Addressing Commitment Phobia

Ryan Ginn Relationships

Commitment phobia is very common, with the primary contributing fear being the fear of failure. For many people, this fear stems from previous relationships in which there may have been a lot of mistreatment and conflict.

In my experience with couples, this fear of commitment or of an unknown future tends to creep in around the 6 month to 1 year mark. It’s natural to become protective of ourselves, and to find ourselves feeling more skeptical at this point in a relationship. The inclination to commit to our partner starts to waver as we try to figure out whether or not this new relationship is going down the same path as a previous one. 

Commitment affects your autonomy

People are complicated creatures. One part of us is looking for a connection, with the desire to build a relationship and build trust with another person. The other part is protective and fears being hurt or traumatized, therefore stopping us from committing fully. Worse yet, there is a general concern that overlaps between these two parts: the fear of feeling trapped in a relationship. But most importantly, we value our freedom and our sovereignty. We may fear commitment because we don’t want it to redirect our original intended path, and we worry that our relationship may cause a redirection of some kind.

The reasons behind a fear of commitment make it clear that, when we make the decision to enter into a committed relationship, the relationship brings with it a threat to our autonomy. We suddenly have to weigh the value of being close to someone who cares about us, as well as all of the healthy pleasurable things that come with being in a relationship, against the subsequent loss of autonomy we will experience by being with them. 

The important thing to know is that this is inevitable. One day you might move in together, and suddenly all of those independent decisions you used to make for yourself have to be collaborative decisions. Your decisions affect your partner, and vice versa. Compromise is necessary: not all of these decisions will reflect what you would have chosen as an independent person, but that’s the price you pay to intimately share a life with somebody else. 

Remember that the perfect person doesn’t exist 

Another impediment to commitment in a relationship may be our fantasies of the ideal partner. It’s natural to hold a notion of the “perfect person” in our heads, someone who will always say the right things and who understands how we think without us having to tell them. Most of us have been crafting this person in our heads since we were kids, when we first began to wonder who we might end up with in the future. 

To be blunt, this isn’t going to happen. No one is going to perfectly fit your fantasy ideology. I know that is hard for a lot of people to accept, but the truth is that your partner is going to be a pain in the ass at times. There is no person who will never infringe upon your autonomy in some way. To hold your partner to that standard simply isn’t realistic. 

I often ask my clients to try to develop a relationship with this younger part of themselves, the part of them that may be feeling the sadness of letting go of that fantasy. It is difficult to do, but we have to see this fantasy as something that is normal to let go of. Until we can accept that, we cannot fully commit to an imperfect person. 

The caveat here is that, as adults, we have to discern what our non-negotiables are. Rather than subscribe to some fantasy notion of our relationship, we need to be clear on what we actually need from our significant other, and distinguish that from what is just an unrealistic list of desires. 

Commitment means working together

The solution to both overcoming a fear of commitment and letting go of a fantasy ideal is to collaboratively set a clear vision of what each partner expects from the other. Enter this conversation with your own fair expectations and non-negotiables, but be open to hearing what your partner has to say as well. From here, you can collaborate and co-create something that is bigger, better, and stronger than the sum of the parts. 

This is what makes an adult relationship, and what can help address commitment phobia. You are settling into your confidence as an adult, and you expect your partner to do the same. So, if you’re willing to take this collaborative step, then you can create something that serves you both deeply and makes you feel safe. 

This is what every human really wants: a sense of belonging to others, and at the very least, having someone who is committed to us in a deeply reciprocal way. This is, ultimately, the payoff. To achieve this requires working through the difficult parts of yourself, the parts that have valid reservations about commitment. 

It’s okay to ask for help… it’ll help the relationship

It’s important to note that, for many of us, there will be elements of personal development and skill building that are needed in order to fully separate ourselves from our commitment phobia. You might need to read a book, take a course, see a therapist, or see a relationship coach. It’s okay to ask for help. By doing so you are taking the mature step towards creating that vision you want, and succeeding in a secure, reciprocal, and collaborative relationship.

If you have had terrible relationships in the past, then by resourcing yourself and stepping into your adult, mature self you will feel incredibly empowered. It’s totally possible and I see people do it all the time, but it takes work. It takes discipline, humility, patience and introspection. 

If this sounds like something I can help you with, go ahead and reach out. If I can’t help you myself, I know somebody who can.