Are you in a romantic relationship where your partner (or perhaps you as well) has a fear of commitment? Has the relationship been going on for some time, but seems to be “in limbo” or “stuck” when it comes to taking it to the next level? What are some stumbling blocks that may be in the way?
Following are seven reasons (and telltale signs) someone may have a fear of commitment in a romantic relationship, with references from my books Seven Keys to Long-Term Relationship Success and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People. While some lack of commitment may be attributed to one main reason, others may involve multiple factors.
Of course, relationship dynamics are often complex. The longer a couple has been together, the stronger the possibility that many variables are involved in the lack of commitment. While the list below may not cover every relationship scenario, even a partial understanding can provide clarity.
1. “Mr./Miss Right” Versus “Mr./Miss Right Now”
Does your partner see you as “Mr./Miss Right” or “Mr./Miss Right Now”? In other words, how serious is your partner about being in a committed relationship with you? What about you with your partner?
Some individuals are in a romantic relationship with the expectation that the partnership is only temporary and transient, while their partner may be striving toward a serious, long-term commitment. One sign of whether a relationship is becoming committed is when the partners’ closest friends, and especially family, are introduced and included in social activities.
2. Differences in Priorities
You and your partner may have different priorities regarding the relationship.
For some, the significant-other relationship is a primary center of gravity of life. Few other priorities come close in their importance.
For others, a romantic relationship, even a “committed” one, is but one facet of life. There are many other aspects of life which, in their perspective, can justifiably take higher priority. To them, these prerogatives may include career, education, personal ambition, social and professional networking, passionate projects and pursuits, and personal fun and adventure. In these cases, a romantic relationship may be seen as a part-time endeavor, to be engaged in when other priorities are not pressing.
3. Partners Moving in Life at Different Speeds
When one partner is moving forward in life at a rapid pace, while the other is relatively stagnating, this may be a source for a lack of commitment. One example of this would be a partner advancing quickly in her career and society, while the other is stuck with a dead-end job and limited social circles. As the professional and social spheres of the couple diverge, the couple themselves begin to differentiate in their long-term goals.
4. Communication Issues
This is a big one. Numerous studies have identified communication (or a lack thereof) as one of the top reasons for couples therapy. Poor communication, even with the best and most loving of intentions, can raise doubts and fears about being in a fully committed relationship.
If your relationship suffers from ineffective communication, the good news is that as long as you and your partner are willing, improvements can be learned quickly and put to use immediately. For more resources on this topic, see references below.
"Communication is a skill that you can learn. It's like riding a bicycle or typing. If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life." —Brian Tracy
5. Attachment Issues
Those with challenging attachment issues tend to manifest one or more of the following traits on a regular basis, which may, even with a healthy and suitable partner, inhibit the individual from making a commitment:
- Inclined to feel more nervous and less secure about relationships, and romantic relationships in particular
- History of emotionally turbulent relationships
- Highly self-directed and self-sufficient
- Avoids true intimacy and possibly emotional obligations
- Desires freedom physically and emotionally (“No one puts a collar on me”). Pushes away those who get too close (“I need room to breathe”).
- Prefers to be single than to settle down. Even in committed relationships, they prize autonomy above almost everything else.
- Associated with highly challenging life experiences, such as grief, abandonment, and/or abuse
- Desires but simultaneously resists intimacy. Much inner conflict.
- Struggles with having confidence in and relying on others
- Pushes people away and has few genuinely close relationships
6. Narcissistic Manipulation Issues
The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings.” The narcissist often comes across as initially charming, gradually manipulative and exploitative, and ultimately hurtful and disappointing.
In a romantic relationship with a narcissist, the narcissist is usually not interested in forming a responsible, committed relationship (even in marriage). The narcissist is mostly only interested in themselves, while using the partner for their own selfish gratification, be it sexually, physically, emotionally, socially, or financially. Once the narcissist gets their fill, or finds a more attractive prospect, they will likely renege, emotionally if not physically. The victim is left hanging, questioning themselves for the narcissist’s neglect and mistreatment, and picking up the emotional pieces.
Here are a few questions to consider if you're wondering whether you might be in a narcissistic relationship:
- Am I being treated with genuine respect?
- Are my partner’s expectations and demands of me reasonable?
- Is the giving in this relationship primarily one way or two ways?
- Does my partner have a tendency to present themself as superior, self-absorbed, and entitled?
- Does my partner react poorly to reasonable feedback and criticism, even when given diplomatically and constructively?
- Ultimately, do I feel good about myself in this relationship?
7. Financial Compatibility Issues
The longer a couple has been in a relationship, the greater the possibility of financial compatibility issues, which may inhibit one or both partners from making a serious commitment. Money issues and disputes tap into some of our deepest psychological needs and fears, including but not limited to trust, safety, security, power, control, and survival. Multiple studies have shown the correlation between financial issues and higher risk of relationship dissolution.
Can a “fear of commitment” relationship evolve into a committed one? Perhaps. Strong relational awareness, incisive communication about goals and expectations, and a mutual willingness to learn and grow interpersonally are some of the keys to long-term relationship success. See helpful references below.
© 2018 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
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Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006)
Ni, Preston. 7 Keys to Long-Term Relationship Success. PNCC. (2013)
Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)
Adler, R., & Proctor II, R. Looking Out, Looking In, 13 ed. Wadsworth. (2010)
Bartholomew, K., Horowitz, L.M. Attachment Styles Among Young Adults: a Test of a Four-Category Model. J Pers Soc Psychol. (1991)
Pietromonaco P.R., Barrett L.F. Working Models of Attachment and Daily Social Interactions. J Pers Soc Psychol. (1997)
Dew, Jeffrey. Bank On It: Thrifty Couples are the Happiest. (2009)
Santrock, J. Life-Span Development, 11th ed. McGraw Hill. (2008)