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How To Make Sense Of Your Commitment Phobia, From A Relationship Psychologist

Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist By Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist based in Sonoma County, California. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and a master's in counseling from Sonoma State University.
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If you or someone in your life is suffering from commitment issues, it's time to dig deeper. Is a true "commitment phobia" the issue, or is something else—such as the sneaking suspicion that you've not found the right partner—driving the fear of commitment?

The truth about fearing commitment.

Making a romantic commitment is, for the seriously inclined, a major life step. Those who take commitment seriously often have a natural and appropriate fear of commitment because they take their responsibilities seriously.

Whether a person is interested in forming a long-term relationship, getting married, or having kids together, the word commitment is big because it symbolizes big—truly enormous—responsibility. For those who are genuinely interested in pursuing a heartfelt relationship, commitment brings up images of sharing all of life, the good and the not-so-good, "until death do us part." This is no small issue, particularly if finances, living circumstances, and others' lives (e.g., children, friends, family, and pets) are involved. Deep love, vulnerability, and personal responsibility are part and parcel of being truly committed.

On the other hand, if a person is fairly irresponsible and enters into relationships lightly, a fear of committing may never arise. When relationship irresponsibility is high and an authentic sense of commitment is low, romantic relationships tend to be seen as disposable. As a result, individuals in this category often take such a blithe approach to relationships and "commitment" that fear never arises. In short, if you're not really committed, you've consciously or unconsciously told yourself that you've nothing to fear because you've not "risked" your heart.  

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How to make sense of your fears.

To understand whether it's commitment phobia or something else that's at work in your world, try the following steps. You'll discover a great deal about your level of commitment—and why a phobia might exist:

1. Ask yourself if you are really afraid of commitment.

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By definition, a phobia is a persistent exaggerated or illogical fear. A phobia, which is a form of anxiousness, may affect an individual in significant ways. In fact, certain phobias can affect an individual's daily life—be it relationships, work, or social situations. When a phobia is significant, it can have negative, life-altering consequences.

Sometimes a "commitment phobia" is actually one or more valid concerns about the health or suitability of a relationship. Now ask yourself a simple, direct question: Am I truly afraid of commitment, or is another underlying issue is at work? 

Don't judge yourself as you ponder your answer. Simply strive to reflect on the distinction between the two issues—a commitment phobia and any number of other valid concerns about the relationship—that may have surfaced as a result of your self-reflection. Take the time to write a few paragraphs about whatever comes to mind.

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2. Mindfully consider the concerns that arise.

Commitment—and all that it encompasses—is a very personal issue. As you explore your notations with self-compassion, be curious about your responses. Ask yourself questions. If you are truly afraid of commitment, ask yourself why. Do you have an insecure attachment style? Did a former lover betray you? Are you naturally slow to trust and commit?

However, if you realize you are actually not afraid of commitment but have other concerns—such as a load of red flags about your partner—delve into your concerns rather than avoiding them.

3. Journal—and then journal some more.

Journaling is a wonderful way to engage in mindful self-reflection. Use journaling to explore your thoughts and feelings in a free-association sort of way. Don't filter your questions and responses; allow your emotional world plenty of space to come through. As you engage in journaling, you allow your inner world—the wise, unconscious mind—to give you important messages.

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4. Talk to your partner with love.

No matter the results of your journaling and processing—whether you decide you're suffering from true commitment phobia, or you have other vital issues to explore—the next step is to talk with your partner. Set aside quiet time when both you and your partner can focus on the important topic of commitment. No matter what the issues may be, it's important to share them with your partner in a loving, respectful way.

For example, if you are suffering from a trauma that makes you fearful of commitment, let your partner know that you need healing work around this issue. As another example, if your fear of commitment stems from the understandable concern that your life will change in important ways once you commit, it's vital to share your fears with your partner.

On the other hand, if you realize that your relationship is a no-go or that you have valid concerns to address before committing, it's important to share such issues honestly and openly.

The bottom line.

When we decide to commit to a romantic partner, it's important for us to remember that it's not just our own lives that will change. A commitment affects a partner's life as well as all the people in the couple's intersecting worlds. Being committed to another person is one of the most significant joys and responsibilities of life, so it's truly wise to mindfully slow down to sort through any and all fears that arise.

If you're feeling fearful of commitment, use your fears as messengers to help you make a decision that will be best for you, your partner, and your relationship. We get the most out of whatever we put our heart and soul into, and this truth is most apparent in our romantic relationships. 

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