You’ve fallen in love with someone whom you think is the (almost) perfect person. Everything is going as well as you hope it to be, all your dates have been fun, your romantic getaways have been breathtaking, everything is going swimmingly except he or she can’t seem to commit. Try as you might to make him or her go down the happily-ever-after route, things can’t seem to work out. Or can it?
Commitment phobia is one of the most frustrating binds of relationship. There is no guarantee that the one you love will share in the same dedicated feeling you’re hoping for. Should you give up on him or her? Or should you plough on? Is there a way to work through the issues? The quandary is real! We speak to Dr Christina Pillai, a highly accredited family and marriage therapist and psychotherapist for some guidance.
Hi Dr Christina. We’ve heard of many couples that are together for years but can’t seem to move on to the next phase. What are some reasons for this?
There could be multiple reasons including the perception and idea of “relationship” itself, where previous romantic relationships resulted in rejection and abandonment, so there’s a fear of commitment. It could also be strings of unhealthy adult-child relationships during childhood that bled into the romantic relationship, causing detachment and avoidance in the relationship.
Other factors include pornography/video games dependence, career, responsibilities in the family, multiple non-committed relationships, needing more time to adjust to the idea of settling down and many others.
Could social conditions have something to do with it?
Yes, in a way. Individuals in todays’ modern society are increasingly avoiding or postponing marriages. They have consciously altered the relationship landscape and are reluctant, unmotivated, and clearly do not want to or currently aren’t ready to commit. Society has also made committed relationships less appealing.
It’s also common to see individuals slowly choosing one’s career dreams over a committed relationship. They channel and devote their energy towards an alternative life that gives greater satisfaction than a relationship. This does not mean they do not engage in romantic relationship, they do but keep it casual to embrace their independence, rather than dependence on a relationship.
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So what are some signs that a commitment-phobe showcases?
Non-committal partners have avoidant attachment issues such as:
1. They avoid making long-term plans or frequently brush aside such topics
2. They avoid talking about the future or where the relationship is heading
3. They are vague in communicating about the relationship
4. They are known to stonewall – threatening to leave when things needs to be addressed in the relationship
5. They prefer to handle things on their own when a crisis surfaces
6. They send mixed messages and confusing signals
7. They tend to make decisions independently on their own
8. There is no weight when they say “I love you”—it’s with no feelings
9. They have many rules or conditions on the relationship – thus, making the relationship feel stuck and in a repetitive cycle of not moving forward
10. They prefer limited in-depth conversation
Right, but it is also common to hear that most couples get stuck in a relationship rut eventually – does familiarity breed contempt?
Let’s take a look if familiarity is the main offender or something else is triggering contempt.
If hugs, kisses, actions and words of affirmation, gratitude, thankfulness and kindness become familiar, then familiarity keeps the love and bond alive in the relationship. Familiarity sets the stage of intimacy, passion and commitment. It is a way of truly knowing each other. Also, we get attracted to what is familiar to us. The familiarity between couples evolves into a loving relationship that creates a consistent environment of support, strength and respect towards each other. You feel safe when you are on familiar grounds.
Familiarity is not the problem, but unmet needs breed contempt. When unmet needs (loneliness, sadness, feeling unloved, hurt, rejected, neglected) of partner take over the wheel, it sparks contempt towards each other. It is derived from turning away from each other, rather than towards each other that ignites disrespect, mocking with sarcasm, ridiculing, criticism, name-calling, eye-rolling and etc.
“Contempt – the power of superiority over each other – is the single greatest predictor of divorce”
Yikes! What steps can we take to prevent these negative feelings and encourage a positive outcome?
1. Be accessible and responsive towards each other’s needs
2. Prioritising is a relationship enhancer
3. Ask each other, “How can I make your day better today?”
4. Take responsibility and sincerely apologise for wrongdoings. Remember: Sorry does not equal trust. Sorry equals forgiveness. Changes in behaviour equal trust.
5. Build a partnership identity and a culture of gratitude and appreciation.
For couples that want to take their relationship further, what advice can you give to a woman or man seeking to ‘seal the deal’?
With any successful relationship, patience is key. It is also important to meet him or her where they are at. The question then comes is it possible for a non-committal relationship to grow? This clearly depends where you get your fulfillment and satisfaction from. It is essential to have a strong social support system other than your own romantic relationship to make things work. You would need to find ways for your own needs to be met outside of the romantic relationship in order to give your partner space to evolve on his/her own time.
Also, before moving forward, it is important to define the relationship. What are your expectations? Are you on the same page? You will not always hear what you want to hear. If he/she says, “I do not want to get married” or “Now, is not the time and I cannot give you the exact time” or “I’m happy and do not want anything different than where we are now” then, take them at their word. Remember it is also not your job to fix or change your partner. You cannot change anyone. Neither being forceful, nor hopeful will give you your desired outcome if you are in a non-committal relationship.
How do you know when he or she is ready?
Signs that your partner is ready to seal the deal:
1. Clearly defined relationship – both are committed and desire similar things
2. Trust – confident in the way you feel safe physically and emotionally
3. Committed and dedicated to each other’s needs
4. Feel supported and connected physically and emotionally
5. Compromise – disagreements are natural, but you try to be rational and fair in solving conflicts
6. Respect and value for each other
7. The ability to share your vulnerability (sadness, hurt, rejection) or speak up when something is bothering you. There is openness and transparency – both are able to process it together, instead of one person carrying the burden
8. The ability to maintain healthy boundaries
What if you’re unsure about the non-committal relationship – how do you know when to call it quits?
It’s when you feel not valued, emotionally deprived, not feeling good enough, loneliness, abandoned and rejected or held at arms length. You feel unable to assess the relationship or to fully connect, confused, unworthy, unnoticed, unimportant – you are trying, but get no effort in return.
ALSO READ: Should you consider a matchmaker?
And when to keep at it?
With any successful relationship, patience is key. It is also important to meet him/her where they are at. The question comes – is it possible for a non-committal relationship to grow? This clearly depends on where you get your fulfillment and satisfaction from. So build a strong social support system and fulfill your own needs outside of the relationship to give your partner space to evolve on his/her own time.
In other words, love yourself first?
When there is changed behaviour/actions, trust and emotional safety is built. Many settle for less in a relationship due to their own insecurities and self-esteem issues. Sadly, we get what we accept from others. Changing what you want, will give you your desired outcome. If you feel you deserve this, then you will get it.
In a healthy relationship, partners will never feel that they have to compromise on their own beliefs, values and worth, instead it gets enhance and supported in the relationship.
Dr Christina Pillai provides individual, couple, marriage and family counselling. She works with a range of issues including couple relationships and communication, pre-marital, anger management, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. For more information, click here.
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