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5 Ways to Deal with an Intimacy-Phobic Person

Have you ever met someone and got along famously, only to have them back off suddenly? Perhaps you reacted by ignoring them when they finally tried to get in touch a few weeks later, and now, ages later, are still wondering what happened.

There is a good chance that you simply became involved with a person who suffers from fear of intimacy.

Seen as a social or anxiety disorder, fear of intimacy often results in a person blowing hot then cold, or doing the occasional disappearing act, which can be terribly frustrating for others. But it’s also terribly frustrating for the person who is intimacy-phobic and does want your friendship but sabotages it despite themselves. The very nature of this anxiety disorder makes it difficult for them to explain what’s going on.

15 Comments to
5 Ways to Deal with an Intimacy-Phobic Person

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  1. I was on the receiving end of a relationship like this. My now ex-boyfriend seems like a pretty good guy: laid back, generous, funny, smart. However, he has severe intimacy issues, which he is good at hiding most of the time. He has knee jerk responses to anything dealing with love, marriage, commitment, etc. You can’t even give him a valentine with the word LOVE on it. I’ve tried to ask him about it in a non-threatening way, but I never get an answer. I’ve tried everything I know to help him feel comfortable, and talk about things in a non-threatening, non-critical way, but it was never enough. He would act one way, then act another, and seem to be totally oblivious about it. He wouldn’t listen to me when I told him he was doing things that made me feel like he didn’t care about me. He told a stranger, in public, that we were “just friends with benefits” because the man thought I was his wife. I finally had enough. I had to force the issue, and asked him to tell me what he wanted. He said, “I don’t know.” He finally admitted to having this fear of “what might happen” all his life. He pushed and pulled me, dismissed my feelings, and still expected me to stay. I wanted to, in the hopes that it could be worked out, but I left. I just felt that if he had known me for 8 years, and it wasn’t enough…when would it be? What about every woman he’s thrown away over the course of his life….when will it be enough? He knows he has a problem, but he’s not exactly upfront about it, and he does nothing to work on it. I feel bad about the whole situation, but I have to think about my life too, and take care of myself. I would have liked to stand with him to work on this, but I doubt it will ever happen. I grieve for him. I wonder what happened to him to cause this. It’s horribly sad.

    • Hi Cg13,

      I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,
      But are you sure he has issues and it’s not just the way he is with you,
      I have had friends over the years who think the guy has commitment issues and then they break up and hey presto, he’s with another girl, married, pregnant, the commitment issues have diseappeared.
      Sorry, could be completely wrong about your case,
      But try not to make excuses for bad behaviour,


  2. I’m so glad I read this today. I have a friend who wants to get closer and I’m terrified. What you wrote has helped me understand my fears and helped me see a new way of handling my fears. Thank you.

    • Hi Sally,
      How would you face your fear? I have a friend going through this, not sure how I can help without being exiled.

    • Sally,
      The best thing you can do is be honest with your friend about what you’re feeling. Hopefully then, if you both care about each other, you can work together. That would be great. I wish you all the luck in the world.

  3. Catherine,
    Good question, but he told me himself that he has never been able to move forward in any relationship, due to his fear. He only admitted this after I forced the issue. Before this, he would tell me things like how he had finally found the perfect relationship with me. He had me completely involved with his family and friends. We’d known each other for several years before we got together. In fact, he pursued me to begin with, and I told him no because I didn’t know him very well. We were just friends.

    He made statements all the time about future things we were going to do….years in advance. He had plans for us to be together, but it became clear from his behavior, and the things he would say, that it was only if everything was easy and detached…if you could hear him talk, you would understand. He is the master of vague talk…saying and doing just enough. That’s why it was so confusing. He’s had many girlfriends over the last 30 years, so I know he has faced this issue before….but will only deal with it when forced to.

    I would not be surprised if he got with someone else again quickly. He’s an attractive man in many ways. After I told him how I felt, and asked him what he wanted, he just disappeared. Never heard from him again. So much for us having ever been friends. I ceased to exist after that. This is not an exaggeration. I was saddened, but not surprised by it. I’ve never seen him treat anyone badly; it’s more in his attitude, than anything else. It’s like he cares, but only so much. Very confusing.

    No one ever wants to believe bad things about someone they care about, but I eventually had to face the truth. I’m not excusing his behavior at all. I don’t think his fear is a license to treat others badly. Believe me, I will be much more wary next time.

