Can’t Commit To A Lover
This post is one of a series that focuses on the things you can do to begin working on a particular love-life problem. The problem we are focusing on is your difficulty making a commitment to a love relationship.
The basic problem that complicates making a love commitment is the fear of being controlled or losing your personal freedom. Most people who are avoiding a love commitment envision a committed relationship as a ‘trap’ that inhibits their ability to do as they please. The fear of losing freedom when making a true love commitment is in reality an illusion. I’ll tell you why.
The need for love is very active during the course of our lives in many different forms. Most people deny their own personal need for love but act it out in different ways. For example, a need for love can take the form of striving for approval or appreciation, attention seeking, or efforts to attain the acceptance of admired people. It can show up in the striving for personal achievement. Whatever form it now takes in adulthood, the root is always the need for love we were all born with. And this is all very human.
However, if this need for love is chronically frustrated, it can remain active in a person’s life as an influential source of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The real loss of personal freedom would come from the perpetual influence of needing something you can never find or have. Needing a deeper committed love relationship but being too afraid or worried to allow yourself to have it. This is the real trap.
There are two ‘types’ of commitment phobic individuals. One is fearful of losing freedom in any form of romantic involvement. This person avoids all romantic entanglements. Whatever defensive moves he or she is making to ‘stay free,’ he or she always manages to avoid making a love commitment with some kind of excuse and distance. Chances are, this commitment phobic person actually believes whatever rationalization he or she is telling him or herself. This ‘free spirit’ orientation toward love, if it’s not masking an age appropriate immaturity and unpreparedness for love, it’s concealing a commitment phobia that is limiting the person’s love-life experiences now in adulthood.
The other type of commitment phobia occurs when a person fears commitment but allows him or herself to get involved in a love relationship from time to time. So the avoidance of a love commitment takes place in a love relationship as opposed to out of a love relationship as in the first type mentioned. What usually happens is there is a conflict between the need for security and a fear of commitment. This individual tries to be in a love relationship over time without making a love commitment. Problems occur of course when sufficient time has passed and the need to make a commitment takes the form of pressure from his or her lover.
Before talking about what treatment would involve for the commitment phobic person, let’s talk a little bit about the probable ’causes’ of this fearful psychological state of avoidance. Chances are earlier in your life you experienced one or both of the following:
1. authoritarian power relationships where you were overly controlled and/or criticized by someone you love in authority;
2. overly dependent relationships where you were controlled by other people’s dependency needs.
Either one of these experiences earlier in your life can lead to the avoidance of a love commitment later in adulthood. It’s very easy to believe and feel that the after-effects of these control experiences will inevitably repeat themselves over and over again regardless of the fact that you are now older and wiser. A simple but essentially self-limiting solution would be to avoid love commitments altogether.
An effective treatment for commitment phobia involves:
1. An understanding of and challenge of the hurtful experiences of control you have lived through in the past. Acknowledging and remembering the experiences takes them ‘out of the closet,’ so to speak. Let the feelings involved come and go, don’t block them. Once out of the closet their relevance to your present love-life can be challenged. In a sentence, they belong to the past. Your ability to love and be loved in the present must be anchored in the present.
2. Understanding that a ‘true’ love commitment does not take away your freedom. Just the opposite, it sets you free! The key is to decide whether or not the love you feel is ‘true.’ If it’s not, move on. If it is, jump in and work with your fears when they return, getting good at putting the past in the past, until your fears diminish to nothing. Of course, along the way, you’ll be enjoying those moments, minutes, hours, days, etc. of real freedom. The freedom that comes from not having to look for real love any more.
Remember, anxiety and fear about making a love commitment are very common. Understanding and diminishing this fear is an important part of the work of shaping a healthy love-life for yourself. The feeling of true love is always strengthened by the act of making a love commitment.
Do you have an experience of commitment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Dr. T. Jordan