Is being scared of commitment a real psychological condition? We asked two experts

Blame the parents. Seriously. It's their fault.

It’s not unusual for some people to balk at the first hints that a partner wants to settle down – only to be dismissed as a commitment-phobe.

It’s a go-to diagnosis for the Peter Pan types who don’t see themselves settling down until late middle age, but is it actually a diagnosable condition?

The Independent asked two experts in the field, spurred on by accounts from London-based millennials who simply aren’t interested in getting hitched or having kids.

“I meet them, I like them, I may even eventually love them. But then at about the one-year mark I suddenly realise that if I commit then I am - in theory - with them until I die or they die,” 30-year-old Hugo* explained to The Independent.

“That's when it becomes overwhelming. I couldn't commit to eating at Nandos for the rest of my life and I love a chicken wrap - how am I supposed to commit to a woman?”

And 25-year-old Jess* has similar problems: “Every time it starts to get serious with a guy I just freak out and push them away, and I don’t even know why.”

Thanks to the prevalence of dating apps, it seems to be a growing problem amongst millennials, when there could always be someone better just a swipe away.

“Commitment-phobia is a fear of committing to a relationship. Perhaps even engaging in one, Relate counsellor Gurpreet Singh explained. “It is real and has existed as long as relationships have.”

And clinical psychologist Dr Abigael San agrees, pointing out that although it’s not a diagnosable condition, commitment-phobia is definitely real: “There’s a scale, people have it to different extents,” she says.

As much as people may joke about having “daddy issues,” both Singh and San believe those who develop a fear of commitment do so because of their past experiences and often their relationship with their parents when growing up.

It all comes down to attachment bonds, according to San, who says that although commitment-phobia isn’t innate, the need for a secure bond is: “If that bond is disrupted in early life, that will create problems for adult relationships and one of those can be issues with commitment.”

The issues generally stem from early life - for example, if a parent responded inconsistently to their child, they might then grow up to be ambivalent in their reactions to other people: “An adult who is more detached and distant probably had more detached parenting,” San says.

And of course, a sudden commitment-phobia can be more common if a previous partner has hurt you: “If trust has been broken in the past by a loved one or someone you relied upon, this can impact on a person’s ability to trust someone again,” Singh says.

“It creates fear that the other person might betray you like the last time. This fear of trust will often manifest itself in a person’s inability to commit.”

Singh believes low self-esteem or a low sense of self-worth can also be behind a fear of commitment.

We’re used to stories of desperate women waiting for their boyfriends to propose to them or struggling to tie down a man who just won’t commit, but is commitment-phobia really more common in men? Singh is not convinced.

“In my experience a fear of commitment is not gender-specific,” he says. “A woman with a traumatic childhood is just as likely to have a fear of commitment as a man with a similar past.

“There are some patterns to suggest that men and women like different things in relationships and at different stages but none to suggest that men are any more prone to commitment-phobia than women. That men are more afraid of commitment is largely a myth and there are some studies around to suggest that.”

San, however, points out that further studies have shown that women are more likely to have secure attachment styles, whereas men are more likely to have avoidant ones.

And as women tend to have a higher emotional intelligence than men from a young age, they’re more likely to develop those secure bonds with their parents.

But both Singh and San agree that a person can get over a fear of commitment, and the first step is understanding, accepting and reflecting on it.

The next step is to find the links between your current behaviour and your earlier attachment bond, and then work through the trauma, anger and resentment that you might be carrying from childhood or from a previous relationship.

Any commitment-phobe is used to being told: “Oh, you just haven’t met the right person yet,” but is there any truth in that?

According to Singh, “it is unlikely that the problem will simply disappear or that you will suddenly overcome it if you meet the right person.”

San, however, offers some hope to the romantic but commitment-phobic amongst us: “If you enter a relationship with someone who is more securely attached than you, you’ll probably increase your chances of developing a healthier attachment bond,” she says.

So there could be some truth in the old adage that you just need to meet the right person. But, she says, if you don’t try to understand your ways, it doesn’t matter who you meet: “You have to have the ability to reflect on yourself.”

*Names have been changed

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