Women’s Fear of Intimacy in Communication

September Trent

Have No Fear

Communication is one of the most important aspects of marriage. Lack of communication is also thmost common complaint I hear when doing marital therapy. Feeling connected and close, as well as being able to converse with your husband is extremely important.

 

In some situations, women may have difficulty having an intimate conversation with their husband due to fear of intimacy. When I use the word intimacy, I am referring to a close and affectionate relationship with another person.

Defined in this way, intimacy is allowing oneself to be known, cared for and loved, even the areas that you wish you could hide from others. It includes allowing yourself to be vulnerable with people that you trust. Below are some communication characteristics of someone who has a fear of intimacy and how they can be fixed.

Communication Characteristics

Avoidance

Someone who fears intimacy in communication will avoid conversations she believes will lead to serious topics. The person may avoid conversation unless it deals with tasks of daily living. For example, a woman who fears intimacy in communication may avoid discussing when she felt overlooked by her husband at a family gathering because she fears it will bring up unresolved issues from her past. Another example would be when a woman purposely busies herself  in order to avoid talking about difficult topics.

Passes Judgment

Instead of having an attitude of understanding, someone with fear of intimacy in communication may pass judgment on her spouse. Rather than listening to the feelings or information her spouse shares, she is concentrating on her opinions about what he has said. Thinking that your husband is lying when he says an emergency at work made him late for your date night would be an example of passing judgment without trying to understand. This type of judgment can:

  • Produce feelings of anger and being wronged
  • Cause distance between you and your spouse because of these feelings
  • Distance will prevent intimacy

Negativity

Someone who struggles with intimacy in communication may be overly negative in her conversations. Instead of trying to see the positive side of a situation, she sees the negative side and fixates on this. For example, a husband and a wife have a nice picnic planned for a sunny Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, when they get to the perfect spot, it begins to rain. As they try to find shelter, they slip in the mud and are able to laugh at each other. When they do find shelter, they are able to have a good conversation about their life together. Someone who fears intimacy in communication may see this experience as negative because things did not go as planned and she was not prepared for this type of conversation.

Excessive Control

Someone who always wants to be prepared for any type of uncomfortable conversation may try to exert control in any way possible. In trying to exert control, she may excessively control the areas where she feels she has control. This can give the illusion of being in control of situations for which you are fearful, but in reality that’s all it is: simply an illusion. For example, you may feel out of control and unprepared when speaking to your husband, but feel you have complete control over how your house is run. Due to feeling out of control in other areas, you may take this control over your home to extremes through needing to choose everything that goes in your home, needing everything to be spotless, or not allowing other family members to complete tasks because they did not follow your specific instructions.

Disengaging

When topics arise that she does not feel comfortable, someone who fears intimacy in communication may prevent herself from being engaging in the conversation. This may happen through day dreaming, thinking of other things, or physically removing herself from the conversation. If we go back to the previous example of the picnic, someone who disengages may not even have that good conversation with her husband. She may be thinking about her wet clothes, what to do with the food, how to get back to the car, or how she can leave the situation.

Focuses on Self

While focusing on yourself is not a bad thing, it becomes an issue when your thoughts are constantly about fear of intimate conversation with your husband. At an unconscious level, I see this present, often times, as an excessive focus on one’s own feelings, desires, thoughts, point of view, etc. It is a selfish way of thinking which insulates from intimacy. We are to care for ourselves, but not in a way that makes us the center of the world. Often times someone who experiences this fear of intimacy will be constantly thinking or preparing for these deep conversations when she rarely allows them to happen.

Focusing on self may or may not be evident to your spouse. For example, a woman experiencing this fear of intimacy may try to prepare herself mentally for any possible conversation with her husband that may be about a topic she does not feel comfortable discussing. There are limitless possibilities as to what conversations may come up and, therefore she finds herself more often than she would like in thought of protecting herself.

How Can You Fix These Characteristics?

Self-Analysis

It is difficult to make a change when you are unaware that there is a problem. Doing some analysis of yourself and your actions will help you understand changes that need to be made. Self-analysis may require insight from your husband, close friends, or family members. Ask others to make observations about your words, attitudes, and actions. It may also require the help of a professional, such as a counselor.

Commit to Change

It can be easy to say you are going to change, but actually putting those words into action is more difficult. Commit to change by telling your husband or trusted friend of your plans and ask them to keep you accountable. It may also help to write out a commitment statement of what you want to change as well as the steps you would like to take to make these changes.

Work on A Safe Relationship

It is important to work toward an emotionally safe environment in your marital relationship. Many women who experience fear of intimacy may not feel emotionally safe in their marital relationship due to a number of reasons. In order to work on intimate communication with your husband you have to feel safe when you are discussing important topics. The following emotional safety handout provides information about developing an emotionally safe relationship.

Communicate with your Husband

If you want to have intimate conversations with your husband you have to be willing to communicate with him. Your first step should be sharing with your husband your struggles and your commitment to change. This discussion must focus on yourself and not how you think your husband should change. Changing the subject to your husband would be an issue of boundaries in which you reach for something you cannot control. Starting off this change process without including your husband would defeat the purpose.

Give Yourself Grace

During this process, make sure to give yourself grace. It is difficult to realize that you may fear intimacy in communication with the person that you love. Identifying the problem and seeking change are the first steps to improving your communication with your husband.


If you or someone you know is struggling with marital communication, please contact us. The Relationship Center has therapists who specialize in marital therapy. We are here to help and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

References

Berry, R. A., & Lawrence, E. L. (2013). “Don’t stand so close to me”: An attachment perspective of disengagement and avoidance in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(3), 484-494.

Harley, W. F. (2003). His Needs Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell.

Markman, H. J., Rhodes, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Ragan, E. P., & Whitton, S. W. (2010). The premarital communication roots of marital distress and divorce: The first five years of marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(3), 289-298.

Smalley, G., Smalley, G., Smalley, M., & Paul, R. S. (2004). The DNA of Relationships. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Recommended Reading

Harley, W. F. (2003). His Needs Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell.

Smalley, G., Smalley, G., Smalley, M., & Paul, R. S. (2004). The DNA of Relationships. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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