Commitment phobia is the fear of permanence, and usually applies specifically to romantic relationships.
Most articles on this topic are targeted at women, with advice about what to do if the man they were dating were commitment phobic. The short answer was usually “Run!”
None of the articles I found addressed those who have this condition, nor acknowledged that women can have it too, nor showed how to overcome it. I thought I’d fill this gap by sharing my inside perspective, having lived with commitment phobia for a long time.
What is commitment phobia
First of all, not everyone who is single has commitment phobia. There are many reasons why people remain single, including:
- Choosing singlehood as a preferred way of life
- Remaining faithful to a partner who is no longer around
- Not being able to let go of an unrequited love
- Having no time for a serious relationship
Commitment phobia is a specific condition which may include some or all of the following behaviours:
- Wanting an intimate relationship while running from it
- Becoming distant when the other person tries to get close
- Turning on the charm when the other person pulls away
- Sabotaging a relationship by deliberately hurting the other person
Recognising commitment phobia
As with other phobias, commitment phobia is an irrational fear that may be unconscious. If your various relationships didn’t work out each for a different reason, you may not have commitment phobia. You are however a likely candidate if you notice a trend or pattern in which you are the constant.
It took me years to notice a pattern in my relationships where I would get more scared the closer I got to someone. I’d start finding all sorts of reasons why the relationship wouldn’t work. When the relationship finally ended because of my unreasonable behaviour, I felt relieved and almost happy.
Understanding commitment phobia
When I started to understand why I was so afraid of commitment, I identified several separate yet related fears at play.
1. Fear of being trapped
This stems from thinking that decisions are permanent, and that there was no way out if things didn’t work out.
2. Fear of making a wrong choice
Being with the ‘right’ person is fine and dandy. The fear is of being trapped with the ‘wrong’ person.
3. Fear of unmet needs
The problem with a ‘wrong’ choice is that our own needs end up not being met, and this results in an unfulfilled life.
4. Fear of loss
Commitment entails forgoing alternative partners even if a more attractive option comes along later. The idea of loss is usually painful.
5. Fear of an imagined scenario
We might fear being abused or neglected. This usually arise from having witnessed abuse or neglect in our parents’ marriages.
Living with commitment phobia
Since a phobia is by definition an irrational fear, it is useless to tell a person to just get over the fear. Here are some thoughts that help me.
1. Overcoming the fear of being trapped
When divorce is a no-no, there seems no way out. We can recognise that while nobody gets married intending to divorce later, one in every two or three marriages today ends in divorce and it’s not the end of the world.
What you can do: When you start to feel trapped, mentally construct a back door that will be your escape route if necessary. Give yourself permission to divorce, or move back in with your parents. Just knowing that there is a way out helps.
2. Overcoming the fear of choosing the wrong one
Being raised on fairytales like Cinderella convinces little girls that their Prince Charming is out there. The reality is that no man is perfect (okay okay, no woman is either!) and that a relationship is a partnership that requires work.
What you can do: Accept that there will be friction even with the best of partners, and decide to work through problems when they arise instead of jumping to the false conclusion that you must have chosen the wrong person.
3. Overcoming the fear of unmet needs
This fear arises from the fallacy that somebody else can fulfil our needs. It also stems from giving too much while not asking for what we need. The truth is that the only person responsible for our happiness is ourselves and nobody else.
What you can do: When you feel unhappy, ask yourself what need is not being met, then find a way to meet that need on your own. If you miss companionship, ask a friend out to lunch. If you need physical touch, sign up for a massage.
4. Overcoming the fear of loss
This is the opportunity cost effect, where committing to be with one person denies you the chance to experience being with others. We keep wondering what we are missing out on.
What you can do: Understand that there is a loss either way. If you commit to a partner, you lose the chance to meet other people. If you don’t commit, you lose the chance to experience a loving relationship.
5. Overcoming the fear of an imagined scenario
Playing a scene over and over in our minds increases the energy we give to that picture, and increases the chances of manifesting it in reality. We must stop that image for replaying by substituting it with positive images.
What you can do: Decide what action you will take should the feared scenario actually happen eg call the police if your partner hits you. Then file this away for possible future use, and spend your energy now imagining the best.
Recovering from commitment phobia is a painful process
All the above is much easier said than done. I know this from experience. I often behave contrary to my own advice. This is partly why I write – to remind myself of the kind of person I want to be, and to help my dumb brain absorb this stuff.
Recovery can be a long and difficult road. While not cured yet, I realised that there are discernible steps on the way to recovery:
- Complete cluelessness that there is something wrong with me
- A history of relationships that were wonderful yet somehow imploded
- Recognition of a pattern in the break-up of those relationships
- Admission that perhaps I was the cause of the problems (ouch)
- Awareness of sabotaging behaviours after or while I’m acting them out
- … Perfect, absolute, everlasting happiness and bliss upon full recovery…
Well I’m not at this step yet so this is pure speculation at this point 🙂
Stepping out in faith
I almost deleted this post after writing it because my commitment phobia recently kicked in again and I’m feeling a little raw.
Then I thought that maybe some reader would forward this to someone they know who also has commitment phobia. And this unknown person will either be helped in overcoming it, or find solace in knowing that they are not alone.
So if you know this unknown person for whom this post has been kept alive, please pass it on before I change my mind and delete it!