Commitment Phobic or Just Confused?

Commitment Phobic or Just Confused by the Words “I Do”?

I’m going out on a limb here by stating that the deep down cause of commitment phobia is the historic baggage associated with marriage as an impersonal institution of marriage and NOT lack of love. It’s about fear of loss of self and personal freedom. Of getting swallowed up by a scary monster over which you have no control (and I’m not talking about your partner). Whether you’re thinking of tying the knot or already married or in a committed relationship, you don’t have to be ruled by the marriage monster.

OK then, let’s tackle the issue by learning more about this monster.

First, understand and know that you are free to discard outdated and stereotypical views of marriage.

Second, acknowledge that many of your notions were imposed from the outside before you even thought about the meaning of marriage. The monster is a conglomeration of your childhood experience of your parents that got passed down by their parents, grandparents and the whole ancestral line all the way back to the cave-person. Glob on ideas from Hollywood movies; books and the media; religious and cultural norms and the monster was created.

Third, you are free to toss all the rules, expectations and beliefs that don’t fit who you are and what you want.

Fourth, start from scratch. You can design the marriage you want. Sit down with your beloved and create a vision. Explore the nature of commitment. Here’s help to get started.

What is commitment? What do you mean when you say that you are in a committed relationship? What did you actually commit to? When asked most people say things like: I’m committed to my partner. I’m committed to loving my partner. We are committed to having a spiritual bond.

When I ask clients to clarify what they mean, they often get tongue-tied or mumble words that sound like marriage vows—love, honor, sickness, health. It’s rare for couples to discuss and agree upon shared principles of commitment. Many would be surprised to learn of their partner’s definition of commitment. For some, the extent of commitment starts and ends with a promise of monogamy. As long as they aren’t having sex with anyone but their partner, they feel they’ve satisfied their promise. Never mind that they stonewall their partner, leave their dirty socks on the floor, and show no respect.

Goals and Aspirations
People commonly adopt overarching goals and aspirations for themselves in relationships. This is a good start. Here are some commitment gems, culled from forty years of therapy practice, for you to consider:
• Personal growth of a partner
• Remain emotionally engaged with one another
• Same level of emotional commitment to the relationship
• Health and well-being of your partner
• Love, care and support your partner
• Work things through and find solutions to problems
• Encourage partner to pursue his or her passions
• Live by the agreements partners create
• Consider partner when making important decisions
• Help partner realize dreams

Defining Commitment in Real-Life Terms

Each couple needs to get serious and define together what they mean by commitment. This process helps you get clear about what you’re promising one another. It also brings to the surface your dreams and expectations for the relationship. Abstract principles, like those in the last section, can serve as the umbrella for further specifics. Start by clearly defining what your unique commitment looks like. For each principle, talk about feelings, actions, reactions, expectations, and consequences.

These kinds of talks move you from lofty abstractions and woo-woo vagueness to the real-life stuff where true love lives. The clarity that emerges will reduce the fear and anxiety that is a byproduct of confusion and uncertainty and deepen your connection with your partner. The monster will recede into the background and reappear only if you revert to old habits or stop being intentional about YOUR commitment.

Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats


  1. Dr. Boorstein on October 30, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I have noticed over the years that most, if not all, of the issues in relationship problems can ultimately be traced back to inner fear. In my new book, “Who’s Talking Now, the Owl or the Crocodile,” I explore how unconscious forces can be at the root of our relationship problems. Using the Owl and Crocodile characters as metaphors for our mature, loving brain and our survival, primitive reptilian brain, respectively, the book helps couples recognize and eliminate antagonistic behavior in order to create and maintain a loving and helpful atmosphere for effective communication and growth.

    • admin on October 30, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Working toward healthier, more loving relationships contributes to a better world.