You’re in a relationship, yet at times, you wonder why your partner won’t fully commit to a future with you. Is it an excuse for lack of interest, or is it what some people call fear of commitment?
We’ve all heard about the terms “commitment issues” or “commitment phobia.” In fact, it’s natural for many people to feel anxious when making big life choices or dating someone new.
But for some, the idea of committing — whether it be to a new job or a new relationship — brings on intense feelings of anxiety and an urge for avoidance.
What is it about “long term” that makes some people so apprehensive? And, is there a way to get over this commitment fear?
It’s natural to fear the unknown. The uncertainty of what awaits after making a big decision can make us feel unsure about what steps to take next. But for some people, this uncertainty turns to fear and may make them not want to make decisions at all.
Choosing a college, signing a lease, quitting a job, and other big decisions can naturally lead to some anxiety.
If you live with fear of commitment, though, these decisions are more difficult to make. As a result, they’re often postponed and, in some instances, left to other people to make.
Not all lack of commitment is driven by fear, though. Some people genuinely prefer job-hopping, traveling from place to place, or casually dating. It may be how they’ve decided to live their life.
Fear of commitment or long-term relationship anxiety could be linked to early experiences or even trauma. Someone may fear commitment because they’re afraid of being abandoned, hurt, or betrayed, for example.
Eventually, however, someone who’s afraid of commitment may get over the fear or make a decision despite of it.
But fear of commitment isn’t the same as commitment phobia.
A phobia is a persistent, intense, and sometimes irrational fear of something. This excessive fear leads you to organize your life around it in order to avoid what you fear.
Phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. Someone living with it can experience high anxiety and panic attacks even thinking about what they fear.
Commitment phobia isn’t a formal diagnosis, although it’s a challenge mental health experts often see in clinical settings and study.
One of the most common commitment phobias is about romantic relationships or marriage. This is often referred to as gamophobia.
It’s possible for someone to experience gamophobia only. They might feel comfortable committing to their job, other relationships, and events that require long-term responsibility.
If your partner has a fear of commitment or commitment phobia, that doesn’t necessarily mean they:
- don’t love you
- don’t value you
- are rejecting you
- don’t want to spend time with you
- are cheating on you
- are playing with you
It may be difficult for someone to deal with the commitment itself but not the feelings. They may be in love, want to spend time with you, and even desire to get closer. Yet, they might have a hard time dealing with the dedication and engagement this may require.
If they live with a phobia, the irrational fear this involves may trump their feelings.
Being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t commit to you can be frustrating and often hurtful. It may be hard to decipher whether your partner doesn’t want to commit, has difficulty committing, or if they actually have a phobia.
It’s important to recognize that there may be real reasons for their avoidance of commitment in all these instances. They might not even be aware of where their fear comes from or why, despite loving you, they avoid taking the next step.
Researchers haven’t been able to establish a specific cause for commitment phobia or fear of commitment.
Relationship anxiety may eventually become fear or phobia if the person repeatedly experiences traumatizing or hurtful situations.
There might be a few reasons or factors involved when this happens.
In general, any fear of commitment may be related to:
- attachment insecurity
- personality disorders
- trauma or prolonged stress
- family history or modeling
It’s important to note that not everyone who’s gone through these situations develops fear of commitment and that not everyone living with commitment phobia has experienced these situations.
There may be many possible combinations of factors that lead to someone not wanting to commit to a relationship or a certain lifestyle choice.
Your attachment style was likely established when you were a baby, and it may continue to impact how you experience relationships.
Attachment styles depend on how you experienced your first bonds. Since not all caregivers behave and respond in the same way, not everyone develops the same type of attachments.
For example, if your caregiver was slow to respond to your needs and attempts to get close, you may grow with a tendency to avoid depending on someone else. If, on the other hand, they were present physically and emotionally for you as an infant, you may feel more secure about forming intimate bonds.
They might struggle with trust and believe that if they open up emotionally, they’re guaranteed to get hurt.
