“We broke up because they’re a commitment-phobe.”
“Everything was great, except that we weren’t ready to take our relationship to the next level.”
“I really like them, but I’m not sure I can commit.”
Getting serious about a relationship can cause anxiety at almost any stage—from going steady to saying “I Love You”, to moving in together, to getting engaged and married. Relationship anxiety or “commitment phobia” can have a wide variety of triggers, including past abuse, negative relationship models, and stress caused by work or health issues.
What does it mean to have relationship anxiety/commitment phobia?
Having anxiety about your relationship can manifest itself in many ways. Fear is a major part of anxiety. Some of those fears may include fear that your partner will leave, fear that you are not good enough for your partner, or fear that intimacy will reveal things about yourself or your partner that compromises your happiness.
Any of these issues can make it difficult or impossible to get serious about your relationship. You or your partner may suffer from issues that include jealousy, a compulsion to test one another, severe neediness, or becoming increasingly defensive. Even one of these problems could create problems in a relationship. When problems begin to pile on, they could cause mental or even physical illness if they are not resolved.
How can those with this anxiety overcome it?
If you are still in a relationship that causes you or your partner anxiety, the first line of defense is communication. Talking about your feelings honestly and openly can help everyone concerned. Sometimes you may find that your anxiety is unfounded, that you are worrying about problems that simply don’t exist. You may find out that you and your partner are more alike than you thought. For instance, you may be pressured from outside forces to get engaged and then find out neither you nor your partner is ready for that. Alternately, friends or family may think you are taking things too fast where you and your partner both want to take your relationship more seriously.
Communication can also reveal deeper issues that require more discussion. If the problems are very serious, long-lasting, or medical/psychological, couples therapy or individual therapy could be very beneficial. Occasionally, this type of examination reveals that the relationship is unhealthy. If the best thing for one or both parties is to bring the relationship to an end, that may be the painful but correct resolution.
How can you maintain a happy, healthy and long-lasting relationship?
It sounds like a cliché, but the first step towards developing a stronger relationship is admitting that there is a problem. “By accepting your relationship anxiety, you become more in tune with your mind and more specifically, your thought cycle.” Alicia H. Clark, PsyD is a psychologist practicing in Washington, D.C. Her blog expands on ideas related to healing and coping with stress or trauma. In her article “6 Things to Do When a Relationship Causes Anxiety”, Clark expands on the concept of accepting and working with anxiety.
“Especially if you are prone to worrying or are with a partner who doesn’t communicate clearly, anxiety will be a part of your relationship, and that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing…Fundamentally, anxiety means you care – we can only worry about things we care about – and relationships might be the most important thing to us. We care deeply about securing love, and keeping it safe. And we feel anxiety when love might be at risk.”
However, accepting your anxiety is only the first step. Once you communicate and work through the sources of relationship anxiety, there is plenty to do to keep yourselves happy and healthy. You will need to implement changes in the relationship and have patience with each other. Mental patterns cannot be changed immediately.
The healthier you are in both mind and body, the more you will be able to dedicate to your relationship. According to Calm Clinic, some of the best techniques for getting healthy include getting more exercise, staying mentally busy, exchanging needs, and maintaining physical affection. If the anxiety stems from broken trust, you may have to start over from the very beginning of your relationship, building up intimacy from the very beginning.
Developing a relationship in the face of anxiety is possible and actually very common. Even in a best case scenario, however, relationships thrive with a little bit of effort from everyone involved. Make sure to communicate openly and often with your partner, and always ask for help from a professional if needed.