Center for Shared Insight, PC

Fear of commitment: Understanding the Hidden Signs

December 3, 2019
Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

When you hear the words “fear of commitment” you might initially think of someone who is outwardly afraid of marriage or doesn’t want a long-term commitment in relationships. While this fear can certainly manifest like that, it can also show up as behaviors that are less obvious, and the person experiencing this fear can often mask it as something else. 

In this post, we’ll reveal four of the not-so-obvious signs that you or someone you know may be afraid of commitment and the first step you can take to overcome this fear.

Being Critical

If you find yourself always noticing what’s wrong with your partner, and being overly-critical of them, your behavior could simply be a way for you to avoid commitment. Especially if that criticism is related to the characteristics of your partner that you knew about all along, such as their height or occupation, but it’s now the reason you don’t feel the relationship will work, notice whether you might just be looking for an excuse to create distance. Those afraid of commitment will often look for what is wrong with a relationship, especially when they are getting too close to their partner, as a way to disconnect and stay at a safe distance.

Running from “Real” Love

As mentioned, if you find yourself in a pattern of withdrawing more when relationships are on track and good, and staying when they are less fulfilling, you might actually be battling a fear of commitment. Whether that be finding what is wrong as a way to criticize a relationship that is going well, or simply becoming more fearful as the relationship reaches new levels of vulnerability and expectations, commitment phobics will choose shallower, surface-level relationships over deep, open ones as a way to keep themselves safe from what they fear most.

Creating Distance

Whether it be a high-stress job, excessive travel, or even roommates or pets that create difficult living arrangements, you might actually be using these tactics to avoid commitment. Creating distance due to your lifestyle (and competing priorities) might realistically be a coping mechanism you use to manage your fear of commitment. Boundaries around your interests and hobbies, children and family, and time with friends are all healthy limits to make sure you don’t lose sight of yourself when in a relationship. However, if time with your partner is rigidly fit into the small amount of time you have “available”, you might look more closely to evaluate whether you are practicing healthy boundaries, or if those boundaries are really barriers in disguise.

Others manifest distance in more subtle ways. Reflect on how you might be consistently choosing partners who are less available, but you push past that fact because you “connect” or “have great chemistry with” them. Their less-than-ideal availability may be due to geographic distance, their preoccupation with school, work or kids, or their emotional availability may be compromised due to things such as recovering from a divorce, a major loss, or mental health issues. Regardless of the reason, which you may reason as relatively temporary and normal, humans have a tendency to repeat what we have not yet mastered earlier on. So you might ask yourself, do I keep picking partners who - for whatever reason - cannot meet my needs? If so, you might be afraid to get your needs met with an available partner who won’t be repeating that old pattern. 

Whether you put up boundaries disguised as barriers or pick partners who are not available to meet your needs, both these types of choices create distance and ensure that the relationship can’t get too far down the commitment spectrum.

Keeping Defenses Up

If you are afraid of commitment, you’ll rarely share the things that bring you pain or challenge in relationships. It will be difficult to open up because that behavior will let your partner closer than you desire. You might open up very slowly over time, or only open up when commitment is off the table (like when the relationship is ending or infidelity is unfolding). Keeping your heart closed off is a way to create distance and keep vulnerability at bay when commitment is scary and unwanted.

If you recognize yourself of your partner through any of these hidden signs of commitment phobia, you might wonder what you can do to help the relationship move forward. Often the root cause of these behaviors can be traced back to initial childhood relationships, which help form your attachment systems. Undoing some of these learnings takes time and often requires the help of a professional therapist. Sometimes, enduring the failure of more recent romantic relationships can also fuel these types of avoidant or distance-making behaviors. Understanding the root cause of your feelings can be a powerful step toward healing and change.

At Center for Shared Insight, we specialize in attachment therapy that helps connect the dots between your past and your current relationship challenges. We believe that the healthier your relationships become, the richer and more fulfilling your life will be. Contact us for a free intake assessment and to get started with our team of therapists today.

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