  4. After reading this article it seems to me that intimacy-phobia is a little similiar to social phobia where they want to make friends and be social but are so afraid that they cannot bring themselves to do so.

  5. I tend to think it’s also related to different attachment styles, such as avoidant and anxious. I try to accept the other person’s need for space and understand that this is how they cope. I try to be very gentle and never push. I think the key is allowing them to take of themselves in the way that they need while you also take care of yourself in the way that you need. People have different ways of relating and different needs in relationships and that’s okay.

  6. What a great article. I wish I would have seen this 18 months ago when I became friends with a man who started blowing hot and cold. I had never experienced this before with anyone, so it was very puzzling and very painful for me. After months of research online, I was able to finally “fit the puzzle pieces together.” This article states the facts about intimacy-phobic people in a honest, educational and humane manner. I found it very uplifting, and refer to it whenever my friend starts blowing cold. I’m starting to be able to see this as his problem, and to not take it personally, and simply come from a place of love and understanding. That’s helped tremendously.

  7. I am in a (kinda, sorta, i think)relationship with a guy who is terrified of intimacy. It is clear where the fear comes from. It is clear the fear is there. He runs hot n cold and it takes so much work not to get hurt myself. I wish i knew if, given the time, he will step out of it, or if he is simply incapable of letting go. This is so confusing

  8. This may as well have been written about me. I am male, almost 50, been single for 8 years although had three long-term relationships in the past which all seemed to fall to bits in the end due to my problems with intimacy and committment. My mother passed away when I was 12, father remarried very quickly and my stepmother showed no warmth or efection towards my sisters and I, despite the awful loss of our mother. I’m sure this is the root of my problems, I just find it nearly impossible to get emotionally close to women, show effection or any sort of commitment, feels too risky, I’ll only get hurt again. The only time I can get physical with women or even speak to women I find attractivs is when I’m very drunk.

  9. It breaks my heart to read this because it’s me and I don’t like the reality. I pick men with problems so mine are more hidden. I create issues in relationships to ensure distance. I’m lonely and want love, yet I hurt others to avoid commitment. They have no idea of the pain I feel inside. I only feel normal if I drink, which I’ll occasionally do. I am even detached from my siblings who probably think I am weird.

  10. Wow. As I’ve read through the comments they just fill me with sadness. I’m an intimate & loving creature who has never experienced this type of fear/anxiety. I’m socially confident & emotionally mature in spite of having a childhood that was not a bed of roses. I just got sick of being miserable, realised life is pretty short really, decided I wasn’t that bad & I wanted to be happy for the most part.
    I’ve been doing a bit of googling about ‘men & intimacy’ issues after a dating experience with a man whom I strongly suspect is struggling with this. I thought he was (well, still is I guess) a smart interesting man with a lot to offer (I mean that in terms of who is is, nothing more) & we had about five wonderful dates which were spread across four months on account of his travel for work & being based in a different city. During the times we didn’t see each other we communicated often & discussed very intimate things. The communication didn’t lose momentum & I didn’t lose interest. We kissed ever more passionately at the end of the last three dates & I was very interested in seeing him more regularly. I was attracted to him & wanted to take things to the next level & consider embarking on a relationship. This is were he basically cut me off without a word & stopped writing, smsing or calling me. It was quite hurtful. I called him in an attempt to discuss things & he was quite negative about the whole prospect of any kind of relationship or even seeing me again. He was previously involved with a woman who by his version of events didn’t treat him well most of the time (controlling, capricious & histrionic sounding behavior) & he got very attached to her two children, who are teenagers now, whom he still visits from time to time when she will allow him. I can understand how this was a difficult situation. He told me he had a nervous breakdown & left her & it was an excruciating decision to leave the children. He also told me that he had an episode that lasted about 18 months where he felt no interest in anything remotely sexual & did not even masturbate. He was quite worried about it but assured me he was back to normal. He talked about his former partner & her children a lot which kind of started to annoy & bore me. He has been single for four years now & hasn’t had any relationships since then.
    During the discussion I mentioned above I basically told him that I didn’t think he was in the right space for a potentially serious relationship, which is what I am in the market for (& what he had claimed to be in for too) & that I would have to move on emotionally & see other men as life is short & meeting a man I can share my life with & potentiallly have a child with is a major priority for me now. He seemed to be kind of upset at this, which I couldn’t understand. What did he expect me to do after he ignored me for so long & didn’t reply to any of my communications & never explained why.
    It has been a month now & I’m trying to meet other men, however I am still thinking about him & how much I’d rather be spending time with him. I miss talking with him. I kind of want to tell him this but I also think I should just move on & forget about him. Afterall his treatment of me has not been great. I don’t think he was intentionally being hurtful to me. I think there is something else going on. I’ve aksed the opinion of several important men in my life- my brother, one of my close male friends & my boss who I have a very paternal relationship with (we won’t get started on my own daddy issues here) & they have all said different things which have confused me more. I was inclined to think he just didn’t fancy me enough & like many people he just didn’t have the courage to tell me, but he has made comments indicating that this is not the case.

