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Commitment Phobia: Symptoms and Signs

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 17, 2020

If you fear getting close to people or making relationship decisions that have a long-lasting effect, such as getting married, you might have commitment phobia. It is common to fear the unknown, but people with commitment phobia can extend this fear to other parts of their life — especially romantic relationships.

What Is Commitment Phobia?

Commitment phobia can include fear of commitment across several dimensions, not just romantic relationships. It can include fear of deep friendship and a reluctance to commit to a job or career. 

Cultural trends and technology have influenced people’s search for love and work. A lot of opportunities have opened up, creating an abundance of choice that can be overwhelming and contribute to people’s hesitation to commit.

A comparative study found that Generation X (people born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s) displayed less workplace commitment and greater likeliness to quit than the Baby Boomer generation (those born from 1940s to 1960s). Baby Boomers, however, experienced greater job satisfaction.

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Childhood experience can also contribute to commitment avoidance. When parents are overly intrusive or unresponsive, some children grow into adults who fear emotional dependence. They may reject deeper relationships as a preemptive defense.

There is nothing wrong with casual dating or with keeping career prospects open — at least not until it causes you to harm others or sabotage your own well-being.

Be on the lookout for the following signs of commitment phobia. They may be indications that you are denying yourself meaningful relationships and opportunities. In a partner, they may be a sign that they cannot give you the kind of relationship you need.

Signs of Commitment Phobia

There is no way to test for commitment phobia. People with it may show some of these symptoms or none at all. However, these signs should prompt you to think about your choices or relationships.

Speech Habits

People with commitment phobia often give themselves away subconsciously. They overuse some words and are reluctant to say others.

People with commitment phobia often hesitate to use the word “love” or to define relationships through such terms as boyfriend or girlfriend. 

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They also may over-rely on modifiers such as “might,” “probably,” or “if nothing comes up.” When they use these words, they display hesitation with regard to minimal commitments, which  doesn’t bode well for their ability to make larger ones.

Reluctance to Make Plans

Getting people with commitment phobia to nail down plans is difficult, and it only gets harder the further out those plans are. Does the thought of committing to a movie next weekend inspire a slight twinge of anxiety? How about a wedding two months from now? 

Scripts for Failure or Failure to Script

People with commitment phobia often go into relationships under the assumption that they won’t work out. They plan for failure but not for success, and their predictions become self-fulfilling.

On the other hand, a complete inability to contemplate the future of the relationship — in positive or negative terms — is also a sign that a person might be wrestling with commitment phobia.

Healthy Social Network and Previous Attachments

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People with secure attachment styles tend to have multiple close friendships. Commitment-phobic individuals sometimes have smaller or more superficial circles of friends.

A romantic history that includes real, long-term relationships is also a good sign. If they only have experience with short flings or one-night stands, they may not be ready to commit.

Fear of Being Trapped or Erased

Do they express concern over becoming an “us” or speak negatively about the way that others disappear into relationships? They may not feel secure in their sense of self and fear the way that a relationship will impact their identity. 

A fear of being trapped and missing out on other experiences could also indicate commitment phobia.

Self-Centered Behavior

One of the biggest predictors of commitment and relationship success is the willingness to consider the future of the relationship and even make sacrifices for it. If they are reluctant to put their partner’s needs first or avoid the word “we” in favor of “I,” they may have commitment phobia. 

Dealing with Commitment Phobia

Remember that there’s nothing wrong with not being ready for a relationship — or even with not desiring one at all. Happiness and love are the goals, and you may find that these aren’t expressed within a traditional relationship for you.

If you suspect that your partner might have commitment phobia, talk to them about it. If they aren’t willing to have that conversation, it may be an indication that they aren’t ready for the kind of openness and intimacy a healthy relationship demands.

If you feel that commitment phobia is getting in the way of your own happiness, practice intimacy and communication. Work on expressing your needs and emotions with friends and family. 

You can also practice making plans. RSVP early for a friend’s birthday or make plans to take a family trip sometime next autumn.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

The International Journal of Human Resource Management: “Generations at work: are there differences, and do they matter?”

Journal of Family Theory and Review: “Commitment: Functions, Formations, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment.”

Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: “‘Commitment-phobic’ adults could have mom and dad to blame.”

Men’s Health: “Here Are 5 Telltale Signs that Commitment Issues Are Getting in the Way of Your Dating Life.”

Personal Relationships: “Attachment avoidance and commitment aversion: A script for relationship failure.”

Psychology Today: “10 Signs That Your Lover is Commitment Phobic.”

Psychology Today: “Understanding and Dealing with Commitment-Phobia.”

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