Is Your Fear of Relating Stopping You?
It’s a strange, but increasingly common, phenomena happening with both married and single people. It’s called “commitment-phobia” and it can ruin even the best of relationships. What causes it? How can you prevent it? How can even married people suffer from it? These tips will help you sort it all out.
You’ve heard the stories, or perhaps been through the experience, or having a relationship end that had a great deal of potential or even satisfaction. For some reason, you, or the person you were with, just couldn’t keep the relationship going so it could continue to grow in a healthy way. So, one or both of you ran away. Maybe someone left the relationship completely. Or maybe someone stayed but kept the distance through affairs, work, television, or a variety of other methods. Whatever the reason, one of both of you demonstrated a lack of commitment towards making sure the investment of time and energy into your relationship paid off. In the 90’s a phrase was coined to describe this phenomena. It was called “commitment-phobia” and ironically even people who have been married 50 years or more can suffer from it. How can this be?
First, views towards commitment and relationships are changing. Since the cultural revolution of the 1960’s marriage was no longer seen as the main acceptable choice for adults. Prior to the ‘60’e, those who were not married were shunned by society. Having children out of wedlock, remaining single into the 30’s and beyond, ending a marriage in divorce were all taboo and a sign that one had failed in life. This made marriage the safest route towards personal contentment even if the marriage was far less than you may have hoped for. Because of this people remained committed to the institution of marriage even if they were not totally satisfied with the person they were with. Getting divorced or being single was a far worse alternative than marriage, so people stayed married. But if they were unhappy they often learned to run from through distancing techniques like affairs, being work-a-holics, and other means of avoiding each other.
Second, since the 60’s many of these societal stigmas have been removed. Men and women discovered other options to marriage like remaining single or going through a series of short-term serial relationships. Increasingly people wanted to be in relationships for personal satisfaction. If the relationship started to not feel good, people were more inclined to exit the relationship, instead of work to improve it. Typically the end happened right when the infatuation, romance, and fantasy stages of the relationship wore off and the inevitable difficulties of any real relationship emerged. Unwilling to do what was required to help the relationship last, no matter how many rewarding elements existed once the surface romance stage wore out, the lessons of real relating were never learned. Thus “commitment-phobia” was born.
Third, because of these recent societal changes a new definition of commitment is starting to emerge. It is no longer enough to be committed to the institution of marriage or to one’s own personal happiness. Instead, in her book The Truth About Love, Pat Love states that a commitment in our time means both individuals commit to the well-being and long term satisfaction of the relationship itself. This requires that both parties value what a loving, conscious and connected relationship can bring them. They are realistic knowing their relationship will have cycles when they feel more and less connected to each other. When feeling less connected each member is committed to doing what it takes to deepen communication, trust, passion, and intimacy. The relationship is a priority over all other priorities. They still remain individuals seeking their own happiness, but that happiness is grounded in the well-being of the relationship as well. Both must be adjusted to the other.
Until this shift occurs commitment phobia is likely to remain because it is based in a fear of the institution of marriage or in the loss of personal freedom and satisfaction in any relationship. No relationship can survive and be satisfying under these conditions. Only when both parties view committed relationships as a source of satisfaction because they help us improve our capacity to relate to another human being on a deep level will commitment-phobia end. Then, each individual will invest in learning what it takes to have a lasting love between them. May you find this in your own life as well.
To your success!
Dr. Lisa Love