Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: My intimate relationships never seem to work out long term. I fall in love, but can’t sustain the feelings over time, so I don’t stay in love—and my relationships always disintegrate. There are television sitcoms about people like me, but TV makes it appear more fun and appealing than it actually is.
I am in my late forties, and have yet to be in a truly committed relationship that stands the test of time. Am I commitmentphobic?
Troubled in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Dear Troubled: Commitmentphobic relationships are unions in which one or both partners resist commitment. Often the partner who is running away from love does so by constructing boundaries that keep connections from forming, deepening or feeling secure and stable—so the relationship can’t open up and grow.
Some people can’t keep showing up in a relationship with their heart, soul, gut and spirit. It all feels too vulnerable, too raw, too exposed. There are too many chances to get rejected, hurt, misunderstood, controlled or manipulated.
If you are going to form a lasting and gratifying intimate relationship with another person, ultimately all parts of you must be revealed—albeit in stages. When we keep large chunks of ourselves disconnected from our partners, we end up with fragile bonds that lack the depth and richness to make us feel securely bonded.
We might give the hard work of being with another person lip service, but when the struggle begins, we often resist the notion of hard work. In our heads we frequently start looking for a different solution—“Maybe there is someone else…,” “Maybe I would be better off single…,” “Maybe I’m not ready just yet…,” “Maybe I’m making a mistake….”
People with commitment issues typically are saying or doing something that is a clear warning. Often they say it up front and loudly, as in “My ex-wife/girlfriend/family all say I can’t make a commitment,” or “I can’t really be trusted,” or “I never seem to be able to stay interested.” It’s easy not to pay sufficient attention to these kinds of messages, particularly when s/he is showering you with affection and attention.
Double messages are part and parcel of commitmentphobic relationships. The partner with active conflicts is almost always saying “yes” and “no” at the same time. S/he may be showering you with intimate, loving words at the same time s/he is creating excessive boundaries that keep you from getting too close. If you are involved with such a person, you have to hear both messages—the distancing negative as well as the passionate positive.
If you are picking potentially wonderful partners, and you are walking away from them because of your fears and issues—or if you’re getting involved with commitmentphobic partners and staying with them, ask yourself “What am I doing?” “What are my patterns?” “What do I refuse to see?” “How am I setting other people up for disappointment?” “How could I do something different in the future?”
I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.
Source: Getting To Commitment by Steven Carter (M. Evans and Co.)