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Afraid of Romantic Relationships? Here’s Why.

I see many adults in my Radically Open DBT (RO DBT) clinical practice that tell me that they don’t want to have a romantic relationship or date anyone seriously, yet they talk about how lonely, anxious and depressed they are. It made me really scratch my head and wonder what’s going on here? I assumed that they realize that the only cure for loneliness, is to be with people they care about… but do they get that?

Here’s the most said list of “excuses” I hear not to date:
• I want my space.
• A relationship will take time away from the activities I like.
• I’ll never be able to see my friends if I have one.
• I only want a physical relationship.
• I’m really picky.
• I never know what to talk about.

When I hear these first line of defense answers, I tend to pause and say, “What else?” I get some puzzled looks at first, but when most of my client’s start reflecting deeper, I get to the meaty answers:
• I’m really afraid to show someone who I am. I think he won’t like me if he gets to know me.
• I’m a bad person to date, because I get so anxious around women I like, that I don’t talk and they think I hate them.
• I’m really afraid of conflict and upsetting people.
• I’m scared to be hurt.

Dating and relationships are inherently anxiety provoking for people because of two main reasons:
1 – If you are really putting yourself out there, you WILL be rejected at some point.
2 – You can’t know how the relationship with go, unless you give it a shot.

The perfectionist tendencies in my overcontrolled clients show up through the fear of not being perfect to date. Unfortunately the only way to get better at dating is to try it again and again. Yes, it may make you uncomfortable and I guarantee at some point you will say something you wish you wouldn’t have, but that’s where the magic happens. We can only learn and grow when we try something new.

There are all types of wonderful RO DBT skills to learn to help us date. Safety activation (Lesson 3 and 4), VARIEs-learning to try something new (Lesson 5), Enhancing social connectedness through learning to chat, increasing intimacy and decreasing mistrust (Lesson 20), plus there are many more.

Also, you can think about value goals. Do I want to be someone that is living a life of fear? Do I want to love and be loved? What values do I hold that NOT dating people goes against?

And of course remember your social signaling! How do you want to show up on a date? What do you want your date to see you as? Probably calm, relaxed and social. Or maybe flirty and interested. The DEEP (Lesson 10) skill can help with figure this out.

Also I really encourage people to ask their therapist about how to go about learning to dating. It’s as much of a skill as anything else we learn in RO DBT. Go forth and make connections! You got this.

Afraid of Romantic Relationships? Here’s Why.

Hope Arnold

Hope is a Radically Open DBT Senior Clinician and 1-day trainer for Radically Open LTD organization. As a self identified overcontrolled person, she works to help her clients learn to relax, take themselves less seriously and be the person they want to be. Perfectionism, anxiety, rigidity, detailed focus, risk aversion and loneliness are some of the areas that overcontrolled people struggle to navigate. In her writing Hope uses humor and real life stories to help overcontrolled individuals make the changes that will bring happiness to their lives. Hope is licensed as a LCSW in Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. She has a private practice in Denver, Colorado.

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APA Reference
Arnold, H. (2019). Afraid of Romantic Relationships? Here’s Why.. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Oct 2019
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