How to Overcome Commitment Phobia in Romantic Relationships
by Laura Quiambao
Commitment: Does the word alone make you cringe? Feel pressured? Conjure an unshakeable fear of losing your freedom and autonomy?
Or maybe you’re totally cool with coupling, but you’re worried your partner – or, you should say, the person you’ve gone on *seven* freaking dates with, but who still won’t call you bae – is showing signs of romantic claustrophobia.
You may have a sneaking suspicion that you or your significant other has some relationship roadblocks, but aren’t sure – so how can you identify and overcome commitment issues in your love life?
Understand where you’re at in your relationship
First, let’s talk about key moments in a couples’ journey where commitment issues might pop up. By understanding that these are vulnerable times, you and your partner can be more understanding with one another and prepared for tougher conversations.
Consider the conventional arc of romantic progression: Casually to exclusively dating, reveling in the ‘honeymoon phase,’ dealing with your first fight, getting fully committed, living together, engagement, marriage, and children (if all that’s your jam). The formula varies, but the intention towards commitment remains the same.
Since every relationship goes at its own pace, know that when – and if – you and yours may experience points of commitment friction will vary. They may be prominent from the onset, for example, or they could suddenly arise in conjunction with one of the significant life transitions listed above.
Learn the signs of commitment-phobic behavior
Only in understanding behavior can you hope to move past it. Melissa Kester, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York City, lists several typical characteristics of someone struggling with commitment:
Never having maintained a long-term relationship (despite being old enough)
Struggling with labels associated with commitment (boyfriend, girlfriend)
Sexual promiscuity – while speaking openly about these affairs
Extremely dismissive – e.g., “I don’t need you,” or “you don’t need me”
If you are struggling with commitment issues
When learning to manage your commitment concerns, Kester suggests treating it as any other fear. Be kind and gentle to your fearful voice and listen to it. What is the fear? How have you been hurt before? How have you watched others get hurt? Do some reflecting to identify the origins of the issues. In doing so, you can address them and take the first steps towards moving on.
As much as you may long to stay with your partner, because of your fears you could unintentionally be hurting someone you love. Go slow with yourself, and consider taking these steps to get started overcoming commitment issues:
Listen to yourself and reflect to learn how your fears manifest themselves.
Set reasonable goals and steps for yourself to heal or grow.
Communicate with your partner about your fear and needs.
Avoid overthinking or putting too much pressure on yourself – focus on today and be patient.
Try exercises to decrease relationship anxiety, like meditation.
A therapist can also help you conquer each of these steps! They can help identify patterns in behavior you might not see, work with you to set goals, and hold you accountable. They can also help you wrangle and communicate your concerns, so that you can convey your fears to your partner in an effective manner.
If your partner struggles with commitment issues
If your loved one is having challenges with commitment, do your best to remain patient and understanding.
Try to reduce large commitments into smaller, more easily digestible ones. Encourage them to follow the same steps as above – like listening to themselves, understanding where that fear is coming from, setting goals, and being patient with their needs.
Don’t forget to also give them the time and space they may need.
And, when the time is right, make sure you’re communicating that you also have needs. “No one should expect their needs to be met if they have not articulated these needs clearly to their partner. Share your vulnerable truth compassionately,” advises Kester.
A note on commitment, relationships, and personal choice:
“If you choose to be in a relationship with someone who struggles with intimacy, always remember it is a choice,” says Kester.
“Remember your own personal needs and what allows you to feel respected and loved. If, at any time, you realize these needs are not met and cannot be met with this partner – you can leave.”
In the end, your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. In order to bring your best self into a partnership you need to understand how to fill yourself with love and happiness first.
If you’re determined to work through the kinks, you might consider couples therapy. A therapist will help you both accept that there is no perfect relationship – and communicate through those fears.
Whether it’s you or your partner who’s struggling with commitment issues, it is key to notice these behaviors and understand that they often reflect an internal struggle, rather than a problem with the partner or the relationship.
Laura is a marketing guru and wellness warrior based in sunny California. Her passion for mental and physical health has led her to the Zencare community where she can use her experiences to shine a light on wellness topics and therapy.