As a psychologist, I get referrals to help people with all kinds of phobias. I have, however, never, in all my years of practice, ever received a referral for anyone suffering a ‘commitment phobia’ yet this problem seems to have reached epidemic proportions and is causing untold heartache for so many people.
Sharon and John have been together for six years. Sharon wants to get married, John doesn’t. Every time Sharon brings up the issue John accuses Sharon of nagging. He refuses to talk about the issue, except to rationalize his stance and to tell Sharon that she is being too ‘needy’ and demanding.
Sharon feels confused and frustrated by the mixed messages she gets from John. On the one hand, John is always telling Sharon how much he loves her. He assures her that they will always be together and he tells her how utterly devastated he would be if they ever split up. On the other hand, John refuses to take their relationship one step further. Likewise, John seems to prioritise his time at work and his time at social activities over his time with Sharon. She seems to constantly come in at third on John’s priorities and if she didn’t arrange her timetable to fit in with John’s timetable, they probably wouldn’t spend much time together at all.
Have you got friends in this predicament? Have you been there yourself or are you possibly in a relationship at this moment with a ‘commitment phobic’? If you are, you know the heartache it brings. The relationship is everything you ever wanted or dreamed of. You can’t imagine life without this person. Your partner is loving and emotionally open with you but just when the two of you feel the closest to each other – or when you begin to talk about living together, or getting married – your partner finds a way to create distance between the two of you and you feel the pain and heartache all over again.
Commitment Phobia: a Modern Day Hazard
You read about ‘commitment phobia’ in the agony aunt columns of newspapers and magazines all the time. Wherever you go, you are bound to hear at least one conversation about someone who is afraid of commitment. You probably have at least one friend who laments about being in a relationship with a ‘commitment phobic’ and who tells you that they have tried everything to try to change their partner’s mind and oh, what should they do?
We seem to be living in a time where so many people fall in love, only to find themselves frustrated, angry and heartbroken as they realize they are in a relationship with a ‘commitment phobic’.
Commitment Phobia is not a Gender Issue
The popular stereotype that you are fed to believe, is that men have a corner in the ‘commitment phobia’ market. It’s all part of the idea that men and women are from different planets and so suffer different afflictions – women want commitment and men don’t. That is certainly not my experience. In my clinical practice, in couples I coach, in my conversations with friends and people I know it is clear that women also suffer from ‘commitment phobia’. And men are equally devastated when they end up with a partner who won’t commit.
One of the men I got to know, in the gym I used to belong to, came up to me one day asking if we could speak when I was finished with my workout. We had chatted a few times before and he knew that I worked as a psychologist and coach and wanted to pick my brain about something he was struggling with.
We met up for a coffee after our workout and he proceeded to tell me about this absolutely amazing women he had met about four months earlier (how can that be a problem I thought?). He described this fantastic relationship they had, how they ‘connected’ and how he believed he had finally found his ‘soulmate’. The only problem was that as soon as he showed any signs of taking the relationship further, she seemed to distance herself (now I got it!). Gregg, out of his fear of losing this woman was getting more desperate to figure out how to change her mind. He shared with me all the things he had tried to do and say to convince her to take the relationship further. He felt he was losing control and said that he felt like he was going crazy – what should he do?
The Mixed Messages: Come closer, go away
What distinguishes a ‘commitment phobic’ is their extreme craving for love and intimacy and their extreme fear of it. While most people struggle at times between wanting to be close and their fear of closeness, the ‘commitment phobic’ has an intense, extreme desire for closeness and their intense, extreme fear of it. They constantly give out mixed messages: “Come closer . . . go away.”
The two messages you get from a ‘commitment phobic’ are “I really want and need all this closeness, but don’t tie me down. I love you deeply but I need to be close with other people too. I want and need you to love me, but let go of me. I desperately want and need to be with you, and I desperately want and need my space. They get on the ‘push-pull’ dance floor and you end up feeling confused, angry, frustrated and you wonder if you are going crazy.
Watch Out – Don’t Get Into One To Begin With!
If you know you want to be in a committed relationship, you are in for a disaster if you end up in a relationship with a commitment phobic. In my forthcoming book, you will understand the devastating emotional impact of being in a relationship with someone who does the ‘push-pull’ dance with you.
If you want to be in a committed relationship the best advice is not to get into a relationship with a ‘commitment phobic’ to begin with. Prevention is always better than cure! There are two simple but important steps you must take to avoid getting into the painful situation of being with a commitment phobic.
The first step is to get really, very clear about what kind of person you want to be with and to get absolute clarity about the kind of relationship you want and be sure you know what your priorities are.
The second step is to know and be able to identify the signs of a commitment phobic from the start – before you fall into the painful situation of realising, too late, that you are with one.
In my forthcoming book, I will share with you how to get real clarity about the kind of relationship you want and how to know what kind of person you really want to be with. You will learn how to identify the distancing clues of a ‘commitment phobic’ and how to avoid one and I will also share with you the difference between real intimacy and pseudo-intimacy.
It’s Too Late… What Do I Do Now?
Love is blind. When we first meet that special someone we tend to deny and not see what we don’t want to see, or we hope that those undesirable traits, we do see, will somehow, magically disappear over time. And it’s easy to fall for a ‘commitment phobic. They tend to be open, loving and comfortable with self-disclosure. They seem to be good at intimacy. They crave deep connection, they want to love and be loved.
What do you do however, when you realize – too late – that you are together with someone who is a ‘commitment phobic’? Let me share with you what you absolutely must never do:
Never, ever try to change the ‘commitment phobic’! It just won’t work.
Once you read my forthcoming book, you will understand the top three strategies the ‘commitment phobic’ uses when you try to convince or change them. You will also understand that in your effort to change them, you end up pushing them further into their ‘phobia.’
Do you want to keep putting your plans and dreams on hold in order to accommodate your partner’s phobia of commitment? Do you want to have to keep avoiding bringing up the subject, for fear that your partner will leave you? Do you want to be in a relationship that leaves you feeling angry, frustrated and powerless?
At the end of the day, you only have two choices: to stay or to go. Either choice will be painful. It’s a question, however, of short term pain versus long term pain.
The decision is yours – only you can make it.