People with some personality disorders may be more prone to avoid commitment or experience intense fear of it.
For example, someone with borderline personality disorder may avoid commitment in a relationship because of their difficulty trusting others and an intense fear of being abandoned.
Trauma experienced during childhood that was never addressed and resolved may lead to relationship challenges, including commitment phobia.
For example, a painful separation during childhood could result in avoidance of close bonds to prevent getting hurt again.
Negative experiences in the past with infidelity or abuse can also lead to a loss of trust overall and fear of commitment to other partners.
In an attempt to protect themselves from more pain, someone may become guarded emotionally, and this could result in fear of commitment or even phobia.
A person’s upbringing and family life have a significant impact on how they approach and behave in romantic relationships later in life.
“Helicopter parents” who are overly involved and controlling can foster relationship anxiety when the child reaches adulthood.
Neglectful or emotionally detached parenting can bring about the same result.
Both can lead to a fear of emotional dependence on another person, including a romantic partner. The irrational and extreme fear of opening up emotionally may be an overcorrection.
Constant exposure to traumatic or abusive relationships in childhood could also erode a child’s desire or ability to form their own relationships later in life.
Family modeling may also be a factor in some cases. For example, one
However, someone who might have gone through a difficult parental divorce may grow up fearful of marriage or similar long-term relationships.
Low self-worth and lack of confidence may be linked to fear of commitment in some cases, although not always.
It can be challenging for some people with negative self-images to accept that they are worthy of love and devotion from a romantic partner. This could lead them to avoid commitment in an effort to prevent getting hurt.
Here are a few signs that a partner may live with intense fear of commitment or commitment phobia:
- They may be unable to talk about the future of your relationship or get really anxious when the topic arises.
- They may talk about the future but leave you out of it.
- Your conversations together may stay on the casual side, even after months of dating.
- You may feel it’s hard to foster intimacy in your relationship.
- They may push you away or “get busy” for a few days after an emotionally intimate situation or an event that may have brought you two closer together.
- They might avoid discussing future plans with you, even casual ones.
- They may dislike labels, such as girlfriend, boyfriend, or partner.
- Attempts at emotional vulnerability may be met with defensiveness, coldness, or agitation.
- Their past relationships may have been short and, according to them, unimportant. They may have also experienced a traumatic relationship in the past.
There may be many ways to address and cope with anxiety and fear of commitment. Consider some of these:
- Talk it out. One of the best ways to overcome fear of commitment is to maintain open and honest communication.
Studieshave found that being on the same page with your partner is even more important for relationship success than the actual level of commitment.
- Discuss the possibility of a phobia. People with commitment phobia may be more likely to make progress if they acknowledge their anxiety disorder. If unsure how to handle this conversation, consider getting the support of a mental health professional.
- Acknowledge the steps your partner takes. Researchers have found that when you acknowledge the significance of your partner’s efforts and sacrifices, they’re less likely to pull away. Positive reinforcement works.
- Help boost their confidence. If your partner has low self-esteem or fear of abandonment, use supportive words and positive feedback. This can help ease fears of rejection and loss.
- Respect their boundaries. Badgering or guilting them into making a larger commitment than they’re ready for is unlikely to work. And if it does, it almost always backfires soon afterward.
- Consider couples therapy. Talk therapy with a mental health professional can be incredibly useful in overcoming anxiety and improving communication within a partnership.
- Accept and let go. If you’re ready for the next step but your partner isn’t, consider asking yourself whether you’re really willing to stay in the relationship as is. If you aren’t, it may be a good idea to end it and move on.
Being in a relationship with someone who’s unwilling to commit can be extremely frustrating. It may not always be a conscious choice on their part, though.
Commitment and love aren’t one and the same. Even if your partner is hesitant to commit to you in some way, that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They may be living with extreme fear or an anxiety disorder.
In many cases, someone living with commitment phobia can overcome it when reaching out for professional help. They need to make this decision for themselves, though.