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.
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