How To Deal With A Fear Of Commitment

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A fear of commitment can be hindrance in all walks of life, but it is with relationships that it most commonly arises. Everyone is naturally a little wary of making potentially lifelong commitments, but when that fear starts to strangle relationships or stop you from even starting one, it’s something that needs to be addressed.

Coach spoke to Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP Healthcare (opens in new tab), for more information on what drives a fear of commitment and how people can turn that fear into motivation.

What causes fear of commitment?

When we talk about fear associated with commitment we’re really talking about fear of failure and rejection. Committing to something can make us feel vulnerable. What happens if we’re rejected? What happens if this relationship fails?

Fear of failure focuses on our expectations of ourselves. We expect a lot more of ourselves – sometimes we even expect perfection. Our fear of commitment might mean that we need to be perfect. And as we all know, perfection doesn’t exist.

If we don’t commit then we don’t have to face the failure. It’s like anything – if you don’t take the exam you can never fail it. But where does never taking the exam leave you? Nowhere.

How do you recognise it in yourself?

The only real way is to look at the consequences. What are you being stopped from doing? Does it mean that you’re not engaging in relationships, or avoiding certain situations?

Then it’s important to explore what that means to you. Look at the consequences of this fear and ask, “What am I really frightened of here? Is my fear of failure going to mean I spend my life alone? Is that something I want?” Probably not.

Can past bad relationships can make it hard to overcome a fear of commitment?

Absolutely. Sometimes we use that history as a way of predicting our future. That’s not really logical. We all have history and to a degree it does inform our future, but we need to stand back and think, “That was then, things have changed, things can be different. Can I learn from this failure?” That’s the most positive view to have on it. What did you learn from that particular poor relationship? What did it tell you about what your needs are and what you want in the future? Use that information as a way of making things better next time around.

If we don’t make mistakes then we never learn. That’s what happens when this fear of failure – of making errors – becomes ingrained. But actually we need to accept that errors are part of life, and errors can be opportunities. To reframe an error as something less catastrophic is a really helpful stance.

How do you turn your fears into motivators?

Look at the long-term consequences. “If I don’t do this, what might happen? What will I miss out on?” When we appreciate the cost it can turn into a motivator.

Is there a potential problem that for some people looking at the cost may make their fear worse, making it hard to act?

What we try to help people do if they’re procrastinating over making these decisions is to remove some of the choices. Just get people to act. Act rather than think and use very small goals. Trying to make your goals manageable can be really helpful.

If you’re going to use your fear as a motivator never start with your biggest fear. Always start with something quite small, and then work up using small, medium, and long-term goals. And enrol other people in your quest to do something, so you don’t feel alone.

So the key to relationships is just to do something?

Act! Sitting at home eating pizza in front of the telly is not going to help you meet your next partner. But I’m also not suggesting go out every night dancing on tables in every singles bar. Just think about the small steps you can take in order to address your fears in a positive way.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.