    I’m finding it hard to forget about him as I’m not the type of person who takes affairs of the heart lightly. I don’t find myself attract to many men at all so when I am it is quite powerful. Any advice? Should I communicate with him again or just let things slide? Intelligent comments only please.

  11. I am currently dating a guy who I have always recognied has intimacy issues. I have known him for 5 years. In the beginning, we got along well. I liked him very much. His level of intamacy was very minimal. It was very hard for him to open up & express his feelings. He doesn’t like to kiss, cuddle, hold hands. Our lives where even kept very seperate becasue he admittedly has been very hurt & didnt want to get attached. I found it very hard to bond with him & progress was very limited. After a year of dating, I stopped seeing him when I decided that my emotional needs where not going to be met. I could never get him out of my heart & A little over a year later I made contact with him. He said he was devasted by me leaving and even cried. Said he was actually falling in love. I was shocked as I had no idea he felt that way becasue he never expressed it.
    Fast forward to now… currently we have been dating almost 2 years. Our communication about things has dramatically improved. We are trying to find a balance between meeting my needs and making him comfortable. Not feel overhwlem with anxiety by being pressured or pushed. However understanding that if it’s going it;s going to work, he wil need to step ou of his protective mode. We have grow our bond with patience & understanding. We share in things. He talks to me a lot about things he has never told anyone. He talks to me about his anxiety now & acknowledges that he wants to give me what I need but he is not sure how. In past relationships he gave all & it ended up multiples time where the girl told him in the end that she never really loved him. So now he is fearful I will do the same thing. In addition, I have already ended our relationship once previously. He is afraid I will do it again. He said he has his life in order now, which is GREAT, and he feels very pertective of his emoional & metal state. That he has vowed to never let a relationship hurt him like that again because he does not want to go back there.
    Now that’s the positive side. We are making strides and I honsetly see his efforts. I have be strong in showing him that I am in this with him. I am not going anywhere… I love this guy! I want this man. He is so much of what I am looking for in all other aspects of life. We each have kids from previous marriage. We adore the little family unit we have. We have fun, common interests, respect, trust (aside from this), “decent” sexual life, common beliefs. However,is it ever going to be enough for me? Will he ever be able to completely open up? We When we talk & he says he wants our relationship to be more intimate, but does not have that instinctual need for it anymore. He says the feeling of anxiety just locks him up & makes him wihdraw from certain things. I want to know if I am being realistic and not just overly hopeful. Some of the intamacy issues still exist. I can count on one hand the amount of times we have kissed. He says is the hardest thing for him to do because, to him, kissing is the most intamate. I agree! Sex is 80% initiadted by me and is satifying in a physical sense but very “mechanical”. To avoid being hurt there are certain things he says he has “pushed aside the need for”. Well… I want passion & I need to be kissed! I try not to make him feel threatend by saying “if you don’t give me this, i’m leaving”, because he shuts down. I don’t want to leave. But what is the reality of it if things dont get better? So, I express my needs and try to be patient. As long as I see progress, I feel hopeful.
    So, I guess I am wondering if he can go back to being the intimate person he once was or am I just holding on & being to hopeful. I feel i’m am giving as much patience as I can but I also recognize that I don’t want to go a lifetime without being kissed and sharing other things with the man I love. I also recognize that he is honestly trying. I don’t know where to go from here. We both want this to work and even though we are making progress & we don’t fight about things, is there hope that we will get where we both need to be?

  12. Speaking as a guy with serious issues with anxiety, depression, and intimacy I’ve only recently come to terms with the causes of my intimacy issues. Personally I think they stem from not ever having any kind of emotional bonding with anyone as a child. My parents were there just not very emotionalemotionally involved. But as I grew up I learned how to adjust my personality to whatever group I was in. I wore that mask all the time to the point now I don’t know who I am or what I want. I’m not even sure if the person I am around people is me or what they want me to be. So I’m never sure if my feelings are really mine or even if they are genuine.


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