The way we view relationships is constantly changing these days, and the entire concept of commitment is being reevaluated. To some, the rise of polyamory is an indication of progress, a sign that we are moving into a world in which love is selfless and unconditional, in which having more than one partner actually enhances your primary relationship rather than detracting from it. To others, the trend is a sign that today’s young people are total commitment-phobes.
There’s also evidence to suggest that, in comparison to previous generations, today’s young people are skittish when it comes to committing to relationships in the traditional sense. In the 1950s, it was common to get engaged after just a few dates; today, couples between the ages of 25 and 34 date for an average of six and a half years before marrying. And a recent Gallup poll predicted that 25 percent of Millennials will remain single forever.
Only time will tell whether or not this reticence toward commitment will result in more happy marriages or more forever singles. But if you are looking to be in a healthy relationship but just can’t seem to make it work, it’s worth asking yourself the question: are you selective, or do you simply fear commitment?
After all, commitment-phobia comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are people who never commit by never getting into relationships in the first place. Then there are what’s known as “avoidant attachers,” or people who get into relationships but perpetually keep their partner’s at an arms-length in order to eschew getting too emotionally involved. Also, there are those who consider themselves to be vulnerable and honest, but bail as soon as things get too serious.
At their core, all of these people who fear commitment have one thing in common: it’s a fear of being hurt.
“Commitment phobia is something I see in my office often and happens to both women and men,” relationship expert wrote. “The key piece is fear. Fear of intimacy and deep emotional connection. People who are commitment phobic feel they need to cut off their feelings after a certain point of knowing someone as a means of feeling in control and feeling emotionally protected. This is often not conscious and going on at the deepest level of the sub consciousness.”
After all, humans are social creatures by design. We crave love and emotional attachment, the dopamine rush of sex, the oxytocin deluge of intimacy. We are not born commitment-phobes. We are made into them by romantic experiences. And the defining feature of a commitment-phobe is someone who leaves a relationship not because they don’t have feelings but because they do.
“[Commitment-Phobia] is another name for Relationship Anxiety,” psychologist and dating coach Melanie Schilling wrote. “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.”
Outside of therapy, there is only one real way to treat commitment-phobia, which is to accept the fact that you cannot experience the euphoria of love without experiencing the anxiety of the possible pain it may cause. In many ways, treating commitment-phobia is similar to treating OCD or other anxiety disorders; you would think that rationalizing yourself out of it would be the best way to go, but it only makes things worse.
The best way to treat it is to accept that the worst can happen (your house might burn down if you left the stove on, your lover might leave you), and just free-fall.
To echo’s Will Smith recent inspirational speech: “Commit to commitment.” Don’t let your anxiety rule your life. Don’t wait for the urge to strike you. It is a choice. And for more cutting-edge relationships advice, know that This Is the Real Reason Why It’s So Hard to Break Up with Someone.
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