Scared of Commitment? Therapists Look for These Red Flags
If you're scared of committing to a relationship, you're not alone. There's an abundance of reasons you may be hesitant to commit. But there's reason to fear your fear of commitment, too. If you find the perfect partner, for example, will you be able to keep them in your life?
One point about being scared of commitment is that it's not always obvious why or whether you are. You might think you're committed but then wonder why you can't seem to share your innermost thoughts with your partner. You might want to be completely monogamous but then worry about the idea of being with just one person for the rest of your life. You might want a loving partner more than anything else in the world, and yet simultaneously struggle to suggest or agree to being exclusive.
After reflection, you might arrive at the worrying thought: "Am I scared of commitment?"
Looking for red flags
While it's a common concern to have, it's also important to address it head-on. Lack of commitment in a relationship can lead to a plethora of issues, including effects on sexual health. For instance, are you or your partner sleeping with multiple people? Do you feel able to openly discuss contraception or any fears about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), urinary tract infections (UTIs) or unwanted pregnancies?
A fear of commitment can lead to all kinds of complications in this regard and hinder the potential success of a long-term relationship. Three relationship therapists explained the "red flags" they use to identify when a client is scared of commitment.
Red flag: You can't (or won't) talk about the future
"In this situation, the person is avoiding forming connections and bonds with their partner's loved ones and may also be trying to keep the relationship 'under the radar' so that they avoid the heavy feeling that they might have to live up to the expectation of commitment," said Rhian Kivits, a Relate-qualified therapist and sex and relationship expert in Plymouth, England. Relate is a network of counseling centers.
Counselor Jenny Warwick, from East Sussex, England, explained some of the potential effects of conversations about the future on someone who is afraid of commitment.
"Anything more than a superficial conversation starts feeling awkward and uncomfortable," Warwick said. "You might start to feel anxious, edgy and tense when the next steps are mentioned, such as moving in together, meeting family and friends, etcetera."
She also pointed out that an inability to discuss the future isn't limited to discussing the big milestones. For example, you might avoid talking about future plans.
"Anything that goes beyond the next month or a couple of weeks just feels totally overwhelming," Warwick continued. "When you do talk about plans for the future, it feels easier talking about it in terms of what you are going to be doing on your own and not you with them."
It's also problematic if there's a need to discuss your or your partner's contraception preferences, and one or both of you winces at the idea of planning ahead.
Potential solution: "A step-by-step is required here and quite possibly baby steps, too," said John Kenny, a relationship empowerment coach who is based in England and known as the Relationship Guy. "Looking too far into the future may trigger something inside of you that makes you want to stop where you are. Taking it slowly, not reading too much into things, going with the flow and working on the fears that you feel will help when you start to get jittery about committing long term to someone."
Red flag: You want to keep every relationship casual
"You like to keep things casual all of the time," Kenny said. "Yes, all of the time. It is OK to keep it this way at times, depending on what you want and where you are in your life, but to keep every relationship in the friends-with-benefits space means that you struggle to be with people at a deeper level and are only comfortable in surface relationships."
Potential solution: "When you speak with [your partner], be explicit in explaining how you feel," Warwick said. "It isn't your relationship with them, it's relationships in general that can feel overwhelming."
"[Your desire to keep things casual] is likely because you have what is called an insecure attachment style, and the style you have is called dismissive-avoidant," Kenny noted. "This means that as a child, you learned to shut your emotions away and disconnect from the person who you believed was causing you emotional pain. Now, keeping relationships at a surface level only enables you to protect yourself from the possibility of getting hurt should you connect with anyone at a deeper level.
"By understanding your attachment and working on overcoming these barriers, you can start to entertain the idea of closer relationships without your brain needing to jump in and protect you," he said.
Red flag: You try to find faults in the relationship
"You may be close to someone, even feel connected and happy, but you can't switch off the questions: 'Do they really love me?' 'Can I trust them?' 'Where is this going?'" Kenny said. "Or [you] find faults in what they do or say in order to break the connection and create doubt in your mind."
Kivits described this tendency as a way to identify reasons the relationship—or partner—isn't good enough.
"In this situation, the person could be finding excuses not to make a commitment by telling themselves that there could be something better out there, and this allows them to deflect from their own issues by making their partner or relationship the problem," she explained.
Potential solution: "It may seem obvious, but rather than looking for faults, look for the positives in your relationship," Kenny said. "The faults you do pick up on are usually quite minor anyway and just a way of allowing you to disengage. Look at the bigger picture of the person you are with, all the things you have in common."
"It's OK to talk about how you're feeling with the other person," Warwick added. "Being open and honest with yourself and them is the best place to start."
Red flag: You actively try to sabotage relationships
"When you find it hard to commit to someone, you will look for any reason to keep that distance or get away from the relationship entirely," Kenny explained. "You need to keep a healthy space—for you, at least—between you, and so you do something that creates that: going out with friends more often, going on dating sites or even dating other people, being horrible in order to push the other person away, whatever you can do to mess things up."
Warwick highlighted pushing people away as a significant red flag in this regard.
"Things feel good and positive for a while, and you're seeing them often and communicating regularly and then you feel a need to pull back and away from them," she said. "It feels like things are getting a little bit overwhelming and intense. This can be exhausting, as you might want to be with them but also equally feel the need to have your own space."
Potential solution: "You may not know how to handle someone being nice to you, loving you and wanting to be with you, and so you reject this space and do something to show that you are unlovable or undeserving," Kenny said. "Looking at your relationship with yourself is a must, and knowing what relationship beliefs you are clinging on to will help you to stop the sabotaging behavior and allow yourself to love and be loved as you really deserve."
"Let them know when you need space for yourself," Warwick said. "Establishing boundaries is a positive for everyone."
Red flag: A fear of getting hurt
Everyone has a fear of getting hurt to a certain degree, Kenny said.
"We would all like to avoid painful relationships if possible, but [in this case,] you have been hurt before and your fear of getting burned again stops you from entertaining the idea of getting too close to someone," he said.
"Sometimes we can learn a lot about how we are in our current relationships by looking at our past ones," Warwick noted. "If there's been a pattern of short-term relationships, this is telling you something. It's also worth being aware that a past traumatizing relationship will take its toll. This indicates that there could be a real sense of anxiety or fear you feel about going down the same path."
Potential solution: "Pain is a horrible place and your fear of loss is driving you to retreat into a safe space," Kenny explained. "Again, stop looking for ways in which this person can hurt you, but rather how they make you happy. Are they doing things you need to be wary of? If not, then work on building trust in them and also in yourself. One thing that can cause a lack of trust is a lack of belief in yourself, that you deserve good things and are bound to be disappointed, so be nice to yourself as well as your partner."
Pay attention to your feelings
Suffice it to say, while these red flags certainly don't have to equate to a major cause for concern, they're worth your attention and awareness.
"A fear of commitment need not be a deal breaker in a relationship," Warwick said. "It can, however, put a strain on a relationship and needs paying attention to as it indicates that something is not as it should be."