In an attempt to understand a partner’s fear of commitment, we seek information to help us stay hopeful, but in the process of information seeking, it’s too easy to be completely derailed — and completely confused by all the conflicting information out there.
I don’t know about you, but much of the available information on fear of commitment is always negative and discouraging. And then there is all this use of catch-all phrases — fear of commitment, commitment phobia, emotionally unavailable, men/women who can’t love etc — that really don’t explain anything in depth.
What is even more troubling is that so many men and women are using these phrases (especially “fear of commitment” and “commitment phobia”) as cope outs and excuses not to commit. Because “fear of commitment” and “commitment phobia” is now so fashionably acceptable (even so cool) it’s easy to say to someone “I am a commitment phobe” or “I have a fear of commitment” to stop them from wanting or putting pressure on you for more than you want to give. This is especially the case if you are not into the person as much as they are into you.
Fear of commitment is often not well understood even by those who experience it! I struggled with mine for years before I really understood what was going on. And in the process of understanding my own fear and over the years, helping others overcome theirs, I’ve recognized three distinct concerns which many commitment-anxious people experience.
1. Fear of COMMITMENT ITSELF
This fear usually has little to do with relationships per se.
People who fall under this category just fear committing to ANY thing. Making major decisions simply goes against their nature Making any major decision is gut-wrenching and even traumatic. This includes major decisions like leaving a job for a new one, moving to another state/country, putting a very sick pet to “sleep”, etc.
They also find it hard to stick with anything long enough to reap the benefits. Their excuse is “I am spontaneous and just don’t like to plan stuff.” But the difference between spontaneous people and those who don’t want to make decisions is spontaneous people make plans and decisions — but keep the options open.
To them commitment means a point of “no turning back” and this makes them feel cornered and trapped. They get anxious because commitment triggers fear of losing freedom, of being tied down, of not being able to pursue one’s dreams/goals etc.
If you are the person on the receiving end of fear of commitment itself, you really are never sure if you are in a relationship or not. The person doesn’t make contact until you do, and between “dates”, nothing is going on that shows you are in a relationship. It feels like a relationship but it also feels like a booty -call (because these are the only times you really “connect”).
2. Fear of COMMITTING TO YOU
This fear of commitment is about committing to a particular woman or man.
A person afraid of committing to you feels that you are not “the one” — and tries as much as possible to avoid making any promises or commitments to you that they don’t fully embrace, don’t believe they can keep or follow through. They may say they love you, that you a great person and even act as if they are in a real relationship but also say something is “missing” in how they feel about you or that they still want to see other people. Most constantly complain that things are going too fast. This is because they have reservations about you and about the relationship.
Men and women afraid of committing to a particular woman or man lose interest within a few months of being in a relationship (usually less than a year) or end a long term relationship and in a few months fully commit to someone they think is “the one”.
If you are the person on the receiving end, you often feel like you are not the “priority” but rather a “fall-back”. There is also often some obsession with your imperfections/deficits, resentment of your “neediness”, cheating, lies and sometimes even abuse etc. going on. In most of these relationships, there is on-and -off again breaking up and getting back together. The break-ups are always because “something is missing” and the person feels that he or she just can’t take it anymore or feels that there are “better options” out there.
3. Fear of COMMITTING TO LOVE
This fear is about the person afraid of giving up/losing something.
The concerns of these people are very different from the two concerns above. They aren’t afraid of commitment itself (are very committed in every other area of their lives) and don’t feel that something is missing in their feelings for you — or in the relationship.
The problem for them is that one part of them values and desire love and commitment, yet another part of them fears the very thing they want so much. And precisely because they very much desire love and commitment, these people are often very loving and caring and treat their partners with a lot of sensitivity and kindness — and are very attentive to a partner’s needs (often out of guilt for not giving their partners that one thing their partners want most — commitment). They are also unlikely to cheat or have affairs because of the value they place on love and commitment.
Unlike in the case where someone fears committing to you because they feel “something is missing” in how they feel about you or is missing in the relationship, the person who has this fear of commitment takes off because everything is so right about how they feel about you and about the relationship — and that scares the hell out of them. They feel torn between extremes–longing to take a step forward into a loving committed relationship yet dreading being drawn in. Their fear often triumphs over their love. This fear also often reaches the level of a phobia, taking on a life of its own.
People with a fear of committing to love also tend to keep in touch with their exes because of the regret and shame they feel about hurting the people who love them. They try to “make it up to the other person by being extremely nice hoping that this will make up for the hurt they caused.
If you are on the receiving end of this fear, you have no doubts you are loved beyond all measure. You feel like a “loving couple living a couple’s life”, the only thing missing is “commitment” and whenever commitment comes up, you can literally see their struggle and conflict and how torn they are. It’s like watching a scared child hiding in an open space in broad daylight and have no idea what to say or do.
So, if you love your man or woman and want to pursue a committed relationship with them, you need first and foremost to clearly define what frightens your partner about commitment and why.
None of all the three types of fear of commitment are hopeless or impossible to overcome. It’s just that each requires a different approach to dealing with the fear of commitment and a different approach to steering the other person (or yourself) through to the other side — the commitment side.
It’s with this hope and knowledge of possibility that I offer these insights, advice and personal reflections from personal experience, and from the experience of my clients.
I recommend reading: How To Make A Commitment Phobe Want Commitment