While I define “commitment phobia” as “an unrealistic fear of making a promise, promise, or vow to be a faithful and loyal partner of another person,” many singles may also fear that becoming a committed couple means giving up. or lose, their independence.
It is not uncommon for singles to fear that committing to a lifetime relationship challenges the security and comfort they perceive as benefits of being single. Staying single has its advantages. You can come and go as you please, leave dirty laundry or dirty dishes for as long as you want, and spend your time and money independently. And you can choose to reveal to the world the parts of yourself that you want to reveal and keep your weaknesses and vulnerabilities hidden.
In most contexts, our fears are designed to keep us out of dangerous situations. It is healthy and normal to fear snakes, loud noises, and bad smells, and we protect ourselves by running away from them. But to create an intimate and trusting relationship with your partner, you have to face your fears and take emotional risks.
Achieving this goal requires facing the fears of what you are “losing” and instead focusing on what you are gaining: trust, intimacy, closeness, the rewards of a loyal and loving partnership. So how could this be achieved?
The first step is to recognize that you really want to share your life with someone. I have worked with many singles who cannot find a relationship because they are ambivalent about actually wanting one. Being clear about your life goals is part of the first step to achieving them. Start by identifying what you really want.
The second step is to acknowledge your fears, acknowledging that they have kept you from achieving your goals all the time. Knowing that you fear rejection, change, or loss of independence is important so that you can develop strategies to overcome them. This type of strategy can be done with a trusted friend or mentor, or even a coach. This person can help you stay honest and focused as you pursue your relationship goals.
The third step is learning to control the pace of the development of a relationship. Many singles get caught up in passion and lust during the early stages of a relationship, only to regress when it comes time to make decisions about the future. Other singles are so reluctant to open up that they become “stingy” with your time and attention. Find out what’s best for you, as long as you keep moving forward.
The fourth step is “make a commitment to see if we should make a commitment.” Accepting to be in an exclusive relationship is a good way to practice your commitment skills. Focus on talking about your goals and dreams in life together, as well as revealing aspects of your inner self to each other. Doing so will provide ample opportunities to experience trust, closeness, and intimacy.
I would like to say that there is a definite final step. But if you’ve made it this far, then the last step is one that you should have been taking all along: recognizing that being in a committed partnership offers you the most opportunities to be all that you can be in this world. Couples in healthy relationships are dedicated to empowering each other to be high-functioning contributing members of society. Successful people often credit their partners for their accomplishments.
Therefore, viewing commitment phobia as the loss of one’s individuality and independence is unrealistic. There is so much to gain in a life with a partner that overcomes the supposed “loss” of independence. True, it comes with risks, but by following the steps outlined above, you may finally experience how the benefits outweigh the “loss” in the end.
© Copyright 2006 Janice D. Bennett, Ph.D.