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Fear of Commitment: How to Identify & Overcome It

Most people have heard the term “fear of commitment”, and it’s a concept you’re probably already familiar with.

But what does it really mean to fear commitment? What are the signs of commitment phobia? And, if you or your romantic partner has issues with commitment, how can you overcome this issue?

This article will answer all of these questions, and hopefully provide you with the tools you’ll need to get past these fears of commitment in your relationship.

What Is Fear of Commitment?

refusing marriage proposalIn a nutshell, fear of commitment is simply a reluctance to enter into a long-term monogamous relationship or marriage. Depending on the degree to which someone fears commitment, this reluctance may start to become apparent immediately, after only a few months of dating, or even in the lead up to marriage.

In fact, for most people, marriage is the biggest hurdle when it comes to commitment phobia. The entire concept of marriage – a lifelong bond “till death do us part” – is a daunting one; a huge commitment that will inevitably impact the course of your entire life. That, understandably, can make marriage a frightening concept to some people.

Most people, men and women alike, have some degree of commitment phobia. It tends to be more common in men, however; a fact that has become increasingly evident since love and relationships became a hot topic in movies and on TV decades ago. But while men are more likely to fear long-term commitment in their relationships, it’s not exclusive to guys. Women can get cold feet too.

What Causes Commitment Phobia?

There are endless possible explanations or causes for a person’s fear of commitment, and different psychiatrists and counselors may come up with varied diagnoses for any given patient. But here are some of the most common underlying causes of a fear of commitment:

  • Seeking perfection. Some people worry that their partner or spouse may not be “perfect” or isn’t their “soulmate,” leading them to stress about long-term commitment to that person. It’s always important to question whether your partner is “the one”, but perfection is unattainable in any romantic partner.
  • Fear of being controlled/losing freedoms. Some people worry that long-term relationships and marriage might affect their freedoms; they may fear that their spouse will disapprove of certain hobbies, force them to stop seeing certain friends, or make life decisions that they’re not comfortable with.
  • Fear of boredom. Many people become concerned that their relationship will become stagnant and uninteresting, leaving them trapped in a dull marriage that doesn’t provide any excitement or thrills.
  • Limited sexual experiences. When you commit to a monogamous relationship, you agree to forgo your right to have sexual relationships with anyone but your partner. For some, that can be a discomforting reality. 
  • Fear of change. Often, fear of commitment is accompanied by worries that your partner or spouse may change in the future and that your relationship will suffer as a result, leaving you committed to someone with whom you are no longer compatible.
  • Contentment. People who are happy and satisfied with their current lifestyle may be wary of committing to a change in the relationship that may alter their status quo (i.e. becoming spouses, having kids, working fewer hours, etc.).
  • Fear of acceptance/approval. Some people may fear that their family or social circle disapproves of their partner, making them uncomfortable with committing to a relationship until they’re confident that the people in their life will approve of the relationship.

What Are Some Telltale Signs to Look For?

Wondering if you or your boyfriend/girlfriend has a fear of commitment? Want to know how to confirm these suspicions? Here are a few things to look for:

  • boyfriend won't proposeThey are unwilling to be the one to take the “next step” in your relationship. In other words, if you or your partner tends to do all the heavy lifting to move your relationship onto a more serious and long-term course – being the first to say “I love you” or the first to ask about the possibility of marriage – it may indicate reluctance to commit.
  • They are reluctant to talk about feelings or discuss the status of your relationship. This can suggest an overall feeling of discomfort when it comes to thinking or talking about your relationship. If their preference is to simply avoid or postpone these talks altogether, they are likely not interested in discussing or undertaking a greater commitment.
  • They are hesitant to introduce you to friends or family. If someone has doubts about the future of a relationship, or is simply afraid of going public and having to provide constant updates on the status of your relationship, they are likely not factoring you into their long-term future.
  • They are reluctant to allow you into certain aspects of  their private life.  While some people just like to have a significant sphere of privacy, continued reluctance to open up about one’s private life (i.e. discussing family problems, medical concerns, finances, etc.) may be a sign of commitment phobia.
  • They are afraid to talk about the future. Perhaps the most obvious indication of commitment phobia is a general preference to avoid talking about the future or making plans for years – or months, or weeks – down the road. If the subject of marriage and children makes your or your partner uncomfortable, it’s a strong indication that there’s a fear of commitment, whether to you in particular, or to any partner in general.

There are many other potential warning signs, but the five above are some of the most common.

Overcoming Commitment Fears

Now that you’ve got a good indication of what commitment phobia is and how to spot it, you’re probably looking for some advice on how to get past these problems in your relationship. Keep in mind that just because your partner shows signs of these qualities, it does not mean that they are determined not to commit.

engagement ringFirst of all, confrontation is key. Both you and your partner need to be aware of any commitment anxiety that exists. If your partner is the one who fears commitment, make sure they’re aware that you know about these fears and you’re going to help work through them together. Acknowledging their concerns and talking about them can be a big help in itself.

Secondly, bear in mind that communication is the single most important aspect of overcoming commitment issues in a relationship. Both parties need to be completely open to ongoing communication about any and all aspects of the relationship, your future together, and your concerns/worries/doubts. By explaining that you care deeply about your partner, you are assuring them that your wish to commit to them is a positive, safe, and happy desire that they do not need to be afraid of. You won’t ever truly get past these issues unless you can be completely honest and open with one another. [RELATED: How To Propose To Your Girlfriend Properly]

You may find it helpful to sit down and analyze (either by yourself or with your lover) the underlying causes of their fear of commitment. In other words, what are the specific things that you or your partner fears about long-term commitments or marriage? Is it a loss of freedom, a fear that your partner will change, concerns about boredom, or a general fear of the unknown?

Whether it’s your or your partner who fears commitment, it’s important for you both to acknowledge and accept that: a) there’s no such thing as “perfection” and there are no guarantees that someone else will be more compatible than your current spouse; b) no-one can ever be completely certain that their partner is “the one”; and c) life moves fast, and at some point you will need to decide whether to commit or to end the relationship.

Help! Nothing Is Working, My Partner Still Won’t Commit!

If your partner is the one with the commitment phobia and the reluctance to get married – and if all your attempts to help them work through these fears have failed – then you may eventually need to (gently) lay down an ultimatum: commit or break up. You can’t live your entire life in a state of paralysis, so eventually a decision about the future of your relationship needs o happen.

But – and this is a very important but – don’t issue an ultimatum or threaten your partner until you’ve done everything you can to help them work through these commitment problems! There’s nothing worse than a relationship that’s failed simply because one person didn’t try hard enough to fix it.

Here’s hoping you and your partner live happily ever after!

About Jessica Raymond

Jessica Raymond, BSc, RCC, is LoveLearnings senior editor. As a relationship counselor, Jessica has helped hundreds of men and women achieve their relationship dreams. Whether it’s finding your one true love or simply charming someone on a date, Jessica's got your back! In her articles, she reveals little-known, psychological tips that will make even the coldest person chase you around like a little puppy.

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