While I define “commitment phobia” as “an unrealistic fear of making a promise, a pledge or a vow to be a faithful and loyal partner to another person,” many singles may also fear that becoming a committed couple means giving up, or losing, their independence.
It’s not uncommon for singles to fear that committing to be a life-long relationship challenges the safety and comfort they perceive as benefits of being single. Remaining single does have its advantages. You can come and go as you please, leave your dirty clothes or dirty dishes alone for as long as you want, and spend your time and money independently. And, you can choose to reveal to the world whatever parts of yourself you want to reveal, and keep your weaknesses and vulnerabilities hidden.
In most contexts, our fears are designed to keep us away from dangerous situations. It’s healthy and normal to fear snakes, loud noises and bad smells, and we protect ourselves by running away from them. But in order to create a trusting and intimate relationship with a partner, one has to confront fears and take emotional risks.
Accomplishing this goal requires confronting the fears of what you’re “losing,” and focusing instead on what you’re gaining — trust, intimacy, closeness — the rewards of a loyal and loving partnership. So, how might this be accomplished?
The first step is to acknowledge that you actually do want to share your life with someone. I’ve worked with many singles who don’t succeed in finding a relationship because they are ambivalent about really wanting one. Getting clarity on your life goals is part of the first step to attaining them. So start by identifyng what you truly want.
The second step is to acknowledge your fears, recognizing that they have kept you from achieving your goals all along. Knowing that you fear rejection, change, or loss of independence is important so that you can develop strategies to overcome them. This kind of strategizing can be done with a trusted friend or mentor, or even a coach. This person can help keep you honest, and focused, as you pursue your relationship goals.
The third step is to learn how to pace the development of a relationship. Many singles get caught up in passion and lust during a relationship’s early stages, only to back away when the time comes to making decisions about the future. Other singles are so hesitant to open up that they become “stingy” with their time and attention. Figure out what’s best for you, as long as you keep things moving forward.
The fourth step is to “make a commitment to see if we should make a commitment.” Agreeing to be in an exclusive relationship is a good way of practicing your commitment skills. Focus on discussing your life goals and dreams together, as well as revealing aspects of your inner selves to one another. Doing so will provide ample opportunities to experience trust, closeness and intimacy.
I’d like to say that there is a definitive final step. But if you’ve gotten this far, then the last step is one you should’ve 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 devoted to mutually empower one another to be high-functioning contributing members of society. Successful people frequently give their partners credit for their achievements.
Seeing commitment phobia as the loss of one’s individuality and independence is therefore unrealistic. There is so much to be gained in a life with a partner that supercedes the alleged “loss” of independence. It admittedly takes risk, but by following the steps outlined above, perhaps you’ll finally experience how the benefits outweigh the “loss” in the end.
© Copyright 2006 Janice D. Bennett, Ph.D.