Hint: It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing conversation.

Morgan Noll
Feb 08, 2021 @ 11:21 am
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When it comes to relationships, commitment is a big word with a lot of different meanings. It could mean assigning labels to a relationship, defining the terms as exclusive, moving in together, working toward marriage, and more. Just as commitment can look different depending on the person and relationship, so can the fear and baggage that comes alongside it. As dating and relationship expert and author Laura Bilotta explains, commitment issues can stem from a number of experiences, including early childhood traumas and recent relationship history, and these commitment phobias can keep you from having happy and healthy relationships moving forward.

In relationships, some of the ways commitment issues or phobias can manifest include an inability to make plans a long way out, emotional unavailability, inconsistency with affection, and breadcrumbing. If you're on the receiving end of this sort of hot and cold, one-foot-out-the-door behavior, it can be easy to think it's a reflection of your partner's feelings for you, even when it's not. On the other side, if you're the one struggling to commit, it may seem like you'll never be able to get there, but that doesn't have to be the case.

Whether you're the commitment-phobe or your partner is, there are ways to move forward in the relationship if you both want to try. Keep reading below for expert advice on how to get over commitment issues in relationships.

How to fix commitment issues:

1. Figure out your "why."

Sex and relationship therapist Megan Fleming, Ph.D. says it's important for whoever has commitment issues to get "really curious about [their] why" and work to identify the root cause. This requires looking inward and analyzing your own inner dialogue surrounding relationships and commitment. Ask yourself, "What is the story I am telling myself? What do I imagine? What do I fear?" Dr. Fleming suggests. "Because for some people, it's the loss of self, loss of freedom, or fear of getting hurt." Once you've identified your fears or anxieties around commitment, you can start to change how you're thinking about it.

Bilotta also encourages people in this position to communicate with their partners about how they're feeling to help contextualize their behavior and vocalize their needs. "You need to open up because if this person doesn't know what's happening, they're going to think that there's something wrong with them, as to why you're not opening up to them," she says. So, for example, if you've been cheated on in the past and realize you're being non-committal out of a fear of getting hurt, let your partner in on this information. Letting them know that you need to take things slow for this reason can help you develop a better sense of trust and a pace that works better for both of you.

Even if your partner is the one with commitment phobia, Dr. Fleming says there's still an opportunity to self-reflect. For example, it's worth questioning, "Is this the first time you feel like you're in a relationship with a commitment-phobe or is there a pattern of that for you?" she says. "Do you attract unavailable people who are afraid of commitment?" If the answer seems to be yes, this could be another form of self-protection and a way that you're also avoiding commitment.

2. Don't pressure your partner into commitment.

If you're not getting the dedication or assurance you need from your partner, it might make sense that you feel like telling them they have to commit or you're done—but that's probably not the best choice. "I don't think ultimatums work, because nobody likes the sort of feeling of the gun to their head," Dr. Fleming says.

Bilotta agrees, adding, "Pressuring [your partner] into a commitment won't help them work through their commitment issues." So, if you're serious about making your relationship with this person work, instead, try to create a space where they can talk about their fears and anxieties and allow them to go at their own pace to work through them.

However, if your partner shows no interest or effort to work on their commitment issues, you might have to decide for yourself that it's time to call things off.

3. Experiment with small commitments.

Whether you or your partner are experiencing commitment issues, Dr. Fleming says baby steps can be a good approach. She recommends experimenting with small forms of commitment that make sense depending on the status and nature of your relationship.

So, if you and your partner have only been making plans a week out at a time, try what it's like to plan something for a month in advance. If you can do a month, then try to plan out for six months, and build from there. Proving to yourself that you can make these small commitments work can help make the bigger commitments feel a little less scary.

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4. Challenge the "grass is greener" mindset.

A common mindset in those with commitment phobia is the idea that the grass is greener on the other side and that there might be someone better out there. However, this way of thinking often keeps people from appreciating the good that's right in front of them. Dr. Fleming likes to correct this mindset to "the grass is greener where we water it," explaining that "it's not about finding the right partner as much as it's about being the right partner."

She adds that it's important to remember that you have control over the quality of your relationships. A relationship is not simply something that passively happens to you, she explains, but something that you work on co-creating with your partner. "It has a lot to do with how [you're] showing up," she says. "[Are you] getting triggered into protective defensive behaviors or [are you] leaning in and sharing vulnerability?"

While it can feel risky to put all your time and energy into one person, the payoff can be worth it. "We can create both our nightmares as well as our happy endings," Dr. Fleming says.

5. Schedule check-ins with your partner.

Commitment issues aren't something that can be resolved overnight. So, Dr. Fleming says one good way to work through them over time is to schedule monthly check-ins with your partner. In these check-ins, you and your S.O. can use the time to share how you're feeling about commitment or anything thing else that's going on in your lives. Having this dedicated space for these conversations can give you both more time to put your thoughts together and talk about these topics in less emotionally charged ways.

When you have these check-ins, "think of [them] as having a series of conversations versus a definitive conversation," Dr. Fleming says. So, for example, if you're talking about moving in together or getting married, use this check-in time to learn more about where you both stand on the topic rather than expecting a yes or no answer right off the bat.

6. Consider therapy.

Commitment issues can run deep, and therapy is a great way to get to the bottom of them. Many couples could benefit from both seeking a therapist individually and together, something that isn't just for people who are married. Couples therapy is too often stigmatized as a sign of failure, but, in actuality, it's a sign that you and your partner are committed to working on your relationship.

"I think we have a lot of negative stereotypes [around therapy]," Dr. Fleming says, "instead of just seeing it as a helpful tool in a toolbox to give us resources and clarity and to have different conversations."