What is fear of commitment & how to overcome it
Have you ever met a person who was afraid of commitment? Or, perhaps you are a person who is scared of committing to your loved one. Maybe you constantly ask yourself if you are with the wrong person and find yourself pulling away any time there is intimacy. If you or someone you know is struggling with commitment phobia, then this article is for you.
What is (and isn't) fear of commitment in relationships?
Before we delve into what fear of commitment is and how to overcome it, let's discuss what fear of commitment is not. A person with fear of commitment is not a person that wants to stay single forever. It is not a person that doesn't have any feelings, or a person that only wants to live a free, wild life. A person that is scared of commitment is not a person who doesn't love; people with fear of commitment have feelings like everyone else.
The psychology behind fear of commitment
Attachment styles are the cornerstone of all our relationships. Think of attachment styles as the internal template that we follow in every relationship. According to psychology, people tend to fall into four attachment styles categories - secure, avoidant, fearful, and fearful avoidant. Most of the time, fear of commitment stems from the avoidant attachment style.
A person with an avoidant attachment style tends to avoid intimacy, pulls away when people get close, is uncomfortable when others come close to them or with sharing emotions and deep thoughts. When they do open up, they tend to minimise their emotional experiences and those of others. They might appear confident, aloof and independent. They equate being dependent on another person as losing themselves and have great difficulty with trusting others.
In other words, they have what I call "the James Bond look." Think of how Mr. Bond acts, he is the epitome of avoidance; a sorely confident person that avoids any type of intimate relationship.
Causes of fear of commitment
The avoidant attachment style (a.k.a. fear of commitment) usually arises from past emotional experiences. No one is born an avoidant; people learn to behave towards other people in such a way. Fear of commitment arises from the relationships with the main caregivers (such as parents). The style is shaped by how the parents responded to the child’s emotional needs. Or, sometimes the child learns this style by observation - by seeing how the caregivers themselves displayed emotions towards others and in the family as a whole.
4 signs of fear of commitment
If you are wondering if you or someone close to you might be scared of commitment, look for these signs. People with fear of commitment tend to:
- Avoid serious relationships
- Avoid spending time discussing the relationship or the future
- Avoid taking the next step in a relationship (e.g. moving in together)
- Question and overanalyse the relationship, especially before undertaking the next step.
Scared of commitment: A practical example
In my therapy practice, I usually come across couples that are going through struggles before taking the next step in their relationship (like moving in together or having a baby). Sometimes, the core of the issue is that one person experiences fear of commitment, and is challenging their relationship so that they can see whether they can be together. They describe feeling trapped when the other person wants to talk about the future of the relationship, so they tend to seek space every time their partner wants closeness. They distance themselves in order to avoid commitment.
How to overcome commitment phobia: 5 steps
Before learning how to become less scared of commitment, we first need to understand that it all boils down to one thing: fear, and we all have fears in our lives. We are human, we have a lot of fears, we struggle with fears for the most part of our lives. Instead of battling or suppressing the fear, we need to learn how to handle it so that it no longer sabotages our relationships or blocks our lives.
1. Make it normal
So, the first step is to realise that fear is normal. Fear of commitment is a common fear. We are all afraid of relationships to some degree. We have never really learned much about relationships, and we go into every relationship blindfolded without knowing where it could end. It can indeed be scary, you don't know whether you will be hurt, disappointed, rejected, or abandoned. Or maybe it could end in a fantastic place where you and your partner are happy. We don’t know, but what we do know is that fear is a natural part of life - you are not weird for experiencing it.
2. Change the label
I have never met someone that is not afraid of relationships. Even the people that have secure attachment styles struggle with fear, but they deal with it differently. So, if you are afraid of commitment, it does not mean that you are a monster with no feelings.
Let's change that label you have put on yourself or other people have put on you. You do have feelings, and you are trying to protect them. This is what you are doing when you are avoiding commitment, that is why you keep your distance - it is a coping mechanism. But, while avoidance and distance are protecting your feelings, they are also depriving you of happy and healthy relationships.
3. Practice commitment in the present
Start by practising commitment in your relationship in small doses. For example, when you say you will go shopping with your partner, follow through. Or when you say that you will spend time together with them, just do it. Commit to your partner in small life moments. Try to forget the future and stay in the present. Practising mindfulness techniques can help you with this.
4. Explore your fears
Perhaps your fear is not about the partner you are with. Maybe it stems from something that has happened to you in the past, which you are still carrying with you. This fear is being triggered every time you are in a relationship. So, ask yourself, what is the worst thing that happened to you when you committed in past relationships?
If nothing bad happened, then this is how you can reverse the fear, this is how you can change your fearful mind into a confident one. But, if something bad happened, ask yourself: how likely is it that the person you are with will hurt you or behave in the same way? It is probably not very likely. Maybe a therapist or counsellor can help you realise the hidden pattern behind your fear.
The most relieving and liberating thing you can do is simply talk to your partner. Communicate about your fears with no agenda in mind, without trying to fix the fears - open up and share with them what you are afraid of and where it is coming from. You might disprove your expectations and see how nothing bad happens when you open up. But if your partner confirms your suspicions, if you open up and they dismiss you, try to explain to them that this is an important step for you. If they want you to connect more and become more committed, they have to also learn to respect your feelings.
Take action now
You don’t need to be alone forever or jump from relationship to relationship. Every time you are coming closer to your partner, you don't need to keep pushing them away and leave relationships that could potentially give you all the love and care that you wanted. You can work on your fear of commitment following the steps above. And if you need an extra hand, don’t hesitate to go to a professional, they will be happy to support you.