It can happen to the best of us. The relationship is going swimmingly. They’re everything you ever wanted. You’ve met each other’s nearest and dearest, and you’re even making the odd joke about marriage, kids, and the future. But then… things plateau. The romance loses its sparkle, and you’re left feeling stuck in limbo, with that pernicious thought nagging away at the back of your mind: Why aren’t we moving to the next stage? And then you realize: Either you, your partner, or both of you are suffering from an acute case of commitment-phobia.
Here are five telltale signs that you and your partner may need an honest and open dialogue soon.
1. Divergent priorities
For one partner, the relationship may be the center of their universe. But for the other, there are competing, or even greater priorities. They see their relationship as important, but ultimately as only one aspect of their multifaceted life comprised of career, education, ambition, friends, and personal projects and pursuits . This person sees the relationship only as a “part-time” endeavor which can come off hurtful to the more fixated partner. All too often this dichotomy in perspective leads to blazing arguments and conflated accusations of one partner being too intense and the other being too uncaring.
When partners struggle to articulate their feelings to one another, they risk melting the entire relationship into a puddle of emotions and resentment. Even when intentions on both sides are sincere and loving, it only takes one hostile conversation to deplete any sense of trust or security. If one partner in particular is struggling to convey how they feel, it may be because they can’t adequately formulate their thoughts—but alternatively it may be that they can’t face the fact they’re less invested in this relationship than their partner.
3. Lives moving at different speeds
Another source of commitment-phobia can be when one partner’s life is going at full throttle while the other’s chugs along at a more sedentary pace. Perhaps one is advancing rapidly up the ladder in their career with regular plaudits while the other feels stuck in a dead-end job surrounded by co-workers who share that sentiment of stagnation. As the couple’s professional and social spheres grow further apart, reconciling their increasingly different lifestyles becomes harder. And if the two remain tethered by love or a sense of obligation, but secretly don’t see any longevity in the relationship, they can fall into romantic purgatory.
4. Attachment issues
If one partner has a history of having been emotionally rejected or neglected, either by former partners or caregivers, they may fear being hurt and abandoned again and develop commitment-phobia. Even if their partner gives them reassurance and overtly demonstrates their devotion, the attachment issues may be too pervasive and degrade the relationship from within.
There are a myriad of signs that a person may be suffering from attachment anxiety, such as:
- nervousness or insecurity
- dogged self-sufficiency
- avoidance of intimacy or emotional obligations
- reluctance to get to know their partner’s family or friends, or to integrate themselves in general with their partner’s lifestyle and social circle
- desire for physical and emotional freedom (“No one puts a collar on me”)
- instinctive rejection of those who get too close (“I need room to breathe”)
- avoidance of future-oriented discussions, such as about plans, life goals, moving in together, marriage, or children.
5. Narcissistic manipulation
Narcissistic personality disorder is a far more common problem than many people realize. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance coupled with a profound yearning for admiration. They believe themselves to be superior to others in one way or another, and have little regard for other people’s feelings.
Narcissists can be especially tricky to identify because they’re often charming at first, but as someone becomes close to them the chemistry wanes and their allure mutates into emotional exploitation. In a relationship, a narcissist is generally uninterested in committing because they think primarily of themselves and their needs and wants. They may be selfish, whether emotionally, sexually, socially, or financially. And if they encounter someone they consider to be a more worthy prospective partner, they may simply exit their current relationship, leaving disarray and heartbreak in their wake.
If you’re worried you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, ask yourself the following questions (or if you believe you may indeed be a narcissist, consider these questions from your partner’s point of view):
- Am I being treated with genuine respect?
- Is this relationship balanced in terms of giving and receiving?
- Are their expectations of me reasonable?
- Do they tend to be self-absorbed or act entitled?
- Do they take constructive criticism about their behavior well?
- Do I ultimately feel good in this relationship?
Commitment-phobia doesn’t have to mean it’s over
Fear of commitment is a widespread issue, and to some extent it’s natural when you’re teetering on the brink of a new relationship, poised to dive headfirst into total emotional investment. But often the problem becomes embedded in the very roots of a relationship and this can be hard to accept when the first few months have gone so well. If you can find the strength to discuss your feelings with your partner, you’ll be doing both of you a favor in the long run. And if you need a little extra advice, we can help.
Maclynn International is an elite, multi-award-winning, boutique boutique introductions agency with offices in New York City, California and London. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, our experts can talk with you about your or your partner’s fear of commitment, in an open and non-judgmental environment. Sometimes you just need to speak your thoughts aloud to an objective ear to truly visualize the health of your relationship. So get in touch today, and together let’s identify any issues and their roots—and what can be done about them.