Many relationships today end because one person wants commitment and the other is afraid to commit. The one who wants commitment is left feeling unwanted while the one who is afraid of commitment goes from one relationship to another and even keeps on leaving and returning to relationships with an ex because he or she won’t commit to a long-term relationship.
I’ve even met and worked with men and women who are so afraid of commitment that they self-sabotage themselves by presenting themselves unattractively in order to discourage the other person from wanting a serious relationship — even when they are attracted to the person.
Why do they do this?
Because they have fear-filters through which they see commitment and have a particular unhealthy emotion or image they have attached to commitment. And just like all phobias, nothing is rational about their fear of commitment — or even conscious for most people. Most people know that they get anxious, panic and want to be “FREE”.
This need to be “FREE” could come from fear of loss of identity or freedom, or fear of limitation, fear of responsibility etc. It’s different for each commitment phobe.
In my case commitment for me spelt “finality”. Words like: my wife, marry me, down the road, in the future, you forever etc. even if they were not applied to me or said to me directly would send me into panic mode — and I mean that literally in that I would get up and take off (on foot, in a car, plane etc) to God only knows where. It felt like someone was screaming in my ear “prison, prison, prison” or “the end of the world is here!”
Is there any chance that your commitment phobic man or woman will overcome his or her fear of commitment and commit — to you?
Absolutely! If you are dealing with a classic case of “run as soon as you feel things are getting serious”‘, his or her fear to commit is not always a warning sign that things will not or never work out (see article Should You Dump A Commitment Phobe? Not Before You Read This). Your man or woman could still commit — and quickly — especially if he or she says he or she loves you, treats you exceptionally well but reacts negatively towards you when anything related to commitment comes up.
But this is not something that you can do on your own.
You can’t pull out a commitment from a commitment phobe, however great the relationship is. And all the threats, ultimatums, pleading, hide-and-seek games, bragging how other men or women are attracted to you or even smothering him or her with attention will never get a commitment phobe to commit.
You need his or her cooperation to co-create a unified vision for your relationship and take action to realize that vision. For you to get your man or woman thinking commitment you have to take an approach that figuratively has both of you sitting on the same side of the table striving together instead of the opposite sides of the table trying to “conquer” the other (adversarial confrontational style.)
Here are just three things you can do — for starters.
STEP 1: Make sure that it is indeed commitment phobia
It’s natural to wonder and have questions about a man or woman’s emotional availability. Almost everybody has these concerns.
The trouble begins when you let your own “stuff” (ticking clock, co-dependency, jealousy and/or neediness) ruin a potentially great relationship. Your own internal pressures can make you jump to conclusions calling the other person a commitment phobe when in fact the other person is reacting to other stressors in his or her personal life, or reacting to things in the relationship (your attitude, behaviour or actions) that have very little, or even nothing to do with fear of commitment.
And just because someone tells you they have “commitment phobia” doesn’t always mean that they do. Some men and women use “I have fear of commitment” as an excuse to string you along or get rid of you while saving face. You need to know how he or she came to the conclusion that he or she has commitment phobia, how he or she runs away, if he or she just wants a casual relationship with you but covering it up with saying he or she is afraid of commitment, whether he or she is interested in you for you or because you’re convenient (an enabler), etc.
You need to get the answers from your man or woman and not resort to theorizing or doing crude psychology on him or her. You need to get the answers from him or her, but without applying any pressure — or as little as possible. The more you press him or her for answers the more he or she withdraws from you or even walks away.
It’s best to use creative and ask thought-provoking questions that generate discussion as well as provide the answers you seek. Questions like, “What is that like?’, “How does that make you feel?”, “Why do you think that happened?”, “What did you know about??”, “Explain what that means?” asked in natural ongoing conversations can uncover what your man or woman is thinking or feeling in-depth.
If you can keep him or her on the subject and he or she doesn’t try to alter the topic of conversation you’ll be able to get very useful information relating to his or her fear of commitment. You can then use this information to raise questions in his or her mind and stimulate his or her thinking in ways that challenge his or her fear-filters and/or unhealthy emotions or images they have attached to commitment. This is not about you trying to be smarter or trying to change his or her mind but you getting to the bottom of his or her fears, concerns, reservations as well as desires, hopes and dreams for a relationship.
STEP 2: Redefine what “commitment” means to you as a couple
Sometimes just discussing — in very specific terms — what two people want in a relationship and how you want your relationship to look like removes all the concerns about making a long-term commitment.
If your man or woman is open to talking about his or her fears and anxieties surrounding commitment, instead of beating him or her on the head with the word “commitment” or insisting that he or she commits (or else), communicate to your man or woman what you want in very specific terms.
Important: It is very important to be clear on what is important to you. Be clear about why what you really want is important to you. Your man or woman needs to know exactly why whatever you are asking for is important to you, not just that it’s important, period.
Here are some examples of ways you can say “commitment” at different stages of the relationship and without necessarily saying the “C-Word”.
1. Honestly communicating feelings (important: feeling secure in the relationship).
2. Spending more time together or sharing most aspects of each other’s lives (important: knowing that the other will always be there).
3. Putting your time and energy into making the relationship special and worth nurturing (important: emotional and sexual intimacy/monogamy).
4. Planning for the future — children and a family (important: marriage).
Concentrate on creatively generating your own definitions, types and styles of commitment that best fit the different stages of the relationship — one progressive stage at a time. Each stage and level of commitment will look different from couple to couple, depending on what your values are, and on the circumstances surrounding your relationship.
Do not try to force your limited view of a relationship (which may even be unrealistic) on to your partner, instead allow him or her to imagine and explore what he or she really wants without the obligations of a pre-determined way of doing things.
Knowing that the two of you want the same things even if you are saying them in different ways can turn fear into creative excitement.
STEP 3: Focus on common goals as opposed to individual positions
Do not get yourselves locked up in “I want commitment and you don’t” positions. When you take these kinds of positions, you get railroaded by “you vs. me” and in the end, you lose track of why you are together in the first place.
Believe it or not, many people with a fear of commitment know they have a problem and most don’t like themselves for being this way. But they also don’t want some “know-it-all” — who doesn’t know that it feels like to have this phobia — telling them how they should be feeling or what they should be doing. It’s like saying “I am perfect and you are not” or “I am better than you because I am not afraid of commitment”. I used to get really ticked off with “stupid’ men sending me internet articles and buying me books on commitment phobia. It just made me want to “hurt” them instead of wanting to commit.
Instead of following the dictates of one (I want commitment) or the other (I don’t want commitment) explore the larger possibilities of working together to realize each other’s dreams, support each other’s goals and satisfy each other’s needs. This is an opportunity to really take advantage of the creative power of two-heads-are-better-than-one.
The three steps are just a start. If handled with trust, honesty, absence of manipulation or control, and authenticity, you’ll be surprised to find that conversations on commitment can create a platform for bringing your most honest selves to the table. You really get to understand what your man or woman is about, what he or she cares about, and what he or she really wants to see happen before he or she makes a genuine commitment that he or she will follow through on.
Let me just say this again, you can’t pull out a commitment from a commitment phobe without his or her cooperation. Threats, ultimatums, pleading, hide-and-seek games, bragging how other men or women are attracted to you or even smothering him or her with attention is the height of spinning your wheels.
You need his or her cooperation to co-create a unified vision for your relationship. If there is no alignment or no agreement, there will be no commitment.
I also recommend: Fear Of Commitment Explained: No Situation Is Hopeless