In my counseling work, I often work with clients who have a deep fear of commitment. These individuals generally say that they want to be in a loving relationship, yet they keep picking “the wrong people.”
Susan, 38, sought my help because she was in two relationships at the same time. This didn’t feel right to her, so she knew that she had to make a choice. Yet she could not seem to decide which relationship was right for her.
Susan had been in a relationship with Shawn for two years. Shawn, 43, was a delightful man, fun loving and sweet. However, Shawn would emotionally disappear for long periods of time, and he was clear that he did not want children – which was very important to Susan. In addition, Shawn was always living on the edge financially.
Then Susan met Calvin, who was totally different than Shawn. Calvin stayed emotionally present, had a job he loved and made very good money, and wanted to have children. Susan was very attracted to Calvin and in her heart she knew that he was a much better choice for her than Shawn. Yet she could not seem to let go of Shawn.
As we explored the situation, it became apparent that Susan couldn’t let go of Shawn because she was terrified of commitment. With Shawn there was no chance of being in a committed relationship – he was not really available. Yet Susan felt “safe” with Shawn. Safe from what?
Susan discovered that she was terrified of really being in love, which was a possibility with Calvin but not with Shawn. In her mind, being in love meant losing her freedom. When she thought of being with Calvin, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Her concept of a loving relationship was that, “You are together all the time. I couldn’t just go and be with my friends or take a vacation with a friend. Commitment means giving up freedom.”
No wonder she felt safe with Shawn! As long as Susan felt she had to give herself up to be in a loving relationship, she would not be able to make a commitment.
Douglas, 34, another client of mine, has the exact same problem. When he is in a relationship, he is a very “nice guy.” He tends to try to please his partner because, in his mind, taking care of himself and doing the things he wants to do is selfish. Yet, in giving himself up to his partner, he ends up resenting her and ending the relationship. Like Susan, he is operating under the false belief that he has to give up his personal freedom to be in a loving relationship.
Both Susan and Douglas have a major false belief that is causing their fear of commitment: that loving another person means doing what that person wants instead of staying true to themselves and taking loving care of themselves. They both have a false definition of selfish. They think they are being selfish if they take care of themselves instead of care-take their partners. I offered them this definition of selfish:
Selfish is when you expect someone else to give themselves up for you – to not do what they want to do and instead do what you want them to do. Selfish is when you do not support others in taking loving care of themselves and instead expect them to take care of you.
Giving yourself up is a form of control. You want to control how the other person feels about you by doing what they want you to do. When you do what another person wants you to do from love and caring, with no agenda to get their approval, you feel wonderful. But when you give yourself up from fear of your partner’s anger or withdrawal, you will feel trapped and resentful. To be in a committed relationship, your first commitment needs to be to yourself – to your truth, integrity and freedom.
Learning to take loving care of yourself is the key to healing a fear of commitment. When you are taking loving care of yourself, you will be filled with love and you will have much love to share with your partner!