At times, you wonder why your partner won’t fully commit to a future with you. Is it ‘commitment issues’ or lack of interest? Actually, it could be gamophobia.
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 fear and an urge for avoidance. This is commitment phobia and it goes beyond what some people call “commitment issues.”
When the fear is about steady romantic relationships or marriage, it’s often referred to as gamophobia.
The uncertainty of what awaits after making a big decision can make some people feel unsure about what steps to take next.
But for some, 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, these decisions are more difficult to make. As a result, they’re often postponed and, in some instances, left to other people to make.
Eventually, however, someone who’s afraid of commitment may get over the fear or make a decision despite it.
A phobia, on the other hand, 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.
Gamophobia is actually one of the most common types of commitment phobias. It’s the intense fear of a formal long-term relationship or marriage.
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.
Here are a few signs that a partner may live with an 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.
Researchers haven’t been able to establish a specific cause for what some people call “commitment issues” – which can be commitment phobia or fear of commitment.
There may be many possible combinations of factors that lead to someone not wanting to commit to a relationship or a certain lifestyle choice. For example, living with relationship OCD or ROCD.
Other possibilities include:
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 attachment.
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 not be able to 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.
Negative experiences in the past with infidelity or abuse can also lead to a loss of trust overall and fear of commitment.
“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 getting too close 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.
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.
Commitment and love aren’t one and the same. Some people may live with the fear of commitment or commitment phobia even if in love with their partners.
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.