8 Signs Your Partner Is Afraid of Commitment

Plus, the most common reasons why people develop commitment phobia.

HUMP DAY: Fear of Commitment
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

DEAR DR. JENN,

I have been dating my partner for three years and they still flinch when I mention marriage or we talk about things like buying a home together. They have made it very clear they want to be with me but seem to spiral when we talk about it in more concrete terms. One of my friends who observed the behavior says that my partner has a fear of commitment. What are the signs I should be looking for — and how do we move forward? —Dating a Commitment-Phobe

DEAR DATING A COMMITMENT-PHOBE,

A relationship is like a great white shark — it must keep moving forward in order to get the oxygen that it needs or else it will die. When you are with a partner who is unable or chooses not to move to the next developmental milestone it can cause tremendous problems. Sometimes this happens because you are with someone who is emotionally unavailable or other times it is just not a match. Frequently, the problem is that you are with someone who has a fear of commitment.

Commitment phobic people are scared by milestone events in a relationship like moving in together, monogamy, engagement, marriage, or having children. Sometimes they're able to have a long-term relationship but when those commitments come up, they freak out.

Signs Your Partner Is Afraid of Commitment

Sometimes it's hard to know if it is fear of commitment — or if the two of you are just not a match. Fear of commitment is the modern-day "it's not you, it's me" and it's up to you to figure out whether or not you can deal with that. The first step is identifying if it truly is a fear of commitment. Here are a few signs.

1. They are unable to be vulnerable in the relationship. They are so afraid of being hurt that they are unwilling or unable to let their guard down to let you in to see the softer side of them.

2. They are afraid of rejection. Often times they won't even admit it to themselves but they are terrified of being rejected. They are easily hurt and take things personally which only adds to that fear.

3. They are flaky. They have trouble making plans. This can range from being noncommittal about the next date, a future vacation, or plans to do a milestone event like meeting the parents. commitment-phobes will avoid these types of plans at all costs. They tend to be unreliable about anything that requires commitment and accountability though, even a phone call.

4. Their relationships never go past a certain point. They have a long history of brief relationships that can last anywhere from weeks to about 18 months. Nothing seems to break the two-year barrier. When things in a relationship get real, they are likely to bolt.

5. They have a history of picking inappropriate or unavailable partners. They have a history of picking people who are not suitable long-term partners — addicts, alcoholics, people with unresolved mental health issues, married people, and emotionally unavailable ones. This helps them to avoid having to commit.

6. They have never been married. Occasionally you may encounter someone who was married but then got so scared by the pain of their divorce that they became commitment-phobic. Typically though, they are unlikely to have been married, since marriage is the ultimate commitment.

7. They do not have a lot of friends. Fear of rejection extends beyond romantic relationships. Friendship requires a type of commitment, openness, and willingness to be vulnerable in order to have long-term friendships.

8) They have trouble using titles. They are uncomfortable labeling your relationship and using words like boyfriend and girlfriend. They will avoid these terms and discussions about how to handle them.

Where Fear of Commitment Comes From

The inability to move a healthy relationship forward and commit is a sign of emotional issues. Typically this comes from childhood, but sometimes it comes from more recent rejection or hurt. Some of the most common reasons that people develop commitment phobia are as follows.

  • Seeing parents in a bad relationship
  • Experiencing a parent's volatile divorce
  • Losing a parent to illness or death during childhood
  • Having early childhood attachment issues
  • Being subjected to childhood trauma or abuse
  • Going through their own bad breakup or divorce

Can a Commitment-Phobe Change?

If someone who has a fear of commitment wants to change, it is very possible. But oftentimes their fear holds them back from wanting something different or being willing to do the work to change their mindset. The most effective approach is individual and/or couples therapy. This can help you both figure out if this is something that your partner wants to work through and is capable of doing.

When you have a partner with these fears you have to take things very slowly, which requires a lot of patience, which is not for everyone. Typically, the commitment-oriented partner hits a point in the relationship where their resentment and frustration start to do harm to the relationship. Once you get into that territory, the relationship is on thin ice. In my clinical experience, once those resentments hit a boiling point, if things do not change, the relationship is likely to end.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

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