When I was single I went through a two year spate of dating commitment-phobes.
This was my thing.
I invested in several fruitless relationships with men who were avoidant, emotionally unavailable, inconsistent and generally noncommittal. This was a frustrating and really draining time in my life (especially because most of the men I chose also lived interstate).
Now, you might ask me “Mel, why were you choosing this type of man over and over?’ This, my friend, is a very good question and a topic for another blog.
My period of relationship ‘false starts’ taught me a lot about commitment and about my own choice in men. Now, as a psychologist and dating coach I have regular conversations with my clients about this very topic and it’s great to draw on both personal experience and professional industry intelligence.
Many of my clients lament their stories of getting to the second stage of dating, only to have the romantic rug pulled out from under them. You know the story – you meet, connect, have a few great conversations, maybe a kiss or two and before you know it you’re ‘seeing each other’. As the light, casual conversations start to move into deeper, heavier topics, all of a sudden you’re discussing joint holidays and meeting each other’s parents. Just as the excitement grows, your date starts to pull away, becomes distant and unavailable and next thing you know, they’ve done a Phantom and you’re out in the cold.
So, what is commitment phobia?
It is another name for Relationship Anxiety or fear of relationships.
People who have commitment issues generally have a serious problem in staying in a relationship for the long-term. While they still experience love like anyone else, the feelings can be more intense and scary than they are for most people. These feelings drive anxiety, which snowballs as the relationship progresses and the expectation of a commitment looms larger.
People with a commitment phobia generally want a deep, meaningful connection with another person, but their overwhelming anxiety prevents them from staying in any relationship for too long. If pressured for a commitment, they are far more likely to leave the relationship than to make the commitment. Or they may initially agree to the commitment, then back down days or weeks later, because of their overwhelming anxiety and fears.
What causes commitment phobia?
Like most psychological issues, the underlying causes differ for everyone. But most people who experience relationship anxiety report to have experienced relationship difficulties in the past, either directly or by observing others (i.e. a dysfunctional parental relationship).
Other common causes of commitment phobia may include:
- 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 (characterised 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
What should I do if I’m dating a commitment phobe?
Run for the hills! No, I’m just kidding, but you do need to look after yourself.
I’ve learned through my own experience and that of my clients that presenting ultimatums or applying any kind of pressure tends to push them away. So you need a careful plan with a delicate balance of self-preservation and assertiveness.
- Put your own needs first – decide if this person is worth pursuing (recognising that your efforts may not be rewarded)
- Set yourself a time limit – rather than waiting around and torturing yourself for months on end, set a date and decide to persevere with the relationship until then. If your needs are not being met in the relationship by then, walk away
- Give them space – pull back and subtly reduce your level of engagement. Stop initiating contact as much, take longer to reply to messages, generally become less available than usual. Note: I do not usually advocate a ‘play hard to get’ philosophy on dating, but when dealing with a commitment-phobe, a little of this is necessary
- Revert back to steps 1 and 2 – after changing your own behaviour, if you are not getting what you need by your deadline, honor yourself by stepping away.
Keep in mind that the time you are dedicating to analysing and decoding the messages of your commitment-phobe could be directed toward connecting with the next, totally available date.
If you’d like to delve deeper and understand more about commitment in relationships, check out these helpful books:
- Getting to Commitment: Overcoming the 8 Greatest Obstacles to Lasting Connection (And Finding the Courage to Love)