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, onto today's topic: how to confront your fear of commitment.
Q: “I've been with my boyfriend a year. He's pretty much perfect and wants to be with me forever. Only problem is, I'm realizing that the fact I feel like I've found my person for life is kind of terrifying to me. I love him so much and I don't ever want to break up with him — I want to be able to commit for good. It just freaks me out! How do I confront my fear of commitment and talk about it with him in a way that won't offend him or make him feel nervous?”
A: Thanks for the question! Congrats on finding your person! Finding that special person is such an amazing experience. Unfortunately, for so many of us, it can send us spiraling into the dreaded “what if” territory; what if they were to cheat on me? What if we were to break up? What if they were to die in a horrible accident? (Let’s be real — our brains can get really dark really fast!) Of course, even through all of this fear, most of us don’t want to immediately say goodbye to the person who can evoke so many fears in us. We might feel that instinct rising up in us, but we don’t want to have to pull the trigger. If you want to have a healthy romantic relationship, you have to learn how to manage commitment-phobia. Here are six steps towards confronting your fear of commitment.
1. Know That A Fear Of Commitment Is Normal
More real talk: long term relationships are hard! They take work. It’s not like you’re afraid of committing to buying a basil plant or committing to eating a burrito for lunch. You’re committing to a person. Commitment means different things to different people, but you and your partner may be talking about commitment in the sense of being exclusive, getting married, joining your finances, having kids, or spending the rest of your lives together. You’re promising to be there with them through the good times and the bad. Commitment shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Commitment is also scary because it brings up our fears of loss and abandonment. When we fall in love with someone and start thinking about all of those milestones, we start thinking of what it would be like to not have that person in our lives (remember all of those “what if” questions above). Most of us have had experiences of loss or abandonment, so we know just how painful it can be. The bottom line? It’s perfectly normal to be afraid of commitment!
2. Remember That Commitment Is The Price We Pay For Love
True love wouldn’t be possible without real vulnerability. Try to think about a relationship that you have with a casual acquaintance. Someone you’re not particularly close with or haven’t been vulnerable with. You haven’t committed to them in any sense of the word. If you were to lose that person, it wouldn’t be a big deal. You’d be safe, unharmed, and life would go on pretty much as normal. But at the same time, I’m willing to guess that this isn’t a particularly valuable relationship in your life, either. Sure, it wouldn’t hurt much to lose them, but that’s only because you’re not really getting anything out of the relationship.
That’s why I like to think of commitment as the price we pay for love. If we want to have deep, meaningful, connected, incredible relationships, we have to put ourselves out there. Commitment can be scary to think about on its own, but it doesn’t seem quite as scary when you put it in the context of what you get in return.
3. Get To Know Your Fear
Again, fear of commitment is normal, and we all feel it at some point or another. At the same time, we all have different relationships with our commitment-phobia. Is there anything in your history that has made commitment difficult or scary for you? Maybe your parents got divorced, or one of them was unfaithful to the other person. Maybe you were badly burned in another relationship. Maybe you’ve had your heart broken. Try to spend a little time being thoughtful about where and when your fear of commitment emerged. The more you understand about your relationship with commitment, the easier it will be to learn ways to move past it.
4. ... And Gauge How Intense It Is
Your question isn’t super detailed, but it sounds like you’re describing a pretty normal amount of fear. As I mentioned above, we all have different relationships with commitment, including different levels of fear. Some people are so afraid of commitment that they can go to great lengths to try to avoid it. They might end up avoiding intimacy or destroying a lot of relationships in their lives.
If you were to tell me that you have a history of cutting off friendships or romantic relationship that got too close, or that being vulnerable in front of another person is absolutely terrifying to you, I would recommend that you try to spend a bit of time in therapy. A qualified therapist can guide you through a deeper understanding of your commitment-phobia. It’s nice to have a trained professional help out with such a sensitive issue.
5. Use Self-Talk
If your fear of commitment feels relatively minor or manageable, one of the best techniques you can use is to employ self talk in the moment. I like to use a two-prong approach:
Acknowledge the fear. Like I said above, fear of commitment make sense! We’ve all been through painful experiences in our lives, and it’s natural to want to protect ourselves from being hurt again. Lots of people want to try to deny their fears, but that typically only serves to make the fears stronger. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and the fact that they make sense. They’re not pleasant, of course, but they make sense.
Remind yourself of the reality. Of course, we all want to prevent our fears from completely running away with ourselves. So it’s also important to remind yourself of the objective truth of the situation you’re in. In your case, it doesn’t sound like your boyfriend has done anything to make you feel afraid of committing to him, and it sounds like you’re actually excited about committing to him.
In the moment, whenever you feel yourself starting to freak out, say something to yourself along the lines of, “I’m feeling scared because I never had any examples of healthy relationships in my life. But I also want to remind myself that I love my partner and I’m excited to spend our lives together.” It might sound silly, but it will probably help.
6. Talk About It With Your Partner
Remember what I said before about all of us being at least a little afraid of commitment? I can almost guarantee you that that includes your boyfriend. He might be afraid in different ways, for different reasons, and with a different level of intensity, but he’s probably feeling something. I think you'll find that it's a bit easier to relate to him about it than you might think.
When you’re feeling relatively calm (AKA not triggered and afraid), say something like, “Wow, sometimes I get caught off guard by how much I love you. It even scares me sometimes, the thought of losing you. Do you ever get scared too?” After he shares his experiences, I would say something like, “It’s a big deal to want to share our entire lives together, and I know that we’re both going to get scared at different points. I also know that it’s normal to feel scared, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t actually want to be together. I want us to feel comfortable telling each other when we feel scared.” In this way, you’re giving both of you permission to share when you’re feeling nervous, and ensuring that you can address the feelings before they start to feel overwhelming.
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