Buzz. You pick up your phone to a new message. "Hey, can we talk when you're free?" Your chest gets tight. Your body goes cold. You realize you should have seen this coming. You've been dating this great person for a month or two, and now they want to DTR (aka Define The Relationship).
If that sounds like you, then you might have a fear of commitment. Or if you already have a sneaking suspicion you're dealing with commitment issues, then you've come to the right place. Psychosexual therapist and couple's counsellor Geoff Lamb explains how to tell if you're a commitment-phobe, and how to deal with the problem pronto.
You worry you won't have a life anymore.
While dating can be a real thrill, you become plagued with the following thought: What if things get serious and you're entirely absorbed by the relationship? If that idea sounds like a plot for a horror movie, then you might be dealing with commitment issues.
"You may experience [the] feeling that the relationship in some way takes you over," Lamb says. "That's a common pattern in relationships, and it's often—but not always—that [one person] in a relationship will want more connection and [the other] will want more space."
You don't want to lose your freedom.
This is similar to the above, but it's the feeling of being "trapped" in a relationship. If you feel like your freedom is at stake, it's only natural that you'd want to back away.
"Often we think about it as a commitment to the other person, almost like signing your soul away; certainly giving your power away. That's a big issue for a lot of people," Lamb explains. "They might think that being in a committed relationship means your partner has control over you."
You think your partner is demanding.
When you're in a relationship, there's a problem that comes up time and time again: You think your partner is demanding and asks too much of you. However, the problem may not be your partner's clinginess—it could be a deeper-rooted commitment issue.
You don't know who you are yet.
Do you know yourself? Do you have a good sense of who you are? Some people take longer to settle into their identity than others. And if you're still figuring things out, you may not be ready for a serious relationship.
"If we don't know who we are, we don't have a very sound basis for making a relationship which is committed," Lamb says.
You think the grass is always greener.
You're with your partner in a restaurant, when the attractive staff member starts taking your order. You try to pay attention to what they're saying, but all you can think about is what it would be like to hook up with them. Before you know it, you've imagined a whole scenario where you've left your partner and moved in with this beautiful stranger.
"If I'm still looking over my shoulder and thinking the grass is greener, then there's something that's not quite mature enough about me," says Lamb.
HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR FEAR OF COMMITMENT
Some people who experience a fear of commitment may genuinely want a long-term partner, but not know how to overcome their feelings. Here are some small steps you can take toward being more open to a committed relationship.
Find freedom within a relationship.
"Real freedom is to be able to be the person you want to be in a relationship. That's what people don't necessarily believe is possible," Lamb says. "The assumption is that if you do'’t do what your partner wants, they won't love [you]. Or if you allow them to be important, they will then have power over you." Those perceptions aren't necessarily true.
Instead of picturing a committed relationship as your partner having control over you, think of it this way instead: "A committed relationship is a commitment to yourself rather than to somebody else," Lamb says. "[It's] a commitment to what is going to enhance your life and make you feel fulfilled as a human being."
Be open and honest if you need space.
It's completely normal to need space in a relationship, but that doesn't mean you should run away. If you're afraid of commitment, you might be inclined to ghost when you need some distance—but that'll make your partner question what they've done wrong. Instead, be honest about what you want.
"Sometimes, that does necessitate professional help," Lamb says. "However, people can, at a simple level, say, 'Hey, how much time do we want to spend with each other?' or 'How do we want to manage the closeness in this relationship?'"
"They have to be clear," Lamb adds. "What I often say to the people I work with is that it’s fine to make your space, but you have to let your partner know when you're available."
Learn to be emotionally literate.
Speaking up and letting your partner know how you feel may not come naturally. If you find that you're a closed-off person who prefers to keep things to themselves, the very idea of sharing your feelings could give you the shivers. However, if you want to be in a committed relationship, you're going to need to move past that.
"Many people in relationships need to be more emotionally literate; to be able to say when things don't feel right," Lamb says.
Get some help from a professional.
Ready for a relationship but still have the underlying fear? You may be able to work through the steps alone, but if not, there's additional help and support out there. Speaking to a professional, such as a counselor or therapist, could be the way to go. An expert who is trained in relationship issues will have the knowledge to guide you through the steps and help you address any fears you have in the healthiest possible way.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.