Dating, falling in love, and ending up in a serious relationship are all normal parts of the human experience. 

For many people, having that kind of connection with someone else is necessary to make them feel complete.  For others, though, the thought of committing themselves to another person long term can send them into a blind panic, which makes them run in the opposite direction. 

If the person you love has this reaction it can be frustrating at best and disheartening at worst.

We’ve probably all heard about people who suffer from a fear of commitment.  More often than not, it’s men who have this issue, for various reasons, but what is less well known is that there is a genuine psychological disorder known as commitment phobia and it can be debilitating for those who suffer from it. 

This is more serious than that guy who doesn’t want to grow up and stop hanging out with the boys or the groom getting cold feet just before his wedding. 

This is a full-blown anxiety disorder that can cause feelings of panic and an inability to engage in any kind of serious relationship.

It’s only been very recently that psychologists have come to realize just how paralyzing the fear of commitment can be for some individuals.  This doesn’t mean that the individuals in question don’t want a romantic connection, quite the opposite actually. 

More often than not there is a genuine desire for a long-term relationship but when the reality of that kind of commitment presents itself it can shut them down and prevent them from being able to take the plunge.

Commitment phobic individuals are not “allergic to love”.  They experience the feelings of love and attraction just the same as anyone else but for them those feelings can bloom into full-blown anxiety and panic. 

Because they have a hard time distinguishing the panic from romantic feelings, it can then build on itself until it becomes emotionally crippling. 

At the same time, it can be hard for them to explain what they are experiencing, which can leave their romantic partner feeling confused, hurt and angry.

“When women hold off from marrying men, we call it independence. When men hold off from marrying women, we call it fear of commitment.”


Think about it this way…when you find yourself in the throes of a romantic relationship that is becoming serious, how does it make you feel?

If you’re like most people, you’re experiencing that “butterflies in the stomach” effect, a combination of excitement and anticipation that can be thrilling and exhilarating. 

For a person with commitment phobia, that same reaction can be mistaken for anxiety.  Suddenly, they’re reading the situation as something to be feared and feeling the need to back away. 

Worse, it’s not something that they can control so there is no way to head it off.

The reaction of the commitment phobic person can sometimes cause them to avoid entering into serious relationships at all. 

In other cases, they may begin a relationship only to find themselves unable to see it through.  They may start out with the best of intentions and seem perfectly happy in a relationship only to have the feelings of fear and anxiety build up until it causes them to back away. 

In either case, it can cause a tremendous amount of stress and heartbreak to both partners. 

Though it has traditionally been thought to be a male centered problem, in fact men and women can be equally prone to commitment phobia and no matter which partner is the phobic, both can ultimately suffer the lingering effects.

There is no one profile of the average commitment-phobic person.  They come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life.  Similarly then can be several different factors in a person’s life that may ultimately contribute to this pronounced fear of commitment. 

In most cases, these individuals admit to having experienced poor romantic relationships at some point in their life, either their own or someone else’s, such as their parents. 

That initial experience winds up casting a long shadow over them, preventing them from feeling secure about serious relationships of any kind.

Aside from this common thread, other possible causes of commitment phobia include:

  • Fear of, or having had, a relationship end without notice or signs – being left hanging with no real explanation for why the relationship fell apart can leave a person feeling confused, lost and anxious, which, if left unchecked, can lead directly to a full- blown phobia.
  • Fear of not being in the “right” relationship – they may not be able to define what makes a relationship “right” but they know they don’t want to end up in one that doesn’t work the way they’d envisioned.
  • Fear of, or having been in, an unhealthy relationship – this can stem from having witnessed their parents struggle or having themselves wound up in a relationship that was abusive or involved abandonment or infidelity, all of which can cause a considerable amount of both physical and emotional pain.
  • Trust issues caused by past hurts – once a person has been hurt by someone close to them it can be difficult to open themselves up again as they become convinced that allowing that kind of vulnerability will only lead to pain.
  • Childhood trauma or abuse – we first learn how to trust and to feel secure during childhood and when abuse or other trauma undermines that necessary foundation, it can leave a person shaken for the rest of their life.
  • Unmet childhood needs or attachment issues – again, this speaks to the undermining of our developing sense of personal security.  If we don’t get what we need as children, it can be easy to believe that it will not be possible to get it as adults.
  • Complicated family dynamics while growing up – relationships with your parents and other family members are the first “long term commitment” that any of us make and if those family dynamics are somehow complicated, it can leave an individual feeling confused about how to make that kind of commitment as an adult.

While this can be a difficult and frustrating situation for a couple to deal with, there is no reason why commitment phobia has to affect a person’s entire life. 

It is very much possible to overcome these serious issues provided you go about it the right way. 

First and foremost, the person with commitment phobia has to want to change. 

As with any kind of medical treatment, treatment for commitment phobia can’t be forced.  No matter how much you think you’re trying to help, if you force the issue it can easily backfire on you.

If the commitment phobia is preventing an individual from forming any kind of serious relationship, it may be necessary to consider psychotherapy.  Seeing a therapist can be a great way to get to the heart of commitment related issues so that you can understand why you are reacting the way you are. 

That understanding is the first step toward overcoming phobia issues.  A therapist can also help you to understand that there is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship and assist you in adjusting your expectations so that you aren’t setting yourself up to fail.

For those with milder cases of commitment phobia, joining a support group, whether in person or online, can be extremely helpful.  This way you can come to realize that you aren’t alone in experiencing these feelings and get helpful advice from others who have been where you are. 

Sometimes just being able to express your feelings in an environment where you know you’re not being judged is all that you really need.  

You might also be able to find useful advice in self-help books.  There are many on the market that specifically address the concept of commitment phobia.

Of course commitment phobia can be equally frustrating on the other side of the equation. 

Being in love with someone who has a pathological fear of commitment can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anger, and low self-esteem but you need to remember that it’s not your fault.  

Your partner’s anxiety about commitment likely has deep psychological roots in their own background that have nothing to do with you, so you shouldn’t take it the wrong way.  

At the same time, getting angry with them and criticizing them for their inability to make a commitment will only add to their existing anxiety rather than solving anything.

No matter the cause, it’s important to realize that commitment phobia, while it may seem insurmountable, can be overcome.  All it takes is patience and the desire to change. 

If you find yourself in a relationship with a commitment phobic person, try not to over react or to force the issue, as that will only make matters worse.  Instead, you need to offer support and let them know that you are there for them. 

If you are commitment-phobic yourself, you can get help.  With the right approach, you can get over this hurdle and have the happy, and healthy relationship that you’re craving.