How A Fear of Commitment Keeps You Stuck
People struggle with commitment want the same thing that everyone else does- but do the things that prevent them from finding lasting love. Their fear and anxiety surrounding commitment cause them to feel paralyzed and unable to stay in the relationship – despite wanting to. Instead of working through their issues – they do the very thing that reinforces their fear – they run.
They experience love like the rest of us who are able to stay in a relationship but they cannot stay in the relationship. The feelings that most of us experience feel more scary and intense than they are for most people. These strong feelings drive the person to end the relationship.
There is no one type of person that has commitment issues – they differ. However, their commitment issues continue regardless of the time – few weeks, months, or years. At the end, they cannot stay committed and start to look for reasons now to stay in the relationship. Their deep rooted fears and anxiety around commitment rise up and bubble over until they do things that either drive the person away or convince themselves the person is ‘not the one.’
Commitment issues are nothing new and no doubt we all know someone who would meet the criteria for commitment fear. John Grohol, PsychCentral perfectly sum up some of the reasons that plagued people who cannot commit:
- Fear of, or having had, the relationship end without notice or signs
- Fear of not being in the “right” relationship
- Fear of, or having been in, an unhealthy relationship (characterized by abandonment, infidelity, abuse, etc.)
- Trust issues because of past hurts by those close to the person
- Childhood trauma or abuse
- Unmet childhood needs or attachment issues
- Complicated family dynamics while growing up
John, 38. Has been in a relationship for about 2.5 years with Mandy. He has had 3 previous relationships, but as he tells it, they ended for legitimate reasons and not because of his fears (too young, drinking became an issue, changed jobs). However, this is the first time that John can say he is in love. He wishes he could stay in the relationship because Mandy is ‘a catch.’ John’s parents are divorced and his father had an affair. He is one of 5 siblings, and 3 of his siblings are divorced or going through a divorce. He doesn’t have a lot of faith in long-term relationships although he wants to be in one.
Steps to Overcome Commitment Issues:
Address his internal conflict. We have started to address his internal conflict of wanting the intimacy that comes with relationships, but also learning that’s its ok (and healthy) to cultivate his own identity and need for time alone.
Examine his black and white thinking. Much like his cognitive distortions, John looks at relationships as being ‘trapped’ or having ‘freedom’ – but relationships are neither. Relationships are more fluid and helping him recognize the need for greater communication.
Address his cognitive distortions. John feels he has to have the perfect relationship, be guaranteed that love will last and will not change, he shouldn’t want time away, and doesn’t feel he shouldn’t want to be with her.
- Fear of communication. Like most people, John wasn’t taught healthy communication skills and as such has a tendency to keep things bottled up until he becomes overwhelmed. Fear of disappointment or believing that he has a right to how he feels (for example, wanting to spend time alone), prevents him from communicating how he feels. As a sidebar, Mandy would often say this and want him to be more communicative.
- Sexual intimacy. In the beginning of the relationship, he felt more comfortable with sexual intimacy. However, as time has progressed, things have changed. John’s frustration around this is that he is the one that has backed off from sex more than Mandy and much of this has to do with not being able to communicate some of the things that Mandy does that bothers him. So, instead of addressing those issues, he feels there’s something wrong with him and thus the relationship.
Like most things in life, a fear of commitment can be overcome. However, you are the game changer in your life. You must decide if you want to make the change and then invest your time and emotional energy to overcome your fears and anxiety around relationships.
Why Lasting Change Is Hard
Before we had any children, my wife and I lived in the heart of Dallas. One day, on our way back to our house, we were driving down Skillman Avenue when we were caught in a sudden torrential downpour.
The rain was coming down incredibly hard, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the storm drains were equipped to handle that much water. Instead, the road itself filled with water faster than we could have anticipated. Quickly, the water rose up the side of our car. Trying not to panic, we realized that we could not continue and would need to turn around and get to higher ground.
Water rising up the side of your car door is the kind of roadblock you might not expect to encounter, but when you do, it’s formidable. We couldn’t drive through it or even around it. We had to deal with it quickly or face serious consequences.
When we’re trying to implement change in our own lives, it’s important to identify and plan for common roadblocks to lasting change.
The first and, in my opinion, most important roadblock to lasting change is not addressing the real issue.
Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night with a sore throat. You’re annoyed by feeling sick but your throat really hurts, so you get up and spray a little Chloraseptic in your mouth and drift off to sleep. When you wake up the next day, you still have a sore throat, so you pop in a cough drop and go about your day.
The change you’re making – using a numbing agent – might work if you’ve only got a cold, but if it’s strep throat, you’re not addressing the real problem. Only an antibiotic will cure what ails you, even if Chloraseptic will keep the pain at bay for a while.
Just like how more information is needed to diagnose your sore throat than one feeling, problems you encounter in your life or business require diagnostics, too. Figuring out the real problem – not just your most apparent needs – requires some introspection and a little bit of time.
Here are eight questions to ask when you need to discover the root cause, courtesy of MindTools.com:
- What do you see happening?
- What are the specific symptoms?
- What proof do you have that the problem exists?
- How long has the problem existed?
- What is the impact of the problem?
- What sequence of events leads to the problem?
- What conditions allow the problem to occur?
- What other problems surround the occurrence of the central problem?
Once you have your answers to these key questions, you can’t stop there. Your vantage point is skewed from your own perspective. You’re going to want to ask someone else to evaluate the problem at hand with the same questions and then compare your answers.
If you and all of the partners at your firm have similar answers, you’ll know you’re on the right track. If you wind up with wildly different ideas, I suggest seeking the advice of someone outside your organization. Fresh eyes can make all the difference in understanding a problem.
I often talk about being ‘too close’ to understand. You’ve probably heard the illustration about a group of people standing by an elephant with blindfolds on, trying to describe what they’re experiencing. Depending on what part of the elephant you’re next to, you’re going to have different observations.
But someone outside of that elephant’s cage can clearly identify the elephant.
The first key to making a lasting change is to make sure you’ve addressed the real problem and are looking for authentic change.
Next time, we’ll address the second major roadblock to creating last change.
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