It’s the bane of anyone with a relationship desire. You want things to become more serious, while the other is continuously, implicitly or explicitly, showing you that he or she doesn’t want to or isn’t capable of taking things further. This attitude is often explained using the phrase fear of commitment. But what does a fear of commitment really entail? Is it a serious problem that you need to work on together, or merely an excuse uttered by someone who doesn’t really love the other (enough), but does want to enjoy the advantages of being in a relationship? The latter option is not imaginary. Realistically, it is easier to hide behind a fear of commitment than to honestly express doubts concerning whether you want to continue building a relationship with the other.
Does fear of commitment exist?
Strictly speaking, fear of commitment is a psychic disorder that usually arises following painful events from one’s past; often in one’s early childhood. For instance, if a child is neglected and/or mistreated in early childhood, the adult the child grows into may find intimate relationships in later life to be problematic, resulting in intimacy avoidance and keeping potential partners at bay, because intimacy is associated with the unpleasant relationship and/or experience from childhood. Of course, this disorder exists, and the people suffering from it often decide to work on it with their partners; with the help of a psychotherapist, for example.
Collective fear of commitment
I think our fear of commitment is an expression of our current culture. Individualism is still on the rise. The optimisation of our own happiness in life is the current ideal. A romantic relationship must contribute to that happiness. This means that if a relationship hits a rough patch, therefore temporarily not contributing to one’s happiness, it is often ended. In our contemporary world relationships are ending faster and more often than ever before. More than one in every three marriages ends in divorce. In big cities, this statistic has even risen to one in two.
On top of that, the expectations we have of a romantic relationship are continuously increasing. Those expectations are fed by ideals that are presented to us through various forms of media. As such, we want to continue looking youthful into old age and expect the same from our partners. We also want our partners to lead their own, complete, independent lives outside of the relationship; in addition to the children, we should each have our own career, social life, hobbies and interests. At the same time, we want a relationship that is consistently pleasant and comfortable. We want our partners to be our romantic admirer, understanding listeners, our buddy and sparring partner. And, last but not least, the sex must be both great and abundant. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that romantic relationships rarely meet all these criteria.
These high expectations and our individualistic attitudes which state that we are responsible for our own happiness have led to the feeling that we feel obliged towards ourselves to make only the very best choices. With this, choices relating to love have become quite the challenge. This has led to the fact that we seem to be suffering from a type of collective commitment anxiety. We not only want the very best in relationship terms; we also run the considerable risk of being left high and dry ourselves. Added to this, new modes of dating through online dating agencies and social media further expand our available choices, making the act of choosing even more difficult. You can commence your search at any time of the day. The fishing pond is huge; any doubt, and you just continue the search. It’s not such a strange development that we seem to be finding it increasingly difficult to commit to or in a relationship.
The desire for a sustainable relationship
None of the above would be a problem if we were satisfied with these kinds of romantic relationships. We’re not though. I have never met the so-called happy single. Everybody is looking for the closeness of a deep, intimate relationship; somebody to share their lives with, to support them during hard times. It’s not the wanting or the desire that has disappeared, but the fear has increased. This too is a disorder; a disorder inherent in our culture. Since this fear is not related to childhood trauma, it is relatively straightforward to treat. In my work, I spend a significant portion of my time removing this fear and creating the space to truly get to know someone. People and relationships are far too complex to subject to straightforward comparisons. There are healthy and unhealthy relationships. Healthy relationships are always valuable. Don’t fall into the trap of perfectionism or allowing yourself to be led by your insecurity. Don’t doubt your choice or think the grass is always greener on the other side. Rather, use your time to truly get to know the other; to learn to understand him or her. This can be the project of a lifetime, and is infinitely more interesting than wallowing in your own fear or obsessing over your neighbour’s lawn.
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