Your Intimacy Index: How to Have More Intimacy


Overcoming Fear of Intimacy and Intimacy FearsThere’s a lot of confusion about intimacy, fear of intimacy, what it really is, and how to make it happen. There are couples married decades who can be physically close, but don’t know how to be emotionally intimate. Usually, people think it means sharing personal information or having sex.

Real intimacy is far more. The word “intimate” refers to our private and essential being. Intimacy makes us feel content, empowered, whole, peaceful, alive, and happy. It transforms and nurtures us. Physical closeness, communication, sex, and romance are important to a relationship, but emotional intimacy revitalizes and enlivens it.

Intimacy requires trust and safety. We must be aware of our inner experience at the moment to feel open and free enough to let go and be ourselves.

Often, the lack of intimacy is the reason partners feel bored, emotionally abandoned, and lose interest or desire for sex leading to “inhibited sexual desire.” The fear of intimacy can cause partners to be emotionally unavailable and lead to an endless dance of pursuit and distancing. It takes courage to share what you’re feeling with someone who also shares intimate feelings with you.

Necessary Prerequisites

Here are the necessary ingredients:

  1. Safety
  2. Trust
  3. Self-awareness
  4. Presence
  5. Openness
  6. Courage
  7. Self-esteem
  8. Autonomy
  9. Mutuality

Self-esteem allows you to be open and direct. The greater is your self-esteem and, paradoxically, the more you can be separate and autonomous, the greater is your capacity for closeness and intimacy. In fact, there are levels of intimacy.

Levels of Intimacy

Intimate conversations vary in their level of intimacy, but the deepest ones require:

  1. An authentic expression of deep feelings, not facts.
  2. Feelings that are in the present.
  3. That you honor each others’ separateness.
  4. That the feelings be about yourself or the person you’re with.

First level

At the first level, you share information about yourself. It may be facts that you consider private or things only your family knows. Many people attach to strangers quickly. They yearn to merge in order to feel whole, in the hopes that a relationship will boost their self-esteem and bring them happiness. Research has shown that even strangers sharing private information with each other for half an hour can fall in love if they stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes. However, intimacy isn’t merging, it’s being close. Most people, especially codependents (a majority in America), confuse sharing and becoming attached with love and real intimacy.

Second level

At the second level, which is common in close relationships, you share feelings—feelings about anything and everyone, except yourself or each other, or what’s happening in real-time. Most people consider this very intimate, and at this level of intimacy—or sooner—couples often start having sex.

You might share your feelings about your work, family, or an ex, for example, but this is not the same as divulging feelings about yourself, so there isn’t too much risk involved. Sex at this level may not make you feel closer and can be used to avoid intimacy. Instead of feeling safe and close afterward, you can feel emptier than before. True intimacy requires trust that comes with knowing the other person. It’s not often that you can do this with someone you’ve known for a short time. You might tell a stranger on a plane all about yourself, but not reveal what you think about them or yourself, which is a higher level of intimacy.

Third level

At the third level, you’re being more open and sharing feelings about yourself. This is very intimate for most people, but lacks some elements of real intimacy. You might not be exposing deeper feelings that aren’t contemporaneous with what’s happening, or there may be a lack of mutuality. For instance, you could say that you feel proud, guilty, or embarrassed about something.

When the feelings are negative, there’s a greater fear of being rejected, so more safety is required. Sometimes, people share negative facts and feelings about themselves when first meeting or dating someone. It’s usually not in an intimate context and is designed to push you away or test if you still want to date them. Another instance would be sharing feelings with a stranger you won’t see again at a workshop or on a plane. There’s little risk, because you have no investment in the relationship.

The skills required for intimacy are a challenge for some codependents. Often, one person is the listener and the other shares feelings about a problem. Listening to each others’ pain and problems might feel intimate, but caretaking or controlling ignores the other person’s separateness and autonomy. It lacks mutuality and has been called pseudo-intimacy.

The Recipe for Real Intimacy

True intimacy requires authenticity that involves being honest in the moment. It’s not about sharing your past or problems, but feelings about yourself, about what’s happening right now, or towards the person you’re with. There’s a potent immediacy to it. You must be able to identify your feelings. Our thoughts and judgments aren’t feelings. Connecting with raw and honest feelings in the moment requires presence and awareness. It also requires an ability to be assertive in talking about yourself.

