Discerning the Fear of Commitment
Dr. Kevin Boll
Most people think of the fear of commitment as the inability to say, “I do” while standing at the altar with their love. However, commitment phobia goes much deeper than that and can include people outside of a personal relationship.
People who fear commitment have a tough time making decisions where other people are concerned, the significant other, colleagues, or family members, for example. The first step to overcoming this fear is to truly understand what is at the root of the condition and to take the appropriate steps to move relationships forward.
Commitment phobia or fear of commitment is really a form of anxiety. This anxiety can stem from all sorts of causes, but the worry the person feels overwhelms them to the point that they may end the relationship weeks or months later. If the individual grew up in a household with lots of turmoil between the parents, then they may have developed a fear of reliving their parents’ “mistakes.”
Abused and neglected children can also grow up with relationship anxiety since their needs were not met during those formative childhood years. It becomes difficult for them to trust other people who swear their loyalty to them when the adults who mattered most did not or could not give love. This includes grown children of emotionally distant parents.
Another cause of anxiety is past relationship failures. If the person placed their heart and trust into the hands of another who let them down, such as through infidelity or abandonment, then they can develop a fear of having this happen to them again.
This type of betrayal inflicts such deep hurt that to protect themselves from future pain, they (often subconsciously) build emotional walls. When they begin to feel the excitement of new love, they may translate these sensations into adrenaline-pumping danger. Their gut instinct tells them to leave before they are hurt again.
Although some people with the fear of commitment want to keep their freedom and their ability to come and go as they please without the responsibility of another person or a family, many people with the anxiety truly want to love and be loved on a deeper level. They yearn for personal and work relationships where they can be accepted for who they are without the worry of someone rejecting them one day.
Unfortunately, the fear of commitment often overrides this deep desire, leaving them alone and looking for someone new.
Signs of Fear of Commitment
If you are concerned that you or a loved one have a fear of commitment, you can look for a few of the following signs:
- You either refuse to think about the future of the relationship or you rarely see your relationships moving forward. It might be difficult for you to see yourself five years from now with the same person. If the fear of commitment has moved into the area of your career (as fears tend to expand into other areas of life), you may have trouble making a long-term commitment to a company.
- You doubt your significant other’s motives in the relationship. Or, perhaps you doubt yourself. If you are constantly questioning the other person about how much they adore you or you incessantly second-guess your decision to be in the relationship, then you may have developed commitment phobia.
- You feel emotionally distant when you are in a relationship. Not being emotionally involved in a personal relationship or shrugging off your partner’s interests or concerns is a sign that you may not be truly invested in the relationship.
- You feel trapped in the relationship when the other person shows signs of wanting to move forward. Some people feel elated when someone declares their love for them for the first time. However, those who have trouble with relationship anxiety may become frightened of what the other person expects next or feel that the relationship is moving too fast.
- You consider other areas of your life a higher priority than your relationship. Of course, this could be a result of life’s circumstances. For example, a medical student will probably place a higher priority on studies and interning than on dating with no fear of commitment. But, if you place your career, house, hobbies, and other interests in front of personal relationships for long periods of time, then it may be time to figure out why.
- You have very few close relationships. You may have difficulty trusting people in all areas of your life. This may lead to very few close friendships or friends that you only see once or twice a year. People with a fear of commitment also tend to become friends with people in the same pattern. Do your close friends have meaningful long-term relationships? Or, are they mostly casual flings?
- You have a pattern of short relationships. Perhaps you haven’t found the right person yet, but a pattern of short relationships could be a sign of commitment phobia. Do you break up with someone over little things, such as the way they laugh or the type of movies they like?
- You are afraid you will let your partner or colleagues down if you make a commitment. Sometimes the anxiety you feel during a relationship is more about pleasing other people and letting them down than it is about you not wanting the connection.
When given more responsibility, either at work or in a relationship, some people are worried about disappointing others and simply leave. These people tend to thrive at jobs where they can work independently or for themselves.
If you notice a pattern in your behavior with relationships in your personal life, or at work, school, and church, you can rest assure that you can overcome the fear of commitment.
How to Overcome Commitment Phobia
Acknowledging that you might have relationship anxiety is the first step to overcoming a fear of commitment. God created us to have relationships with others. He knew that Adam was lonely in the Garden of Eden and created Eve to be a companion. The Bible teaches that “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
A successful relationship is built on respect, trust, and some compromise. When you love someone, then the little pet peeves will not drive you away. But, how do you overcome this anxiety and fear that seems to warn you that your future is at risk if you commit?
Once you realize that you are experiencing anxiety at the thought of moving ahead with a relationship, seek God’s wisdom and guidance. You can ask God for help and read His word for insight.
You can find guidance through a spiritual advisor such as your pastor or a trusted member of your church. You can also find help with a faith-based mental health professional who can help you identify the root cause of your anxiety and suggest ways to take baby steps forward.
If you are serious about your current relationship, but afraid of your anxious feelings and thoughts, consider having a one-on-one talk with your partner. Stepping forward in a relationship is scary and uncertain at times.
It is impossible to plan your life one hundred percent. As Scripture states, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless, the Lord’s counsel – that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21) and “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
If possible, try attending a couples counseling session together. If you do love your significant other, these sessions can help to explain your fears. The therapist can suggest ways the two of you can grow closer.
If you are not currently in a relationship, consider individual therapy to work through what is holding you back. Perhaps you do not have any plans to marry, however, anxiety and fears have a way of encroaching onto other areas of life. If you are having difficulty with your relationships at work or in church, counseling can help you learn that it is okay to allow yourself to show some vulnerability.
“Cave Entrance”, Courtesy of Joe Pearson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Wilson Sanchez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Agitated”, Courtesy of Olesya Yemets, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fear Not”, Courtesy of James Coleman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License