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Commitment Phobia
- Which Type of Commitment Phobic are They? 

Narelle Stratford


COMMITMENT PHOBIA - Narelle Stratford, March 2008 - Brisbane

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Narelle Stratford - Brisbane Psychologist


  1. She confided, “He wants me to move in with him, and he’s loving and affectionate, and he has a dog that he loves and treats well, and a nice place to live, but….” and her voice trailed off uncomfortably, and finally became silent. 

2.      “I’m just not sure that I want to move in with her.  I mean, we’ve been dating and sleeping together for less than a year and I’ve been married before, and it happened because I moved in and within a year we were married and then it didn’t work out.”

3.      “I really want to move in with him.  But I just can’t pin him down.  He says he loves me, he says he wants to be with me, but when I try and talk about moving in together he says, “let’s not rush it.”  What’s the problem with him, why don’t men want me to live with them?  This isn’t the first time!  How can I convince him, I don’t know what to do.”?


If these conversations sound familiar, then you have either been the commitment phobic, or the one with the commitment phobic partner, and neither position feels very comfortable, does it?

Commitment Phobia can be defined as an inability to commit, and it doesn’t just occur in personal relationships.  This limiting belief can cause issues in the workplace, in business, and in the community, but because it is most likely to be observed in a relationship, that’s usually what people recognise and certainly is the topic of discussion here.

Commitment Stages

Firstly, let’s look at the layers or stages of commitment that one can encounter in a personal and intimate relationship with another:

          Dating – you are free to see whom you please, when they agree

          Exclusive dating without sex – you decide you want to explore this relationship and therefore commit to only seeing this special person.

o       (Hmm, maybe one of you agrees and the other doesn’t…)

          Exclusive dating with sex – as above, and now there is an additional bonus of sex

o       (Hmm, maybe one of you agrees to monogamy and the other doesn’t…)

          Living together (usually includes a sexual relationship) with a view to engagement and marriage, or

o       Living together – and no-one dares to mention the L for Love word, and heaven forbid “engagement” or worse still, the big M.  Rightly, you know straight away we are not talking about McDonalds, but Marriage!

          Engagement – well done, you got that milestone out of the way!

o       But did it include a public party?  The commitment phobic will avoid any public declaration of love and want it to be kept pretty quiet.

o       The long-term engagement – like years and years and 7 years later there is still no gold wedding ring on the finger, probably no will has been written, and often, no joint insurance – the other little signs of commitment.

          Marriage – yea!  Congratulations!

o       Marriage – but one party is absent from the relationship….

          Children – yep, the above scenarios often include children, yet still there is no real commitment via those legal edifices like wills to indicate that he (much more so than she) is committed to you.

These stages indicate just how deeply (pardon the pun) commitment phobia can run in your relationship even when it does include marriage and children.  You see commitment phobia can also manifest in lying, cheating, and “avoidance behaviours.” 

Couples who willingly commit to a partnership relationship are showing their ability to show up, to be present through good times and bad, and to be willing to do their best with the emotions that will come up. 

Someone who is commitment phobic may not be able to be emotionally present, that is, he or she is unable to deal with emotions that are anything less than happy.

Are you emotionally present?  Or absent?  Here are a few examples that may strike a chord with you or someone you know:

          Are you a work-aholic?  Spending ‘legitimate’ time away from home, because work calls?  Time that could be spent with your loved ones.

          How about a gym-aholic?  Got to keep that body buffed and toned!

          A volunteer-aholic?  Hey, you enjoy giving to the community, it’s rewarding, isn’t it?  Everyone is on about social responsibility and…um, what about home or partner responsibilities?

          A workshop-aholic?  Personal growth and development is important, too… of course it is….Spending so much time on self-development while avoiding the relationship, no of course you’re not doing that, are you?

          A perpetual student-aholic?  Oh yes, your number is up now.  Just need to get yet another degree and you’ll get a job?

          An alco-holic or drug-aholic?  Drowning your sorrows or boosting yourself up until the crash comes and down you go…

In all of these examples, what are you avoiding?  What are you avoiding at home?  Are you avoiding commitment?  Whom are you avoiding? 

Or, are you just avoiding you?

What on earth is going on?  What causes this commitment phobia or avoidant behaviour in the first place?

Partly, it is to do with a loss of consciousness.  95% of people today are unconscious 95% of the time, which means we run on automatic.  Ever been driving home and suddenly wondered where you were?  Made yourself a cup of coffee only to discover two hours later that you are thirsty and didn’t get to drink your coffee?  Operated on remote control at work, perhaps? 

Is your conscious mind AWOL?

During these times you conscious mind is AWOL (away without leave) so who is running the show?  It is your subconscious, that little child inside who is running on autopilot and this can be a good or a bad practice.  We are so often on autopilot where our emotional responses are concerned, that sometimes it is difficult to stop those automatic reflexes of emotions that have a negative impact, such as anger, or fear or hurt and rejection, and so on.


