesn’t share her feelings with me. She even makes decisions about our kids without consulting
me.” Jenna agrees that they live separate lives and she doesn’t feel close to Ethan.
Establishing a healthy level of intimacy in a relationship is possible, but takes a certain degree of trust
and effort. During our sessions, Jenna recognizes that she needs to learn to have faith in Ethan and be
vulnerable enough to let him get close. But first she must begin to trust herself.
After all, how can she trust Ethan when she questions her own judgment? Jenna knows she has baggage
from her first marriage which dissolved quickly due to infidelity when she was in her late 20’s.
Rather than playing it safe, Jenna is beginning to allow herself to be vulnerable and take risks—two
crucial steps in developing intimacy in relationships.
According to writer, Gillian Florence Sanger, some people lack the ability to show up in a relationship
and to invite their partner to do the same. In her Gottman Institute blog, she writes, “To be intimate
with someone is to allow ourselves to be seen and to see openly in return. At the heart of human
relational desires, you long to be seen as the complex and authentic beings that you are. Yet despite
longing for intimacy, not everyone knows how to go about achieving it.”
Fear of Intimacy
One of the main obstacles for people who lack intimacy with their partners, is fear. You may fear that if
you open ourselves up to others, they will hurt you, and you will lose out on love. Fear of intimacy can
hold you back and prevent you from being your best self in relationships. In order to be intimate with a
partner, it requires a certain degree of vulnerability.
In Daring Greatly, Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Given this
definition, the act of loving someone and allowing them to love you may be the ultimate risk. Love is
uncertain; there are no guarantees. Your partner could leave you without a moment’s notice, or betray
you, or stop loving you. In fact, exposing your true feelings may mean that you are at greater risk for
being criticized or hurt.
Ask yourself: are you freezing out the opportunity to love because you are afraid to share your innermost
thoughts, feelings, and wishes? Take a moment and consider that your partner is not solely responsible
for creating a lack of trust and closeness in your relationship. You must take equal responsibility for
creating an atmosphere of intimacy.
In order to begin the process of overcoming emotional distance, ask yourself:
- Do I bring my best self to my interactions with my partner or do I hold back?
- Does my fear of loss and abandonment cloud my perspective and prevent me from sharing my
- Do I feel comfortable asking for what I need and allowing myself to be vulnerable or do I tend to
use stonewalling (shut down or distance myself)?
- Do I possess self-love and expect to be loved and respected?
What can you do if you are paralyzed by fear or unable to risk being vulnerable with your partner? First,
you need to acknowledge it. Fear does not go away on its own—it tends to morph into something else.
Did you ever notice that walking on eggshells never works, and instead just drains you of energy?
On the other hand, being vulnerable increases your sense of worthiness and authenticity. It helps you to
feel close and connected to your partner yet achieve your own sense of identity. Being vulnerable helps
you to ask for what you want and to avoid stonewalling. It allows you to build trust in others and to
become fully engaged in an intimate relationship. Being vulnerable allows you to open your heart—to
give and receive love fully.
The First Step in Overcoming Fear of Intimacy Is to Examine Your Beliefs
Check out the following list and see if one or more of the following beliefs has crossed your mind before.
- Love is easily broken, and despite everything I try, it may disappear.
- If I show my partner the true me, he or she probably will not like me and will go away.
- I cannot ask for what I need, because my partner will likely reject me.
- If I show how much I want to be loved, it will scare my partner.
- If my relationship fails, I am unlovable.
- Marriages and relationships may work for a while, but they always end up souring.
- Keeping my distance makes me feel safe and in control of my emotions.
- There is something wrong with me, and I do not know what it takes to make a relationship work.
All of the above statements reflect a lack of confidence. If you truly want to have a lasting and satisfying
relationship, you must first acknowledge and work to overcome your self-doubt and lack of self-
acceptance by challenging your thinking. Trusting yourself will only happen when you are able to love others in a committed way and believe in your ability to be intimate with your partner
5 Ways to Achieve Intimacy in Relationships
- Pinpoint the source of your fear of intimacy by examining your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs
- Visualize yourself in an open and honest relationship and set a goal to be more vulnerable. Start with small steps such as sharing your feelings about everyday situations.
- Challenge your self-defeating thought about accepting nurturing from your partner. What stops you from asking for the love and support you need?
- Keep a journal and/or talk to a therapist or close friend about your progress on being more vulnerable and intimate with your partner.
- Create a vision board about what you want your relationship to look like. Include images, words and affirmations that reflect the rapport that feels safe and comfortable for you.
One thing is certain, there isn’t one person on this planet who hasn’t made mistakes when it comes to
relationships. But healthy partnerships are within your reach if you let go of fear and believe you are worthy of love and all the gifts it has to offer.
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