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Commitment-phobia is a social term used to describe a pattern of avoiding emotionally intimate relationships.

Commitment phobes believe that every relationship will end negatively. They believe that people they get close to will ultimately hurt them and they will end the relationship before allowing that to happen. Generally, a commitment phobe will engage in a constant “push and pull” pattern of attention and silence, using patterns of seduction to engage their partner, without truly being vulnerable and allowing her to emotionally connect.

Commitment phobia is a very painful experience both for the one who engages in the pattern and for those who are involved with him/her. Why these behaviors occur is rooted deeply in the family of origin survival patterns.

Common commitment-phobe behaviors include:

  1. Consistently arriving late
  2. Consistently changing plans
  3. Consistently keeping the relationship in a very high, high or a very low, low
  4. Never saying “I love you,”
  5. Never using the word “girlfriend” even after dating for a long time.
  6. Texting 4 times a day then disappearing for 3 days without communicating

Causes of commitment phobia

While the causes of commitment phobia are as varied as the people who suffer from it, people with commitment issues share one thing in common: Fear.

This fear manifests itself in a variety of ways, including, fear of not being in the “right,” relationship, fear of being abandoned, fear of trust, fear of attaching. These fears are all based on either complicated family dynamics when growing up, traumatic relationship histories (abuse, infidelity, etc) or unmet childhood needs.

How to Identify A Commitment Phobe – In Yourself and Someone You’re Dating

Below are the most common commitment phobic behaviors. If you’re already familiar with the behaviors, jump to the end of the article to find out how to change those behaviors.

  1. Hot and Cold: This person will lay it on thick when you’re with them, such as gazing into your eyes and telling you what a strong connection they have with you; then disappear for 5 days with no contact.  Other variations of this may include several phone calls one day then contacting you once a week.  Just think “mixed messages” and you may have struck upon a commitment phobe.
  2.   Their Friends Act Distant: Sure you’re funny, kind, and generous, but your partner’s friends just aren’t that interested in getting to know you or treat you like the flavor of the month.  Or even worse you never meet their friends.  Friends invest time into people they think may be sticking around for awhile. If you’re getting superficial interactions from your partner’s friends, they may know something you don’t.  Be aware of their possible commitment phobic buddy.
  3.  Long Distance Lovers: They have a track record of long distance relationships.  In fact, they prefer it!  Long distant relationships may act as a loophole for having someone to care about who cares for you, while not having to deal with the more difficult and sometimes un-sexy day-to-day relationship maintenance.
  4.  “I am a Rock, I am an Island” is their personal slogan: Independence in a relationship can be very healthy, but when it’s taken overboard where your emotions are not considered or autonomy always comes first in their life, may mean they’re not ready to be in an interdependent relationship.
  5.  Being Close Feels Suffocating: If being close to someone makes you feel trapped, suffocated, or that you want to run away fast, you may be a commitment phobe.  If you’re on the receiving end of this, situations such as having a deep, personal conversation, may later result in them avoiding you soon after.
  6.  “Direct me to the nearest exit” the honeymoon phase is over: At the beginning of a relationship everything is new and exciting.  Once the honeymoon fades, they begin to withdraw, lose interest, and no longer invest in the relationship.  If you’re the one who is uninterested, you don’t think of the future with them after the novel thrills have left the relationship.
  7.  “All my exes are crazy:” If the person you’re dating refers to all of their exes as crazy, unstable, or overly dependent, a red flag should be going off.  A great way to think about this is what pattern has happened in their previous relationship that has triggered erratic behavior in their past partners (if it has occurred at all).
  8.  Overdose on the Sweet talking: If they are “all talk and no action,” it may be a sign that they want to keep you on the line, while not having to make an acutal commitment.  Additionally, if they come on very strong at the beginning of the relationship, ie. “we’re soul mates,” it is likely they’ve said this with ease before in the past.

Be sure to look for a cluster of these behaviors that occur as a pattern, before jumping to conclusions.  Finding one or two on this list may just be personality traits or a mood they were experiencing and does not necessarily make them commitment phobic.

How to change being a commitment phobe?

Come clean with yourself.

Recognize that you or your partner has an issue. If you’re constantly feeling unhappy and lonely in your relationships and it seems like the same issues keep coming up around loss and abandonment, decide to do something about this.

See a therapist

Because commitment issues are related to fear of loss or abandonment, a therapist can provide you guidelines for navigating those feelings as well as ways to start changing your behavior.

Date someone you AREN’T attracted to

Yes. It goes against everything you know to be true, but dating someone you aren’t initially attracted to is a radical departure from what you’re used to, helping to reprogram your responses to relationships.

Develop a “toolbox” for when you’re feeling avoidant

With the help of 12 step programs such as Al-Anon (useful for coping with many things other than another person’s alcoholism), or a support group, you CAN develop ways to care for yourself when you’re feeling the need to flee.

Develop a Strong Circle of Friends

If you truly can’t commit or shake the feeling of “being tied down” when you’re in a romantic relationship, then at the very least, develop a strong circle of friends. Friendships can help you develop feelings of closeness with another human that influence how you feel toward a romantic partner. Friendships can also help alleviate feelings of isolation, loneliness and extreme avoidant behavior have been shown to have biological influence on the body.

For more information on healing commitment phobia, try these:

Commitment phobia: The Source and The Way Out

Understanding and Dealing with Commitment Phobia

How to Overcome Your Fear of Commitment

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