We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now on to this week's question: why you can't commit — and how to prevent it from sabotaging your relationships.
Q: "I’ve been dating someone for close to a year. Things are going oddly great, and I could see a future for our relationship. I don’t know how or why, but something changed recently, even though nothing happened. I found myself feeling unsure about our relationship. I started pulling away and noticing all of these things that seem like incompatibilities between the two of us. How do I know if I’m just being commitment-phobic or if this isn’t the relationship I’m supposed to be in? I don’t want to settle for someone who isn’t right for me, but I also don’t want to throw away a good relationship just because I'm afraid of any longterm relationship, period."
A: Thanks for the question, but man is it a doozy! This is one of the most challenging relationship questions that I get. At its essence, I think this is a question about fear. Relationships are scary. They require an insane amount of vulnerability. It’s natural to feel scared, hesitant, or unsure, but the tricky part is figuring out what those fears mean. Sometimes the fears are about the commitment itself, and sometimes they’re about the person you’re committing to.
The first step for you is to take some quiet, uninterrupted time to reflect on your fears. Ask yourself, “what, exactly, am I afraid of?” See if you can allow yourself to be curious, open, and honest about your answers. Don’t judge the reactions you notice, just pay attention to them. What does this question evoke for you? What does your head say? What does your heart say? What does your gut say?
Then, take a peek at the five most common relationship fears below to see what your fears might mean.
1. You’re Afraid The Relationship Won’t Change
So many people stay in relationships hoping that things will improve once they hit certain milestones. “Once we move in together, he’ll want to have sex with me more frequently.” “One we’re engaged, she won’t be so controlling.” People and relationships absolutely can change, but you shouldn’t commit to a relationship that doesn’t feel like a good fit right now. If you’ve got a list of things you’re hoping will change in your relationship, this is probably a sign that the compatibility is the issue, not the fear of commitment.
2. You’re Afraid Of Being Loved
A lot of people end up pulling away from relationships because they’re afraid of letting themselves be loved. Other variations of this dynamic include being afraid of being vulnerable and being afraid that you’re not “worthy” of love. For as badly as most of us crave love, it’s also terrifying to receive it.
Do you find yourself fighting against your partner’s attempts to express their feelings for you? Do you find yourself criticizing things about your partner that are actually good qualities (for example, "it’s annoying that she’s so attentive")? Generally this boils down to a fear of commitment. It’s more about letting in love than it is about your specific partner.
3. You’re Afraid Of Recreating Other Relationship Patterns
We’ve all seen or experienced examples of unhealthy relationships, whether they were our own relationships from the past, our friends’ relationships, or our parent’s relationships. The roots of this fear can go either way, so it’s important to dig a little deeper into the specifics that come up for you. Are there actual similarities between your relationship and these other relationships?
For example, maybe you’ve realized that you date people who tend to be clingy or overly needy, and you’re starting to notice those qualities emerge in your current partner. If those patterns are present in your relationship, it’s probably a sign of a compatibility issue. But let’s say you worry about getting as bored with your partner as your parents seem with each other, despite the fact that your partner has always been spontaneous and engaging. If you’re fearful of dynamics that haven’t even been hinted at in your current relationship, the fear might be more about commitment.
4. You’re Afraid Of The Relationship Ending
One of the reasons why it can be hard to fully commit to a relationship is because there’s always the possibility of things ending. The more deeply we let ourselves fall in love with another person, the greater potential we have of getting our hearts broken. Some people will end up trying to talk themselves out of relationships to prevent getting even more hurt further down the road.
When you find yourself pulling away from your partner, do you ever notice thoughts about the relationship ending? Do you feel like you’re trying to protect yourself? If the answer is yes, this is probably more of a fear of commitment than an actual issue with the relationship.
5. You’re Afraid There Could Be Someone Better
One of the biggest commitment-related fears that I see these days is that there could be someone better out there. Internet dating has put so many more possibilities at our fingertips that it can feel impossible not to worry that our soulmate is just one more click or swipe away. In my experience, this fear tends to be more about commitment than about compatibility.
Try to think objectively about the incompatibilities between the two of you. Do they seem relatively small? For example, maybe your partner doesn’t like sports as much as you do, or is slightly messier than you. If it feels like you’re nit-picking rather than dealing with deal-breakers, it’s most likely a sign that you’re afraid of commitment.
The Bottom Line
It’s perfectly normal to have a mix of fears, but did yours land more in the “fear of commitment” side of things, or the “fear of the compatibility” side? If you’re more afraid of the idea of commitment, I would advise you to spend time process that fear through therapy, talks with friends or your partner, journaling, or whatever else helps you work through your thoughts and emotions. Again, it’s totally normal to be scared of commitment. Giving yourself some space to acknowledge and work through your fears will make sure you don’t end your relationship for the wrong reasons.
If, however, there are genuine compatibility issues between the two of you, it’s best to rip off the bandaid and end your relationship before things get more serious. Wishing you the best of luck!
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