You need self-esteem to feel secure about yourself, which allows you to be genuine without fear of being judged or rejected. Saying, “I love you,” if not sincere, can be less intimate than saying, “I don’t love you.” When you sugar-coat the truth, you miss out on the beautiful experience of real intimacy. It requires courage, especially when you reveal something that might alienate the other person. It has the opposite effect unless you want to end the relationship, People know that they can trust your honesty and your relationships deepen.

Rather than merging or pretending that differences don’t exist in order to feel accepted, you’re acknowledging that you’re two, separate adults relating your internal experiences and honoring those differences. That’s where autonomy comes in. You have to know you can survive on your own; otherwise, if you’re too afraid of losing the relationship or losing yourself, you guard how much you reveal.

If you’d like to try this and don’t know how, start by telling the person you’re with that you want to feel closer, but that you’re not sure how or what to say. If you admit this when you feel it, it’s an authentic admission and a beginning of intimacy.

My book, Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You provides an in-depth examination of why people avoid intimacy and how to change. Couples counseling can bring couples together to enjoy more closeness and practice new behavior. Beware of inexperienced therapists that reduce intimacy to more alone time or going on dates together. This may be the first step, but real intimacy should be practiced in the therapy session.

©Darlene Lancer, 2011, 2019

How to Overcome Fear of Intimacy and Intimacy Fears provided by Darlene Lancer, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, CA, and author of Codependency for Dummies

Share with friends
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Hello Darlene , I’ve just found your articles and they are very helpful. Lately I broke up with my boyfriend because of the lack of intimacy. But today I can see that I didnt know anything about intimacy. I thought it was something different. I want to buy your book Conquering shame but sadly there is no shipping to Turkey. How can I purchase it? I wonder if we can read it online like pdf or buy it online?

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
Reply to  Meltem

You can get Conquering Shame via Amazon in digital form. My ebooks are available here in PDF form, also.

4 years ago

Thank you for this. So needed.

6 years ago

I really wish that you, or someone could spell out exactly how to achieve real intimacy. Reading this makes me see that Ive never had an intimate relationship, & am always doing one of the things you mentioned. I know Ive had moments of real intimacy. But Im so depressed & battered after years of relationships not working Im not even sure who I am any more. Im in therapy, & have just started taking antidepressants again (not working yet), plus have just bought your Shame & Codependancy book. But Ive got ADHD & need some real guidelines instead of concepts, to tell me ‘This is what normal, really nice people do & say in relationships’.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
6 years ago
Reply to  Tina

You will find that Conquering Shame and Codependency is 1/3 concrete exercises that you can do to overcome shame. As your mood improves, hopefully you’ll be able to take actions that also build confidence and self-esteem. Codependency for Dummies and especially all of my e-workbooks lay out steps to take to achieve your goals. CoDA meetings can be a great support, as well.

Robert Doi
Robert Doi
6 years ago

I really want to subscribe to your blog. I am almost through with your 2d edition book of Codependency For Dummies and I have a sponsor in a 12 step CoDA group. I thoroughly appreciate all you have to say about relationships! Thank you so very much!

Darlene Lancer, MFT
6 years ago
Reply to  Robert Doi

Thank you Robert. I’m glad it’s been helpful. You can subscribe by simply clicking the bookmark tab of your browser.

7 years ago

That was deep ! I am shocked!!! I used the word intimacy so many times, but never really knew what it means. I love this blog, and I enjoyed the summary. I think this is good start for me. Thank you so very much for sharing!

7 years ago

It is very nice article. Please send me more.


Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  jamshid

Thank you. Each month, I post helpful blogs at You can subscribe to my blog by clicking the bookmark tab on your browser for monthly updates.

7 years ago

It is very nice article. Please send me more.


Recent Posts


To get your Free “14 Tips,” please provide your name and email to join my mailing list and monthly blog.

Check your spam folder, and email me if you don’t get an email confirmation. (See our Website and Privacy Policies)