Causes and Cures for Commitment Phobia
What Is Commitment Phobia?
Most of us have at least heard of a phobia, if not have one of our own. A phobia is an extreme anxious behavior or reaction fueled by fear, most often an irrational fear. Some common phobias we've heard of come from fear of heights, small spaces, flying, spiders, and many, many more.
What we don’t hear a lot about are extreme fear of relationships, or a commitment phobia.
Commitment phobia can be a hard thing to fully understand. It’s not given as a formal diagnosis, it is not in the DSM, and is generally not commonly discussed. It is however a very real phenomenon that affects many people.
Commitment phobia presents itself as an intense fear of long-term, committed relationships that last. Someone with a commitment phobia very rarely, if ever, goes the distance in a relationship. One foot out the door.
Some signs you or your partner might be commitment phobic:
Never making a relationship last longer than a few months
Avoiding labels like “girlfriend” or “boyfriend”
Hesitant to open up or emotionally connect
History of being unfaithful in past relationships
Hesitant to discuss the future or make plans
A common misconception is that those who have a commitment phobia don’t want to be in relationships at all. This isn't always the case. Those with a commitment phobia are still humans, and humans seek human connection. These individuals still carry a strong desire to form relationships, have emotional connections, and experience love.
So if a person wants to form love and be loved, then what’s the problem? Why doesn't this feeling or desire last?
What’s The Cause?
No one's anxiety is the same. Commitment phobia is no different. This anxiety of relationships or commitment phobia can come from a variety of places. Some commonalities are negative past relationship experiences such as abuse, betrayal, and/or infidelity.
Traumatic experiences with family, childhood, and relationships additionally tend to affect one's desire and ability to commit to others. Lack of exposure, understanding, or experience with healthy relationships can additionally impact one's ability or willingness for commitment.
Another primary factor that could impact our ability to commit in adult relationships is rooted in the Attachment Theory pioneered by psychologists such as John Bowlby and Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth. Various beliefs of attachment state that it is a strong emotional connection that we form with other human beings, additionally reporting that our bonding and separation patterns with our mother as infants impact our attachment styles and can affect our ability to form healthy attachments as adults.
Although there are many different forms of study of attachment patterns in adults, common adult relationship attachment styles in adults are as follows: secure attachment, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. By understanding your experiences and attachment styles on a deeper level can help to understand your relationship patterns and ability to commit securely.
What’s The Cure?
Like most emotional and psychological struggles, there is no “quick fix” or “cure” for intense relationship anxiety or commitment phobia. By exploring your personal experiences, beliefs, fears, and wants/needs you can open yourself up to the possibility of change. Learning to understand these areas of yourself and life helps to re-frame or shift your mindset to build a healthier future in emotions, connection, and relationships.
In the meantime, practicing small steps toward commitment can help get one accustomed to secure, attached relationships. Some examples of commitment to practice are as follows: make plans a few weeks in advance, spend nights together with your partner, or discuss emotions openly and honestly with someone you trust.
Finally, individual and couples therapy are smart and beneficial options to learn more about your attachment styles, processing and overcoming traumas, establishing new and healthy beliefs and understandings of your wants and needs, and much more. As commitment phobia is based on anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can also be immensely useful in establishing healthy coping skills to combat these struggles.
Do you or your partner recognize any of these commitment phobia signs? Do you want to work on overcoming your commitment phobia?