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Gentlemen Speak: Tips for Building a Relationship with a Recovering Commitment-Phobe

What to do if you need a little assurance
relationships and dating for recovering commitment-phobes

Photo Credit: Katie Ruther

“I’m afraid of commitment.”

Damn it. I said it. I said it, and I can’t take it back.

I didn’t mean for it to be a knife. I didn’t want to hurt her. I was sharing a very delicate part of my life with my then-girlfriend. You see, we had been fighting—as couples do—and I didn’t want to tell her the truth. For me, this was the moment of vulnerability. For her, it was a moment of rejection. Looking back, I understand.

Here’s my big shame: I dread the idea of being married to someone for the rest of my life. In my family, being happily married is like walking on water; they’re all drowning! So long ago, I made the choice to keep my feet firmly planted on dry land.

Sure, it sounds like an excuse. But my family dynamic makes it difficult for me to commit. At my worst, I’m searching for a way out—picking apart my relationship for its flaws and the reasons it won’t work in order to prevent inevitability. It’s not a behavior that makes me proud. I’ve tried to loosen the grip this fear has on me, but I know I need someone who understands that a relationship with me will be work.

At times I may want to run. I may be distant and hard to read. It’s not because I’m trying to be difficult, I’m just afraid. It’s not who I want to be. No man wants to live the life of a coward. I do eventually want lasting love and commitment. But I acknowledge that it’s going to take a special kind of woman to get there.

If you’re dating someone—like me—who has an aversion to commitment, there is hope. But navigating a relationship with someone who struggles with commitment can be tricky. I don’t have the magic answer, but in my own experience, a woman who can answer yes to the following questions is the best equipped to build a lasting relationship with a recovering commitment-phobe (and can spot when it’s time to run).

You love him. Have you reminded yourself why you’re together?

You chose to begin a relationship with this person for a reason. Hopefully it wasn’t because you wanted to fix him. What is it about the man you’re in love with or beginning to fall for? What made you say yes to him in the first place? His work ethic and generous spirit? His ability to make you laugh and see the best in others? His infectious charisma or uncanny wit? Remind yourself about the things that drew you to him—the things that still make him who he is. Warts and all.

Don’t forget to remind him, too. It’s easy for us to get down on ourselves. Some of us have a tendency to focus on the areas where we fall short. Why not reverse that trend in your man’s life? If your goal is to see this relationship grow, then nurture it. Celebrate the person you’re dating. If he knows you appreciate who he is, it will only attract him more.

Know your needs. Have you verbalized them?

You’re in a relationship that may be harder than most, and if the man you’re with doesn’t start to overcome some of the things that prevent him from committing, you may have to walk away. But ultimatums and threats are not the solution here.

Talk. Make your needs clear. You may desire to have children by a certain age or long for the feeling of stability that marriage provides. You may want to be married after a few years of dating. A year is ample time for someone to “know.” If he claims to have no idea, you at least should. Search your heart, talk to family, and seek the wisdom of friends whose opinions you respect and trust. Once you’ve done your work, make a decision, and stick to it. If he doesn’t meet you in that place and fight for you, it’s best to let the relationship end, hard as it may be.

Check yourself. Did you go in to this with realistic expectations?

After two months of dating, you shouldn’t be pushing him to get married. Soak in the moment. Don’t add unnecessary pressure. It has happened to me before! I’ve been in a relationship where things are going along well, but then the pressure begins.

“Would you marry me right now?”

“What kind of wedding would we have?”

“We should go ring shopping.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these questions, but timing matters. As I said before, I believe that one year is a reasonable amount of time to get to know someone. You won’t know everything, but you should be able to determine whether this relationship is going toward marriage. If he hasn’t initiated the conversation in a year, feel free to bring it up. A great non-threatening question is, “What do you want out of this relationship?” or “Where do you see us in a year or two?” How he responds is important here. If he gets angry or shuts down, it’s probably a sign that his commitment issues have gotten the best of him, and the relationship is not going in the right direction.

There is a commonly shared quote: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Fear of commitment is a hard battle. But men who fear commitment don’t need a savior; we need a fellow soldier. We need you to jump into the foxhole with us. This means being willing to have difficult conversations, protecting his heart when he chooses to be vulnerable, and holding fast to your desire for lasting love and commitment—for your sake and for his.

Once the war is won, not only will we commit to you, we’ll fight for you as well—because we know you’re fighting a hard battle of your own. We all are.