What Is the Difference Between Fear of Intimacy and Fear of Commitment?

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The fear of intimacy and the fear of commitment are very much like close cousins, whose existence prevent the formation of successful relationships. A fear of intimacy describes an anxiety to become emotionally or physically close to someone, according to the PsychAlive article, “Fear of Intimacy.” A fear of commitment, on the other hand, relates to the reluctance of a person to enter into and maintain a long-term relationship, according to the article, “A Little Thing Called Fear of Commitment” published on TwoOfUs.org. These two fears differ in how they present themselves within relationships as well as in the motives behind the actions of the afflicted partner.

Different Motives

Someone who has a fear of commitment is likely to be motivated by the desire to have multiple partners or brief yet intense relationships. There is a great fear of feeling "tied down" and restricted to any one romantic partner, according to the TwoOfUs article. On the other hand, a person who struggles with a fear of intimacy may very well want a committed relationship, but the aim is to keep anyone from breaking through the emotional walls that have been built up as a protective barrier against being hurt, says Margaret Paul, Ph.D., in her article "Fear of Intimacy," in the Huffington Post.

Don’t Get Too Close

A person who fears intimacy usually has difficulty expressing and receiving affection. This may or may not relate to sexual activity at all. Romantic partners will be kept at arm’s length where deeply emotional or personal issues are concerned. Questions about the difficult situation at work or the conflict with a relative are likely to receive superficial responses, or result in complete avoidance such as a change of subject, with the partner leaving the room or silent distraction. Showing affection and being intimate is not generally a problem for someone who fears commitment. For the time that you are with this type of partner you may experience even intense emotional and physical intimacy, according to the TwoOfUs article.

The Desire for the Unavailable

A person who has a fear of commitment is likely to pursue and become involved with partners who are unavailable in some way. These romantic interests may not be in a position to commit to a relationship because they are already involved with someone else, according to the TwoOFUs article. Candidates for the romantic partners of a commitment-phobe may be someone who is also not willing to commit because they are too career-oriented to make room for a committed relationship. A fear of commitment may lead someone to indulge in more frequent one-night stands.

The Present vs. the Future

Someone who has a fear of commitment will find it hard to make long-plans within a relationship. Planning even a few weeks or months in advance with a romantic partner can create anxiety, even if there were no plans to break off the relationship anytime soon. This person may be reluctant to introduce a romantic partner as anything more than a friend, even if they have been together for a while. For the person with a fear of intimacy emotional distancing by keeping the romantic partner at arm’s length is the main way to relieve the anxiety of getting close. Although this type of person may be reluctant to open up, they are still able to commit and have long-term relationships.