Most information relating to commitment difficulties are aimed at supporting those on the receiving end, but what about the person dealing with the difficulty? Who helps them in their confusion?
If you have come here seeking help on your commitment problems, give yourself a pat on the back because you’ve already done one of the hardest parts of change: admitting you have a problem.
It’s most likely that you are at least in your 30s, and for years you’ve been able to pass your commitment difficulties off as being ‘too young to settle down’. As you’ve watched your friends get married and settle into family life, you still find yourself unable to take that next step or even some of the steps before. You enjoy your independence and your freedom; you are succeeding in many other areas of your life but, deep down, you too want to find long-term love, commitment, and stability. However, when that possibility is in sight you can’t fight that familiar urge to flee. After regaining your independence, freedom, and equilibrium, once again, you start to crave closeness.
Before delving straight into how to overcome commitment difficulties, let’s see if that’s what you’re dealing with by looking at the signs of fear of commitment:
- You haven’t been in many long-term relationships, and in the those you have been in your partner has seemed emotional, demanding, and accused you of not connecting and talking.
- You prefer the initial stages of a relationship where there is a lot of fun, sex and ease, and you wonder why it can’t always be that way. After the initial 3–6 months, once the shine has worn off, your familiar doubts start to creep in.
- You have often felt that there must be a person out there who is just right for you and when you meet that person, the relationship will feel right and easy.
- If you are in a relationship, you find yourself flitting between thinking about a future together and focusing on the problems, which lead you to believing you haven’t met the right person for you.
- After a period of closeness with a partner, you might find you need to take space to feel right again. Perhaps you don’t see them for a while, reduce contact or start focusing on things outside the relationship. These behaviours are sometimes referred to as distancing strategies.
- You find it very hard to be open about your thoughts and feelings especially those that are negative and about the relationship. When your partner or date expresses emotions, you struggle to know how to respond.
- Months or years after breaking up with someone, you regret your decision, start to remember the good qualities in that partner, and fantasise or obsess about how things might have been.
- You have never or rarely said ‘I love you’ to a partner or when you have you question the authenticity of the statement.
- You are great at logical thinking, problem-solving and planning and often thrive in environments that require this, such as the workplace.
- You rarely pay attention to your emotions until they overwhelm you, at which point, you just want to get rid of them, often by taking space alone to manage them.
- You enjoy sex and physical contact, and this may be your main way of feeling close to your partner or date.
Still reading and seeing some familiar patterns? Then it’s likely you struggle when it comes to commitment and the associated emotional closeness. It’s important to recognise that this doesn’t mean you are a bad person. There are many resources that paint those with a fear of commitment as demons who should be avoided at all costs. This is not the case, especially for someone who recognises it and wants things to change.
It’s not an easy or quick thing to alter our natural tendency in relationships, but it’s certainly possible and here are some of the steps you can take:
- Learn about adult attachment styles and familiarise yourself with your own and its origins. Those with a fear of commitment are likely to have what is called an ‘avoidant’ attachment style. This means that somewhere along the line, likely in childhood, it was necessary to deal with emotions by shutting them off subconsciously. This can be a fantastic attribute when it comes to the workplace and hobbies, but might mean you struggle to thrive in relationships.
- Get curious about yourself and your own emotions. You may need the help of a good psychotherapist for this as it can feel like learning a new language, one you’ve never heard of before. Being able to access your emotional world will improve every area of your life and when love shows up, you will know it.
- Write down the things that you tend to do to create distance in relationships. This way when those behaviours are activated in your next relationship you can check in with yourself and choose to do things differently.
- Acknowledge that in reality no relationship or partner is perfect. Addressing difficulties together creates a healthy and connected relationship.
- Talk to your partner. If you are in a relationship, talk to your partner about what you are dealing with and maybe seek a couple’s therapist who is trained in an adult attachment-based therapy such as emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT).
- Keep a journal so that you can note down your own thoughts, feelings, and actions when you notice you need space in the relationship. The better you know yourself, the more likely it is you will know how to change.
- Get to know yourself. If you are single, take some time out to get to know yourself so that you are ready to date as the new, more emotionally aware person you will be.
- Communicate clearly. If you are dating, when you notice you need space, communicate it clearly. ‘I’m needing some space right now and will be in contact tomorrow’ is much kinder than dropping all contact.
Fear of commitment/an avoidant attachment style is surprisingly common both in and out of a relationship; you aren’t alone in your struggle. Thankfully, with the increasing amount of research and understanding, there is hope that with improved awareness and professional support, you too will be able to seek greater comfort, freedom, and fun within a secure relationship.
Alison Bickers is a BABCP-accredited psychotherapist and ICEEFT-certified couples therapist.