Do you have a fear of commitment? How do you even know whether you or someone you love struggles with this issue? What are the ways you can tackle this irrational fear?
“What are you doing on Friday? Can we meet up in the evening?”
(Painfully awkward pause)
“I’m not sure. Let me get back to you later.”
What Is a Fear Of Commitment?
You know full well that you have no plans on Friday. A newborn baby probably has a busier schedule than you do. The fear of committing to this, as yet intangible plan and cementing it makes you hesitate.
Or maybe you fear to commit to one plan and losing out on a much better one that is yet to materialise? We have all acted out the above scenario in different aspects of our life and on matters which vary in gravity.
To commit is to bind yourself to a particular course. Commitment phobia is a fear of decisions. It is fearing the leap and, therefore, forever hovering at the very edge of the precipice; you are unable to leave yet cannot choose to stay.
In some manifestations, fear of commitment is craving freedom. It is freedom from an imperfect choice, freedom from a partner who will mistreat you or completely absorb you into themselves. So this fear can range from a little uncertainty to breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of committing to one person long-term.
“His problem is that he doesn’t want anyone until he can have anyone he wants.” ~ Clifford Cohen
According to pop culture, the moment you mention the commitment phobia, most people would immediately picture an attractive man with enough love to go around and not enough staying power. This is not an accurate picture. In fact, men and women can shy away from commitment.
So what is at the root of a fear of commitment? Experts agree that it is not a psychological disorder in itself. However, it can be caused by deep, subconscious psychological issues.
Causes of Commitment Phobia
When you’re struggling with an inadequate sense of self, you begin to question your place in a relationship. What does my partner see in me? They deserve better. What if I can’t stay faithful? What if my partner finds someone better and leaves me when I’m vulnerable?
Such questions of self-doubt can lead you to self-sabotage and pull the plug early. Low self-esteem will trickle into other areas of your life; difficulty choosing a career or cultivating deep friendships.
Problems with Attachment
People develop different attachment styles as they mature into adults. These are informed by the attachments formed in childhood.
If you did not have a secure and consistent attachment to a primary caregiver in your childhood, you may discover that as a result, your attachment style is either anxious or avoidant. Both of these will negatively affect your relationships. They make you clingy or distant, repressed or cautious with your loved ones.
This refers to the whole spectrum from neglect and abandonment to abuse and disasters that are out of human control. Even seemingly innocent things such as a parent leaving you with a close relative for months at a time can later manifest as feelings of abandonment.
Whatever your brain perceives as traumatic is classed as childhood trauma. It has the effect of leaving us unable to trust. As a result, we develop a fear of commitment.
Negative Core Beliefs
You may find that you have a skewed view of the world. Some of these common yet utterly untrue beliefs could be ‘All men cheat, so why bother with commitment?’ or ‘Everyone in my family is dysfunctional, so how can my relationship be any different?’ or ‘If I commit to this, something is bound to go wrong.’
These types of thoughts are paralysing and create a phobia of commitment.
Although mental health diagnoses are not an exact science and are more of a guideline, they can provide some insight into your inner workings.
Personality disorders describe the particular traits of groups of people who act in a way that doesn’t conform to societal norms. They are caused, in most instances, by a combination of the above attachment issues and trauma. Personality disorders can make it difficult for you to connect with and trust others.
Well-documented diagnoses include obsessive-compulsive disorder, or borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder.
You’re Just Not That Into Them
We’ve all heard of or lived through these narratives. Two people will be in a dead-end relationship for years, unable to commit. Suddenly, one of them will meet someone who blazes through their life like a comet.
This partner who was a lacklustre lover will morph into a devoted spouse and parent in a heartbeat for the right person. It’s a tough pill to swallow for both you and your partner.
However, sometimes it is healthy to acknowledge that you’re just not that into them and wipe the slate clean for the next love story.
Does that mean that if I’m happily in a relationship, then I don’t have a fear of commitment? What are the signs?
Signs of a Fear of Commitment
You Want Things Casual
If the statement, ‘We need to talk,’ or the question ‘What are we?’ gives you cold sweats, nausea, and heart palpitations, you can be sure you have a sneaky case of commitment phobia. You often don’t want to define the relationship (DTR) beyond hooking up.
Casual relationships create the illusion of freedom which lulls your beleaguered mind into thinking that you are not trapped and you still have an out. In the same vein, you don’t open up and let your partner in. They just sort of orbit you like a moon never being allowed into the core.
The Impossible Relationship
It could also be someone committed to another or they are on the rebound. It’s the equivalent of building something with the detonator to blow it all up ready in hand.
You may have a history of short, passionate relationships that start well but never outlive the lust-tinted honeymoon period. You’re typically out before the companionship and patina of long term loving settle in. This is a definite sign of you being a commitment-phobe.
You find yourself cheating or picking fights with your partner for no known reason. There is deliberate destruction of the foundations of the relationship as if your mind is telling you that if you get out before they do, then they can’t hurt you.
You may also be quick to judge the other person cutting them off at the slightest transgression.
Fear of Being Absorbed
You may fear that the relationship will take up all of who you are and there will be nothing left. You may also feel that your partner is too demanding, and yet their expectations are reasonable. It is you who is a commitment-phobe.
The Grass is Always Greener Elsewhere
Hozier, the Irish alternative pop star, has a song about the protagonist falling in love just a little bit with someone new every day. It’s an apt depiction of fear of commitment.
Even when you’re with your partner, you’re elaborately fantasising about going off with any number of attractive people who cross your path. Everyone else’s relationship looks so much better than what you have.
How Do I Fix It?
Acknowledge the Problem Honestly
The first step is to do an honest introspection and identify the fear of commitment for what it is. Don’t allow yourself to hide behind lies of not needing anyone or being a picky lover.
Extend the honesty to your partner. Tell them the fears you struggle with and their root. Discuss what kind of freedom you need within the relationship to feel secure.
It’s springtime for your heart. Open the windows of your heart and air everything out. Communication is key in defeating the tricky beast that is commitment phobia. You need to discuss and manage expectations with your partner.
Work on your emotional literacy, which means being able to dissect and pinpoint the issues as they come instead of burying your relationship qualms.
Knuckle down when it comes to decisions in your daily life. Even the insignificant decisions in life like how you want to eat your eggs.
In that classic movie ‘The Runaway Bride’, Richard Gere’s character begins to smell a rat when each of the ditched grooms has a different story about the bride down to what eggs she likes.
When you take care of the pebble size decisions expediently, then you can build up to tackling the forever decision without passing out or running away.
As we discussed earlier, most of the time, fear of commitment is rooted in experiences and traumas deep in your psyche. Go to a professional to help you unpack the issues you’re dealing with.
A great exercise to do with your therapist is to imagine what your life would be without this fear paralysing you. Picture that life and hang onto that dream.
The power of our thoughts and intent is unfathomable. Don’t hesitate to bring along your partner since they will be in this with you for the foreseeable future.
The present is all we have. Don’t get caught up in the forevers of the gold and diamond jubilees. Those are quite literally a lifetime away. Enjoy the now and commit to the now. If you choose this person every single day, you’ll wake up decades later realising commitment wasn’t all that difficult.
If you got to the end of this article and realised that this is exactly what your partner is struggling with, then buckle down for the ride. You want to be with them forever, so you should take them as they are.
Show understanding, patience, and support for their plight. Communicate constantly the commitment you have to them. Persist. Persist with love. It is worthwhile.
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