Being afraid of commitment can be incredibly frustrating and confusing. For example, you might find that you absolutely love dating someone in the early days but mysteriously become completely turned off when cohabitation or marriage is discussed. Alternatively, you might tend to enjoy your uncommitted approach to relationships and yet have a niggling underlying feeling that you’re missing something incredibly valuable. Here are six steps that can help you tackle an underlying commitment phobia.
1. Consider whether you really are scared of commitment
Firstly, it’s important to note that some apparent instances of commitment phobia actually reflect something about a specific relationship rather than about the person who is avoiding commitment. Consider whether it is just your current partner or dating situation that is making you feel wary of commitment? For example, you may be with someone who is desperate to check certain boxes that “prove” success or fulfillment by a certain age, and your wariness might well be justified. In this type of case, it is likely the relationship itself that is problematic, rather than merely your underlying attitudes towards commitment phobia.
2. Ask yourself what you fear
Assuming that you have identified a genuine pattern of avoiding commitment (rather than an isolated incident), it’s time to start taking a closer look at your discomfort. When you are offered a chance to move towards commitments, what are you worried will happen if you don’t implement your trusty avoidance strategies? For some, the idea of being consumed by another person and losing one’s own identity is what drives the fear, while others are actually more scared of being rejected if they fully invest in another person.
You may find that your fear is more powerful when it is nebulous and that even the simple act of logically spelling out the precise things that you want to avoid commitment phobia allows you to start developing strategies to cope with your fears.
3. Try to understand the roots of your fear
In many instances, commitment phobia has its roots in early life experiences that shape a person’s expectations of what commitment means. Think about your younger years—did your own relationships (or the relationships of those close to you) teach you that commitment was necessarily suffocating, unsafe, or a precursor to deep pain? It isn’t just romantic bonds that matter, as plenty of cases of commitment phobia seems to result from experiencing distant or inadequate parenting.
Challenge yourself to reflect on whether the messages you received about commitment phobia really reflect how things are in all relationships. It’s common to internalize a “working model” of interpersonal dynamics based on what is experienced during childhood, and once you can see where some of your beliefs come from then you can more readily work to change them if you see them as unhelpful.
4. Know that commitment phobia can be combined with autonomy
If you are now aware that you are scared of being overtaken by another person’s needs, desires, or personality (perhaps because you saw how such a dynamic made your parents profoundly unhappy), it’s important to acknowledge that commitment phobia doesn’t have to mean losing yourself. Try to come up with at least three examples of relationships you have encountered (in real life or fiction) in which the couple is clearly committed and yet both parties still pursue independent friendships and interests while maintaining distinct personalities. Hold onto these models of “committed but free” individuals, and know that you can hold onto plenty of personal freedom in a relationship.
5. Know that commitment phobia doesn’t necessarily come with pain
If you are less inclined to worry about being consumed by another person and more likely to fear commitment phobia because you believe you will end up hurt and rejected, there are also ways to challenge these negative expectations. For one thing, you might want to work on your resilience and self-care methods (e.g. by finding healthy hobbies that make you feel good), reassuring yourself that you can cope with pain, and still keep moving towards a better future.
Since most fears of rejection are based on low self-esteem, it is also productive to reshape your expectations of relationships by first changing how you see yourself. Nurture your talents, remember the appreciative things your friends say about you, and consider keeping a notebook filled with short descriptions of times in which you feel genuinely confident. As you develop more self-worth, you should be less inclined to assume that others will reject you.
6. Consider seeking therapy
Armed with a more concrete idea of what you fear (and perhaps at least a rough picture of where these fears may have come from), it is also worth undertaking further exploration with a therapist. Look for someone warm and supportive who can provide a safe environment in which to explore your difficulties.
As well as helping you on a practical level, a supportive therapeutic process can model a good committed relationship, dislodging some of those stubborn, subconscious assumptions about what it means to show your true self to another person. While you may not find the right therapist first time around, it is well worth continuing the search. Once you’ve found the right person, consider trying some couples therapy exercises to figure each other out.