Can You Change a Commitmentphobe?

 By Nina Atwood

The answer is, of course, no. The only person who has the power to change is the person who needs the change. You have absolutely no power to remove the commitmentphobe’s fear of marriage, no matter how loving you are, no matter how much you offer emotional safety. Here’s what you need to know so that you don’t get caught in the trap of trying to change this dynamic within another person.

The reason it’s called commitment phobia is because it is just that – a phobia, defined as an irrational, persistent fear of certain situations, objects, etc. It’s irrational, meaning that you can’t just talk the phobic person out of the fear. In the grip of a phobia, the person feels an escalation of fear that is experienced on the level of the fear of death. Once the body is in a fear state, the brain is no longer capable of processing events rationally. Thus, when you talk to the commitmentphobe about marriage, he may feel like you’re trying to kill him.

The only way to overcome a phobia is for the person with the phobia to seek treatment. The treatment of choice for a phobia is systematic desensitization, in which the person is gradually exposed more and more to the feared object or situation. So, ironically, the way for a commitmentphobe to overcome her fear is to move gradually closer to a commitment in a relationship. But that can only be by her choice, not because her lover pushed her in that direction. She would need professional support each step along the way.

Here’s another hard reality: commitmentphobes very rarely seek treatment for this condition, although their lovers often try to cajole them into therapy. So, why don’t commitmentphobes typically seek treatment? Think about it. Therapy itself is a commitment – you have to want to recover from something, and you have to want it bad enough to – that’s right – to commit to the process.

Entry Filed under: Relationships


  • 1. shanice  |  October 28th, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I have been datng a person off and on for six years who is in love with me but has a serious case of commitment phobia. Stemming from being abandoned by his mom as a child. I love him dearly but I cant wait for him to overcome this for my whole life what do I do? I am being hurt!

  • 2. samantha  |  November 3rd, 2007 at 3:52 am

    Girl, i know whatcha mean! my boyfriend and I have been on and off again for 7 yrs! Now, I’m 25 and all my friends are getting married and are having kids, while I’m here waiting for him to grow out of it. I’m not ready to get married either, but I would like to be able to know that in the future like 3 or 4 yrs, he’ll be ready.The truth is, you can’t change him unfortunately, they need some kind of counseling of a sort. I’ve tried to convince mine we could go together, but he’s scared and thinks it’s a waste of time. I am hurting soo bad cause I want some kind of stability in our relationship but just doesn;t seem like it will happen anytime soon. Men! Urrrrgh! We might have to just move on girl! We aren’t getting any younger!

  • 3. Shanice  |  November 6th, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    I Recently told my six yr commitment phobic friend that I was done with the relationship and I could’nt do it anymore his comment was “if you don’t have any patience than I cant stop you!” That really hurt. I was expecting him to beg me not to go! Then after 2 days of not calling him he started ringing my cell all day! How do I stop this merry go round. Its been six yrs now he keeps trying to convince me I should be alright with how things are cause he is. There is no label on things but If I deal with someone else he”ll act like I cheated on him but leave it to him “were just friends” HELP ME

  • 4. Tink  |  November 27th, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    seriously get out. do you want a lifetime of not having your needs met b these grown up baby boys. lots of stuff has happened to me in my life. i’m not perfect, but i do not make people feel when they are in a relationship with me like it’s a constant psychologcal warfare. seriously you, your self-esteem, your hobbies are much more important than spendng all this energy dealing with someone elses problems. that truly are just that, someone elses. Don’t you have things of your own you would like to work on?

  • 5. clara  |  January 2nd, 2008 at 6:38 am

    I am 17 and a senior in highschool and I am a commiment phob,
    And at times I, myself really do hate it!
    But its just something that I can’t get rid of so easily, its mean to the ones we really love & love us, I kno that.
    but its not something we mean to do intentionally, I admit it IS a problem..I DO have a “problem”. :/
    But its most likely begun way bak when one of us gave too much feeling & work to a certain person or thing and at the end got nothingg and most likely ended up loosin more than wat we started with…including time.
    I had a boyfriend for 2 1/2 yrs, that put me through hell-and to top it all off most of the time he wasn’t even, he would leave w.his dad 2 Ny for monthss..
    To make the story short, it was bad-cruel, everything…and believe it or not, many of my friends saw how I use 2 go all out for him, most even said if they could they’d label me “girlfriend of the year!”
    Once I found a way, I finally really ended that relaitionship that always tormented me, but to do so, I had to really distant my self from him, not b so attached at all.
    At first it was weird… but w.time I became used to it, and realised that there was some “me time” for once.. When I realised it it shocked me, the feeling was/is so awesome sometimes I don’t feel like giving it up at all.. But its gotten so far sometimes I’m not sure if I’d b willing to give it up at all. >_

  • 6. clara  |  January 2nd, 2008 at 6:43 am

    sometimes I’m not sure if I’d b willing to give it up at all. & it does worry me.

