5 signs you have trouble with intimacy (don’t worry, you’re not alone)

Bonding with your partner is a critical part of a loving, lasting relationship. It’s also one of the best parts of loving another person — sharing a close bond makes us feel safe, secure, and wanted. But many of us have trouble with intimacy, whether it’s because of a past romance gone awry, a complicated relationship with a parent, or a loss or trauma of some kind. The fact is, fear of intimacy can strike anyone.

If you feel like you have trouble getting close to others or sustaining intimacy in a relationship, you’re not alone. Below, learn about five signs you may be struggling with intimacy.

1You have trouble expressing your feelings, or asking to have your needs met.

Do you find yourself drawing away from your partner when you’re going through a difficult time? Or if your partner inadvertently hurts your feelings or doesn’t meet your needs, do you withdraw from the relationship? These behaviors may be signs you’re struggling with intimacy. Trust between partners and a close bond help to facilitate open communication, so if you find yourself holding back, you may be facing an intimacy-related barrier. (You may also have trust/closeness issues with your partner, so that’s something to consider.)

2You love the honeymoon phase of a relationship, but get bored easily and find yourself wanting to move on.

Even though you may feel a close bond with someone when you first start dating, your closeness is probably pretty superficial. That’s because you haven’t known each other long and haven’t gone through the range of experiences that truly bond people — job losses, deaths, difficulties with friends or family members, and other experiences that force us to be vulnerable with each other.

It’s OK to feel excited about a new relationship and close to someone right off the bat — that’s the earliest stage of bonding. But after that phase ends, if you find yourself feeling “alternately trapped or bored or smothered, then start[ing] a pattern of over-focusing on the new partner’s shortcomings and begin[ning] to disengage,” as social worker and relationship expert Robert Weiss explains it, then you may be struggling with intimacy avoidance.

This could be happening because you had a parent who was emotionally unavailable, inconsistent, or showed love only conditionally. Perhaps you faced childhood sexual trauma, or were forced into the role of an adult at an early age. All of those things can contribute to troubles with intimacy.

3You are endlessly upbeat and always busy.

Having a positive outlook and a full life are never bad things, but an endlessly upbeat attitude and a “workaholic” lifestyle may actually be tactics you use (consciously or not) to avoid being vulnerable and intimate with others.

If you never open up about what’s troubling you — by offering an always-sunny disposition — then you never open yourself up to the possibility of attachment. You likely fear, based on some childhood experience, that you’ll end up hurt and disappointed if you let yourself be vulnerable, despite the fact that you want — and need! — deep human connection.

4You’re always put together, and you never want your partner to see you — or your home — looking undone.

Bonding with someone requires you to be vulnerable, so if you’re an intimacy-avoidant person, it makes sense that you’d prevent your partner from ever seeing you without makeup or a cute outfit on, or when your apartment is upside-down. Preserving an image of perfection not only keeps you busy, it also keeps you from getting too close to someone and letting them in on the messy, real, vulnerable realities of your life.

5You engage in flirtatious “friendships,” or keep exes around who lavish you with inappropriate attention.

As single people, we sometimes test boundaries with friends to see if our relationships could turn into something romantic. That’s fine, but if you’re in a committed relationship and you’re still engaging in those flirtations, you may be using those “friendships” to avoid intimacy with your partner. These types of interactions can actually be a form of infidelity, and may be a sign that you’re avoiding a deep, emotional attachment with your significant other.

If anything on this list resonated with you, know that therapy or counseling can be a great resource, and so can talking through these issues with someone nonjudgmental who you trust.

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