a photo of marriage proposal written on sandy beach

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.

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

This article will answer all of these questions, and hopefully provide the tools you’ll need to get through commitment fears 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 after only a few months of dating… or it may simply be a fear of 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 huge commitment that can potentially 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.  But it tends to be more common in men, especially as the concept has really become a hot topic in movies and on TV. And while men are more likely to fear long term commitment in their relationships, it’s not exclusive to guys, and women can get cold feet too.

What Causes This Commitment Phobia?

There are endless possible explanations or causes for a person’s fear of commitment, and different psychiatrists and counselors will probably have widely varied diagnoses for a given patient.  But here are some of the most common underlying causes:

  • Seeking perfection. Some people worry that their partner or spouse may not be “perfect” or isn’t their “soulmate,” leading them to stress about any possible long-term commitments with 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 worry 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 options.  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 your relationship will suffer as a result, leaving you committed to someone who is no longer compatible.
  • Contentment. People who are happy and satisfied with their current lifestyle may be wary of committing to a relationship that may require changes to their lifestyle (ie. having kids, working fewer hours, etc).
  • Fear of acceptance / approval. Some people may fear that their partner won’t be accepted into their family or social circle, 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 proposeUnwilling to be the one to take the “next step” in a 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.
  • 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, with a preference to simply avoid or postpone these talks altogether.
  • Hesitant to introduce a partner / spouse 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 may be the type that’s reluctant to settle down.
  • Reluctant to allow a partner or spouse into certain aspects of private life.  While some people just like to have a significant sphere of privacy, continued reluctance to open up private life (ie. talking about family problems, medical concerns, finances, etc) may be a sign of commitment phobia.
  • Afraid to talk about the future. Perhaps the number one obvious indication of commitment phobia is a general preference to avoid talking about the future or make plans for years 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 to some extent.

There are many other potential warning signs, but the five above are some of the most common.  Keep in mind that most of these things are probably going to happen to everyone at times, so look for recurrences of these signs over months and years.

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.

engagement ringFirst of all, 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.  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]

Additionally, 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 you know about these fears and you’re going to help work through them together. Acknowledging these fears and talking about them can be a big help in itself.

You may find it helpful to sit down and analyze (either by yourself or with your lover) the underlying causes of the overarching 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 its your or your partner that fear commitment, it’s important for you both to acknowledge and accept that:  a) there’s no such thing as “perfection” and there’s no guarantees that someone else will be more compatible than your current spouse; b) no-one can ever be 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 will be unavoidable.

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 work through these commitment problems! There’s nothing worse than a relationship that 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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