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Overcoming fear of commitment

Neil Rosenthal

Dear New Zealand: We choose unavailable partners – people who live geographically apart from us, people who use crisis as a substitute for intimacy, people who already have primary relationships, people who are blatantly commitmentphobic or otherwise emotionally armored, defended, distant or withdrawn – because we are comfortable with the way these relationships make us feel.

Something about them is familiar to us, because something in our life experience programmed us to distrust closeness and, conversely, to become accustomed to relationships that were distant.

Many of us had mothers and/or fathers, particularly fathers, who worked long hours, whose moods were unpredictable and volatile, who were drunk or substance addicted, who were distant, or who didn’t know how to emotionally communicate. Some of us had parents whose love came at so high a price that we withdrew from love all together.



These parental experiences created a pattern which we have unwittingly carried forward into our adult lives.

Pay careful attention to the lessons of your own life. If, for example, you’ve ever been involved in a relationship that came with built-in distance because either you or your partner was married, chronically unfaithful, or geographically or emotionally unavailable, face the fact that you may choose relationships with built-in distance.



Whether we have been programmed to distance from others – or accept distance from our partners who don’t want a lot intimacy – the end result is still distance. And a distant is the antithesis to a meaningful connection. Meaningful connections happen when two individuals reliably come together in an atmosphere of trust, openness, vulnerability and realistic level-headedness – without crisis, abusive behavior, excessive distance or unwarranted mistrust.

Do you or your partner appear passionate, warm and connected one minute, and withdrawn, withholding and downright cold the next? Many men and women with commitment conflicts regularly want to have it both ways. Sometimes they want an intimate relationship; sometimes they want that relationship to disappear.

Or have you ever had the experience of really liking, trusting and being attracted to someone, but still wanting to leave the relationship? Some of us are programmed to make sure we have a way out – a little window through which we can exit the relationship. We still believe that maybe, just maybe, there will be somebody who is cuter, thinner, smarter, richer, less demanding, more communicative.



One of the most dishonest and self-sabotaging things we can do in a relationship is to allow our basic grievances to fester unattended. Ultimately we strengthen a relationship by dealing with conflicts that bother us when they arise.

This is the time to learn how to talk to each other about the real issues as they present themselves. This is the time to learn how to problem solve, settle disagreements and compromise together.

Are either you or your partner trying to put more distance in the relationship? Are you both moving together at the same speed? Have either of you erected insurmountable boundaries?

In what ways are each of you withholding from the other? Do you both have the same vision for the relationship? Now is the time to find these questions out.

Source: “Getting To Commitment,” by Steven Carter (M.Evans).

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boulder. He can be reached at (303) 758-8777 or e-mail at his Web site http://www.heartrelationships.com


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