What causes autopilot? 

Usually, it is habit, and habits occur through repetition and are codified by emotional reactions or responses to first-time situations.  Perhaps you learned at a young age (by observing those closest to you, maybe Mum or Dad, or a big brother or sister) that life seemed easier when you avoided PEOPLE, or situations, or animals, or whatever… because then you could avoid the sticky emotions, like anger, fear, hurt or rejection or sadness or guilt or… well, you know what I mean.

As soon as it gets a bit emotionally uncomfortable, you either sink further into emotional distress (think of it as learned behaviour), or have to get conscious and set a course of action to follow.

Madly in love, gladly or badly out of love…

If you fell madly in love, then fell gladly out of love and did it nicely, that’s different to falling madly in love and then falling badly out of love, isn’t it? 

How so?  You will behave differently and it depends on what happened in each scenario as well as your emotional resilience or emotional maturity, as to how you will behave.

Some people have a gold love bag, it’s full of, “I am strong, confident, I’m okay, I love and approve of myself, you think your opinion counts???”

And some people carry a negative paper bag full of, “I need you, I can’t live without you, don’t leave me, I will die without you, I define my self-worth through you…”

All right, now you are convinced that you may have a problem, or you know someone who does, (the classic avoidant response of: deny all, blame someone else), what can you do about it?

Step 1.

Believe it or not, you have achieved Step 1, which is to recognise that you have a problem in the first place.  Give yourself a big round of applause for your awareness, because self-awareness or insight, is really important.

Step 2. 

Understand that underneath this commitment phobia, which is just the outward manifestation of your problem, there are likely to be layers of emotion.

You may ask yourself the following questions:

Q1.  What is important about not committing, or avoiding a commitment?

Your answer is…. I like my life the way it is, it feels safe.  {Or, I am frightened of being swamped, losing my freedom, failing my responsibilities, not being my own person, fearful that I will be rejected, fearful that you will find out who the real me is and then you won’t want me, fearful that my mask will slip…}

Q2.  What is important about being physically and emotionally safe?  If you could have safety as a way of being in the world… what would you want even more than being safe, which you could have because you were safe?

Your answer is… If I am safe I can’t get hurt.  {I can’t bear the pain of emotional distress, loss, grief, sadness and so on.}  If I was really safe, I guess I would feel protected.

Q3.  And if you felt protected, fully and completely now, as a way of being in the world, what would you want even more than that, which you could have because you were protected?

Your answer is…Happiness!  I’d be happy.

Q4.  If you were happy, fully and completely now, as a way of being in the world, what would you want even more than that, which you could have because you were happy?

Your answer is…Confidence.  If I was safe and protected and happy, then I’d be confident.

Q5.  If you were confident, fully and completely now, as a way of being in the world, what would you want even more than that, which you could have because you were confident, happy, protected, and safe?

Your answer is …Acknowledgement – If I was confident, I’d be acknowledged and that would make me feel great!

Q6.  If you were acknowledged, fully and completely now, as a way of being in the world, what would you want even more than that, which you could have because you were acknowledged?

Your answer is … peace.  Just peace.

Q7.  If you were peaceful, fully and completely now, as a way of being in the world, what would you want even more than that, which you could have because you were at peace?

Love, I’d want love.


Notice how you are feeling, as a safe, protected, happy, confident, acknowledged, peaceful and loved person.  Feels so good, doesn’t it?

What about over-committed?

Guess what, when I ask the opposite person who desires commitment what it is they want from commitment, in every instance, they want to get to the highest values of peace and love as well.  As human beings becoming, we do so crave inner peace and love, but we get so busy seeking it from outside, that we forget to pay attention to ourself on the inside.

What would happen if you made a commitment to yourself to resolve your fears, to spend time on loving and approving of yourself, so that you didn’t have to run away (the commitment phobe), or pursue what you couldn’t have (the flip side of the commitment phobe is to pursue someone who cannot give you what you want).

Of course, we’ve barely touched on the flip side of the coin of needy, demanding, and “can’t get along without you,” types. 

The good news is that the pursuer of commitment also needs to do the same kind of work on himself, so that they can be solid and equal partners too.

Step 3.

Both of you may now spend time working on yourself, getting to know, love and understand yourself, first of all.  You probably both have emotional baggage that you need to release, such as anger, fear, sadness, hurt and rejection, jealousy, perfectionism or guilt, (see a Timeline practitioner to do this) and then you can install new ways of being, doing and relating to have that positive gold love bag.

Later, when you are good with you, you can engage and commit to a wonderful relationship with someone else so that both of you are enjoying the highest purpose of safety, protection, happiness, confidence, acknowledgement, peace and love.

* Narelle Stratford, March 2008. Narelle Stratford is a Registered Psychologist & Master Practitioner of NLP, Timeline and Hypnosis, from Brisbane, Australia. Visit  for further resources and newsletter.


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