Relationships, Part 3 | Fear of Commitment |

Relationships, Part 3 | Fear of Commitment

Danielle B. Klotzkin
Special to the Sun
Close-up of a man putting an engagement ring on to a woman's finger
Getty Images/Stockdisc Premium | Stockdisc Premium

Editorand#8217;s note: For the first installments in the relationship series, visit, search Danielle

Your chest tightens. You canand#8217;t breathe properly. Your face is burning hot and your feet feel cold and numb. You start to sweat and itch and shiver.

Are you simply not ready or suited for life-long monogamy? Is this not a healthy match for you (see Relationships, part 1)? Have you not yet explored the idea of commitment and figured out and#8216;whatand#8217;s in it for youand#8217; (see Relationship, part 2)? If so, perhaps you are not ready for a commitment.

But if you are unable to come up with reasons that explain the intensity of these feelings of fear and terror, dig a bit deeper. What is this fear really about?

Making a public and life-long commitment to a partner can be terrifying because it exposes our human vulnerabilities and puts us face to face with the limits to our and#8216;freedomand#8217; to control our lives. For example:

When we make and publicly proclaim a commitment, we lose our safe cocoon where we imagine that we can somehow protect ourselves from feeling like a failure, from feeling embarrassed by our mistakes, or from and#8220;messing up, again.and#8221;

When we decide on a life partnership and have to make joint decisions at every step of the way, without the possibility of exit if we are having a serious problem compromising on an issue, we can feel a colossal loss of our sense of control over directing our own lives.

Choosing this one person and this one path, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid accepting there are paths we have not taken and paths that we will never take.

When we vow till death do us part, we also face the fact of our own mortality.

With our life partner as our continual witness, seeing and reflecting back our vulnerabilities, it is increasingly hard to ignore the parts of our selves that we detest, or to pretend that we can somehow and#8220;protectand#8221; others from being upset or hurt or disappointed by our human limitations.

Within the bounds of commitment, as we experience the inevitable imperfection of love relationships and have no option to find another mate, we lose the hope we will ever get our needs met perfectly, or that we will ever completely fill our inner and#8220;need for moreand#8221; through the love of another person.

When we make a legal contract of marriage, we can no longer feel free from having to live under the constraints of the and#8220;rulesand#8221; and laws of our society.

Like a bitter dose of reality, a committed life relationship makes it a lot harder to fool our selves with fantasies of control and freedom and infallibility and total satisfaction. So, we rally against it, consciously or unconsciously avoiding or sabotaging committed relationships. (This is the flip side of giving commitment the magical power to be the ticket into the world of happily ever after, and then rallying against it when it fails to deliver us into fantasyland.)

But avoiding commitment, (or endlessly searching for the perfect mate), does not give us an opt-out from real life. No matter what we do, or donand#8217;t do, in terms commitment, living is a risky business. We periodically fail, make public mistakes, hurt people, feel dissatisfied and empty, get stuck, and let ourselves down. We are all mortal, we all age, we all live in a society where there are laws that feel unjust and we all lack the rewind/do over button. We all lack control over directing our lives and have only choices and#8212; choices that we must make amid limited options and without knowing in advance how those choices will play out.

Yes, signing on to a life relationship can feel like a life sentence. But guess what? We all have a life sentence, married or not. We can use our relationships as an arena where we spend our energy fighting against life, or we can use our relationships as a place where we challenge our selves to accept and own our participation in this imperfect world. We have a certain amount of time here and we have some important and meaningful choices about how we spend our time, and with whom we spend it.

Beyond that, itand#8217;s a whole lot of letting go and#8212; and liberating our selves to enjoy the ride.

and#8212; Danielle B. Klotzkin, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides psychotherapy for clients who are looking for a way to move forward through relationship issues, problems with alcohol, drugs, or managing money, eating and body issues, trauma, grief and loss, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Contact her at (530) 470-2233 or

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