the 'c' word.

Commitment defined is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity. Otherwise known as a promise, a contract or a pledge. No biggie right? Pretty straight down the line kind of concept yeah?

Commitment is one of those tough subjects to broach. Everyone thinks so differently about the topic; some negatively, some positively, some indifferent. Some run at just the thought of committing, others drool at the idea of settling down and putting a ring on it. Your opinion on the matter is usually formed from quite a young age, dependent on your family situation and how your parents treated each other. One of Australia’s leading relationships experts, Jo Lamble, says that ‘the fear of committing is actually the fear of abandonment or the fear of being hurt’. Therefore how you feel about commitment can be dependent on whether you have been hurt badly in the past either in a serious relationship, by a close friend, or if your family suffered from a break up, divorce, split, abuse, or sometimes a combination of all of those things.

Commitment-phobia is a present-day epidemic, and is a concept that intrigues me. It’s such a Catch 22! It’s usually the people who fear commitment the most who are the ones that jump from one relationship or date to another, monkey gripping to and from; the closer they get to anyone, the greater the fear becomes. Lamble explains that this happens because the greater the love one feels, the more they have to lose, hence why someone might run in the opposite direction or sever ties prematurely in order to prevent heart ache. She says that often the person who refuses to get married might actually deep down desperately want to get married, but they don’t want to risk the pain and hurt if it doesn’t work out.

How ironic is that!?

The dreaded ‘C-word’ can send any man running for the hills. Generally speaking, it is usually men who identify with commitment-phobia the most as it can mean loss of independence and freedom, loss of space, pressure to marry, less raunchy sex and more compromise (sorry boys, chick flicks will always win). Over the past few decades there has been a huge rise in ‘cohabitation’ relationships, otherwise known as ‘commitment with an escape hatch’. More and more couples are opting to live together as it no longer has a taboo around it labelling it as an immortal act. In fact it’s more a try before you buy scenario or a compatibility test assessing the cooking, cleaning, sleeping, snoring, sex or TV remote control situation. However there are people from the school of thought (usually religious) who believe moving in together before marriage is actually a killer and the cause of todays soaring divorce rates. They say that living together before marriage instils a month-by-month rental agreement style of thinking, not unlike their actual relationship, and that getting married is just a means of not having to break the lease, so to speak. An interesting point of view, especially considering the statistics of the success rates of arranged marriages, which are thought to lead to lasting love because the love grows gradually over time and there is a lot of emphasis put on compatibility matching as opposed to just physical attraction and lust (like in the West). Francine Kaye AKA ‘The Divorce Doctor’, says that ‘It should be pointed out that arranged marriages work because culturally marriage is seen differently. We have a very romantic view of marriage. Theirs is more pragmatic’.

Gone are the days when you marry for life – they’ve even changed the marriage vows! Wedding expert Sharon Naylor says that changing vows from ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ to ‘For As Long As Our Love Shall Last’ should be seen as a realistic alternative not a cop out. She says that divorcees, who promised the to-the-grave vow in a church, mourn their marriage breakup as a personal failure and go through a lot of therapy to heal from their sanctioned ‘broken promise’. On the contrary, other opinions such as the likes of psychologist & author Diana Kirschner say that the traditional vows show that you’re committed and in it for life with unconditional love, through the good and bad not just til the going gets tough.

Skipping briefly to my own background, I come from an upbringing of which I imagine a majority of people come from these days – divorced parents. For me, sitting around the dinner table with my biological parents would just be plain weird. However I now have two amazing families – double the amount of love! It’s all I knew from a young age, and although there were really tough moments during my life where I would have loved a ‘happy little family’, I wouldn’t trade it for anything as I had two parents who loved me…and that’s all that matters. Some people might ask – are kids who are brought up in a two-parent household more stable, more confident, more sociable and form better relationships? I would say that it’s not an issue at all and that it’s completely based on the individual, especially as my sibling and I are two very normal, self-assured individuals with our heads screwed on…not screwed up! Just like that old adage – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – so sometimes it might work in the opposite sense.

In saying that, I’m not going to lie…admittedly I may or may not be a tinsy insy weeny offender of the commitment-phobia curse. Conventionally the female wants commitment, which usually means marriage, however the thought of settling down with one person for life is slightly daunting and could most likely be the direct result of my upbringing. For me, I think it’s more of a cautious thing, a form of my own self preservation, and the fact that I don’t want to get hurt or cause hurt (like in my own childhood situation). I would rather wait…even if I’m in my fabulous 30s or 40s…to get married, as long as I am 110% he’s the one and it feels ‘right’. I believe a reason why so many people don’t want to commit these days, is because so many people divorce – making us question the relevance of marriage. And I believe that the reason there is so much divorce, singledom and single parent households out there is because people aren’t tuned into themselves, they aren’t present enough or listening to their gut instinct guiding them in their destined path. Instead, people are doing what others think they should do, they’re ignoring the signs and seeds of doubt and taking the materialistic approach to commitment.

So if you’re freaked out to commit or know someone who is, don’t worry, you’re not alone…it’s very common! We’re all a work in progress and unless commitment-phobes develop insight into their behaviour, the pattern is destined to continue…so I shall leave you with a few rosie tips with the help of Jo Lamble:

  • Discuss the issue with someone – your partner or a friend – and get the support you need
  • Be aware of the pattern (usually initial intensity followed by sabotage)
  • Figure out if ‘you’re just not that into them’ OR you’re crazy in love but just scared of committing
  • Understand the origin of the fear (your own past hurt or parent’s pain)
  • Avoid long engagements (commitment-phobia decreases after the wedding!)
  • Listen to your heart, be present and follow your gut

What are your thoughts on the commitment debate? Are you in a relationship but don’t want to get married? If so, why? Do you think your upbringing has anything to do with it? What does commitment mean to you?

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