Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: Recently you wrote about the fear of commitment. Could you also address how to overcome that fear? I am in a nine-year relationship, and I can’t seem to take the plunge and marry. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.
Fearing Commitment in Canada
Dear Fearing Commitment: Here’s how you can overcome your fear of commitment:
- Recognize your fears and know how you act when you are afraid. Fear of commitment is about fear. Fear of being stuck, trapped or tied down; fear of losing options; fear of losing freedom; fear of losing control; fear of dependence; fear of being bored; fear of leading an ordinary life; fear of making a mistake or repeating a mistake. Be very specific in examining precisely what it is you’re trying to avoid of protect yourself from.
Here’s a good way to do this: Starting with parents and other relatives, think about all the people you know in long-term relationships. Make a list of what it is about these relationships that makes you uncomfortable—and that you don’t want to duplicate in your own life. Then think about all the people you know who have lives or jobs that you consider settled but dreary. Make a list of everything you consider negative or stultifying about their lives. Then think about how these fears might be determining your behaviors. Have any of your choices in your relationships been extreme reactions to some of these fears?
- Learn how to make small commitments and small choices. What are the non-romantic choices in your life that paralyze you? Making firm appointments? Deciding what to wear? What to eat? Which organizations, if any, to join? Which interests to pursue? Which movie to see? What type of computer to purchase? Which car? When to take a vacation?
Start with the commitments that you perceive to be less intimidating and begin to take small steps in overcoming your conflicts. As your successes accumulate over time, challenge yourself to take on slightly more ambitious commitments. Don’t torture yourself with unnecessary pressure, but keep building slowly.
- Stop acting out your conflicts by running away. When we are unhappy or dissatisfied with a situation, a person or a decision, sometimes it seems as though the only way out is to run away or to do something similarly outrageous. As humans we have been gifted with the ability to communicate with one another. Use that gift.
- Make a commitment to being fully accountable in all your relationships. If you say you are going to call, call. If you make a lunch date, keep it. If you say you’re going to visit, do so. With everyone you know, become totally reliable. Don’t always give yourself 101 ways out of every situation, no matter how trivial. Obviously sometimes conflicts arise, and even the most important plans sometimes need to be changed. But this should be an exception in your life, not the norm.
Source: He’s Scared, She’s Scared by Carter and Sokol (M. J. F. Books)