Linda: Here are some of the common factors that keep people stuck in commitment phobia:
- They don’t want to risk showing their deep self to anyone for fear of rejection.
- They don’t want to feel the disappointment of leaving the exciting initial phase of discovery when it inevitably comes to a close.
- They don’t want demands and expectations on them that they aren’t sure they can meet.
- They are unrecovered from a trauma in childhood in their own families where they viewed their parents’ relationship as pain-filled and don’t want to repeat that process in their adult life
- They are unrecovered from an adult relationship that was fraught with heartache and doesn’t trust that they won’t repeat that process.
- They fear giving up their freedom.
Let’s hear from Brandon, the voice of experience, a man who had a heavy case of commitment phobia characterized by several of the factors above, who made a full recovery.
Brandon: “Years ago when I was a commitment-phobic man, I never admitted it to myself or anyone else. The story I told was that I wanted to settle down one day and that I hadn’t yet met the right woman. I was cycling through a long series of relationships, none of which went very deep. I told myself, and anyone that would listen, that I was enjoying the single life. It’s true that the infatuation stage with each new woman was exciting. But after a period of months, the glow wore off, and I was out of another relationship. Even though it was me who ended them almost every time, I would still end up feeling lonely and discouraged.”
“Finally, the intense disappointment happened enough times that it drove me into therapy. Being in therapy is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I discovered that there was another part of me that could clearly see that going from one relationship to another was empty and boring. Over time, these two warring factions, the part of me that was afraid and the part that was brave, made peace with each other. I have a deep debt of gratitude to that therapist who worked with me for months so that I was ready for commitment when I met Janice.”
“As my relationship with Janice deepened, I came to understand that some of my previous beliefs were false. I saw that I had dated a large number of wonderful women, many of whom could have been long-term successful partnerships for me if I had been ready. I had been finding flaws in each of them to justify ducking out of becoming more involved. What was really going on was that I was in a panic about revealing my deeper self, which I now know is a requirement of an intimate partnership.”
“I had thought the trade-off required for commitment wasn’t worth it and that the price was too dear. I’ve learned that there are sacrifices that do need to be made, disagreements that Janice and I have to fight our way through, occasional moments when I feel miserable because she disappoints me, and guilty if I hurt her. But now I know how worth it is to pay those prices. Janice respects my desire for freedom, and we have just a few agreements in place that allow us to feel secure in our partnership. Other than monogamy and consistently showing respect and care to each other, each of us has lots of space to be who we are. We’re both committed to not putting demands and expectations on each other.”
“I’ve gotten to grow a lot in my committed partnership. I’ve gotten to see myself more clearly. Nowadays, I don’t spend time in longing and loneliness. I no longer see myself as fragile, a guy who can’t handle pain. Yes, there is some pain in a committed partnership, and I can stand the pain, learn from it, and recover quickly. I’ve come to trust that if I don’t get my way I can bounce back from disappointment. Sometimes, I’m surprised at how far I’ve come from that commitment-phobic man I used to be. I have evolved to become a die-hard believer in a committed partnership. It’s the best!”
Brandon came to understand that his romantic ideas of the early blissful state of relationship can last indefinitely is an immature notion. He came to see that everyone has to eventually leave the garden of Eden to find a mature love. But the biggest component of his change was testing his belief that if he committed to a long-term partnership, his freedom would come to a close. He now trusts that he can have his freedom, and closeness too. And isn’t that the winning combination for all of us?