Re­la­tion­ship com­mit­ment pho­bia

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - PSYCHOLOGY - • DR. MIKE GROPPER The writer is a mar­i­tal, child and adult cog­ni­tive-be­hav­ioral psy­chother­a­pist with of­fices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. www.face­­mikegrop­per; dr­mikegrop­[email protected]

Psy­chol­o­gist John Gro­hol (2018) writes, “Peo­ple with a com­mit­ment pho­bia long for and want a long-term con­nec­tion with an­other per­son, but their over­whelm­ing anx­i­ety pre­vents them from stay­ing in any re­la­tion­ship for too long. If pressed for a com­mit­ment, they are far more likely to leave the re­la­tion­ship than to make the com­mit­ment. Or they may ini­tially agree to the com­mit­ment, then back down days or weeks later, be­cause of their over­whelm­ing anx­i­ety and fears.”

Mimi, in her early 20s, was clearly in love with Mark, 27. Mark had pro­posed to Mimi and al­though she loved him and was sure that he was the man that she wanted to spend her life with, she could not say yes. In­stead, she pan­icked and told Mark that she needed time to fig­ure it all out. She felt over­whelmed, but did not un­der­stand why. Clearly, her anx­i­ety had risen dras­ti­cally.

Jerry, a 34-year-old pro­fes­sional had dated many women. Some of the women were pre­pared to take it to the next level and make a se­ri­ous com­mit­ment. How­ever, Jerry con­tin­u­ally broke off every re­la­tion­ship when­ever he and his girl­friend got to this point.

Over the years, I have helped many men like Jerry and women like Mimi to over­come the fear of com­mit­ment with a three-stage ap­proach. Dur­ing the ini­tial ex­plo­ration pe­riod, I as­sess if the in­di­vid­u­als are com­pat­i­ble. This first stage is es­sen­tial be­fore I would even con­sider ex­plor­ing the deeper is­sues that may be block­ing one or both peo­ple from com­mit­ting to a long-term re­la­tion­ship.

Stage 1: Com­pat­i­bil­ity

The fol­low­ing ques­tions shed light on the vi­a­bil­ity of the re­la­tion­ship. A pos­i­tive an­swer to most of these ques­tions in­di­cates that the cou­ple are emo­tion­ally and cog­ni­tively on the same page. I ask:

• Do you love him/her?

• Are you sex­u­ally at­tracted to this per­son?

• Does this per­son ex­cite you and make you feel good about spend­ing time to­gether?

• What does it feel like when you do things to­gether?

• Do you miss the per­son or think about him/her when you are not to­gether?

• Do you have com­mon in­ter­ests?

• How do your val­ues stack up con­cern­ing money, re­li­gion, hav­ing chil­dren, num­ber of chil­dren, par­ent­ing chil­dren? Have you dis­cussed career is­sues, where to live, or leisure in­ter­ests?

• How is the com­mu­ni­ca­tion? Is it open? Do you and your part­ner dis­cuss feel­ings, hopes and wor­ries with each other?

• Do you ar­gue and when you do, are you able to re­solve the prob­lem and leave the anger be­hind?

• How do you fit in with the other per­son’s fam­ily? This ques­tion is more im­por­tant than many of­ten think.

• What about com­fort around each other’s friends?

Stage 2: Fear Fac­tors

Fear fac­tors can block com­mit­ment even when com­pat­i­bil­ity ex­ists. When I see that many of the above items stack up, I try to go deeper in ex­plor­ing the con­cerns that may block the com­mit­ment to a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship. The lit­er­a­ture iden­ti­fies the fol­low­ing is­sues.

• Par­ents’ divorce or mar­i­tal prob­lems

• Fear of end­ing up in an un­sat­is­fy­ing re­la­tion­ship

• Me­dia por­trayal of the mis­ery of com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships

• Dam­ag­ing pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ships that in­cluded in­fi­delity, abuse, or aban­don­ment

• At­tach­ment is­sues

• Dif­fi­culty trust­ing oth­ers

• Early child­hood stress and/or trauma, which may in­clude his­tory of phys­i­cal and/or sex­ual abuse

• Not know­ing enough your feel­ings and what you value most in a re­la­tion­ship. Once these is­sues be­come clear, I be­gin to work with my clients us­ing cog­ni­tive-be­hav­ioral ther­apy (CBT).

Stage 3: Treat­ment

I was able to help Mimi un­der­stand why she had trou­ble trust­ing men. As a teenager, Mimi had learned this fear from wit­ness­ing her older sis­ter’s mar­riage fall apart.

Mimi’s sis­ter, a mother of two young chil­dren, had a prob­lem­atic mar­riage, found out that her hus­band was cheat­ing on her, be­came clin­i­cally de­pressed and was briefly hos­pi­tal­ized.

Mimi be­lieved that men can­not be trusted and that mar­riage is dan­ger­ous to your men­tal health. Mimi was helped to re­al­ize that her neg­a­tive be­liefs about men did not re­ally hold up when think­ing about Mark. Mark was deeply in love with Mimi and there was no in­di­ca­tion that he would cheat on her. She re­al­ized that her un­der­ly­ing anx­i­ety and trust is­sues were ir­ra­tional thoughts that took root be­cause of what she saw hap­pen to her sis­ter. CBT helped Mimi mod­ify and cor­rect her be­liefs so that she could see her re­la­tion­ship more clearly.

When Jerry first started treat­ment, his ini­tial com­plaint was that he feared that he would choose the wrong ‘girl.’ Psy­chother­apy un­cov­ered that Jerry’s mother was a nar­cis­sis­tic woman and his fa­ther was an in­ef­fec­tual and low-func­tion­ing hus­band. She turned to Jerry to do many of the things that her hus­band was un­able to do in­clud­ing bank­ing, shop­ping, and tak­ing her to many places (she did not drive). She also gave Jerry the mes­sage that no girl would be good enough for him.

Un­con­sciously, Jerry was afraid that he would be aban­don­ing his mother if he were to marry. Psy­chother­apy helped him to be­come aware of this. He be­gan to say “no” to his mother’s de­mands and af­ter liv­ing his en­tire life at his par­ents’ home, he moved into his own apart­ment. Jerry’s ir­ra­tional be­lief was that a re­la­tion­ship com­mit­ment would put too much pres­sure on him, and emo­tion­ally suf­fo­cate him. It was clear that Jerry had de­vel­oped these be­liefs be­cause of his re­la­tion­ship with his con­trol­ling and de­pen­dent mom. CBT gave Jerry the aware­ness and tools to over­come his is­sues.

Many peo­ple miss op­por­tu­ni­ties for a mean­ing­ful long-term re­la­tion­ship be­cause of mis­un­der­stood fears of mak­ing an emo­tional long-term com­mit­ment. Get­ting some pro­fes­sional guid­ance can be a game changer for these in­di­vid­u­als.

Many peo­ple miss op­por­tu­ni­ties for a mean­ing­ful long-term re­la­tion­ship be­cause of mis­un­der­stood fears of mak­ing an emo­tional long-term com­mit­ment


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