    I’m sorry if it sounds stupid but its something serious.

    Think of it this way,
    Some people canT be without a boyfriend/gf, especially after a hard break up because they constantly want love and don’t like to be lonely, they even easily have sex w.people to feel more loved and get closer…
    … Commitment Phobs, are the complete opposite of that! But its still just as much of a problem.. Only reason why its not as much known about is because its harder to point out and its not easy for the person to admite it! I, myself as an example am still a virgin (and i am not unattractive) I’mm just waiting forr… the right one?! I don’t even know! Its fustraiting!
    Because ill admite, sometimes I don’t believe its much of a thing I’m doing that’s “by choice” but more because of my phobia, I don’t want to pick just any1 because I hear that u get much more emotionally attached to ur partner, and I’m worried with that.. Lol :/ bad, I know!

    But even w.relaitionships, I can’t…
    Its not because I don’t want to, I’ve tried.
    But I get so confused, and NERVOUS believe it or not.. I actually start studdering and don’t know wat to say, my most recent & adored ex since the break up forbids me to say “I don’t know” anymore because of how much I said(studderd) it when I was breaking with him.
    I’m not saying for you all to run bak to ur commitment phob partners, but if they’re really willing to change.. Eh.. Maybe? Its not they’re fault so much,trust me.. If they really want to stop it, 1st thing they have to do is admit it, & counceling I suppose would b a nice start..
    if they still try and contact u after breaking up or something, its not because they don’t care & want to play w.ur feelings.. Its because they’re confused because they have gotten feelings for you,they just don’t kno how to possibly mentally get close to you feeling comptable with it..
    Trust me ladyss… u kno how we sometimes have a 1000 thoughts at once in our heads,
    during the time of them wanting to call u and calling.. They’re going just as crazy

    If ur partners really willing, then set it a “maybe” … *don’t give urself too easily to a commitment phob, that’s another good advice I’m willing to give, were use to a little work for something..we want that passion in working for something we love and can truly treasure

    Its weird, but.. If they’re realy willing, seek help or something? If not… :/ we gotta face consequences our actions give us n know “we can’t have our cake n eat it too.”

  • 7. StrungAlong  |  January 22nd, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 4 and a half years, we;ve lived together for two of those. Since the day I met him he’s said that the only way he’s ever getting married is if a woman asks him, I though he was just joking. Well, 4.5 years later I can’t say the word marriage, he just freaks out and refuses to talk about it at all. He wants to buy a house and stop renting but I’ve made it clear to him that I will not move into a house with him until I see a ring. Well, the conversations about houses have stopped and now when I bring it up he says I need to change in order for him to want to marry me. Basically he wants me to prove that I can be a good wife before I am one.
    I know that I don’t cook a lot and I don’t do his laundry or clean up after him all the time but the way I see it, that’s not my responsibility as his girlfriend….
    I’m sick of waiting for the day when I can bring up marriage with him without being yelled at. That’s right, he literally yells at me when I want to talk about it. So why am I still with him? Good question … and I know the answer I’m just in complete denial and haven’t been able to make myself packup and leave yet.

  • 8. Jenna  |  March 9th, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    I’m about to turn 33 and have been with my boyfriend for 4 yrs. He has been promising to get engaged for 2yrs now and nothing. I have 1 final deadline coming up in a month for him to follow through. He is now starting to drop hints that his business is bad and there is too much debt. PLEASE HELP -need advice!!!

    Herefuses to move in with me and I feel like a fool-everyone is telling me I deserve better and nobody thinks he will keep his promise. I am heartbroken and love him deeply. We have known eachother for 12 yrs and he pursued me-to think of all the great guys I passed up to be with him and now I am sinking!

  • 9. Liz  |  March 11th, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Jenna, I know exactly how you feel. I just turned 31 a few weeks ago, and my boyfriend and I were supposed to get engaged next week over a great Easter vacation. Last week, though, he broke things off, saying he was just too scared to do it. Then, the next day, he called asking me take him back.

    It is definately hard, but you need to stand your ground. I, too, had a deadline, and I’m glad I did. We spent nearly six years together, and I am just relieved to know that I still have time to date, find someone great and build a life with him.

    I told my ex that he needed to take the next six months to get his head straight and figure out what he wants. Maybe we’ll get back together; maybe we won’t. But I am trying to be strong enough to fight for what I want. I advise you to do the same.


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