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You had an amazing connection, the passion was unbelievable, you had never had a relationship feel so good—then one day something unexpectedly changed, he or she was detached, unloving, and it was never again the same.

Perhaps it ended abruptly (if you were lucky) or maybe it dragged on for a couple years while you desperately tried to get back to where you started from.

That’s a scenario I’m very familiar with. As a relationship coach a large percentage of my clients come to me to learn how to get their boyfriend or girlfriend back after a sudden, devastating breakup. It’s inconceivable to most of them how distant and cold their once incredibly loving partner is now being. It’s always very clear to me when a commitmentphobe has broken someone’s heart. Helping these clients understand is the only way to help them let go.

What makes commitmentphobia so hard to recognize and even comprehend at first is that most people, both men and women, who say they’re looking for commitment or marriage, are actually doing just that. Most of them want to be in a loving relationship with all of their heart, and many even want to get married and create a family. Most people don’t experience any commitment issues until something triggers them.

What causes lovers to get hurt is that the better the relationship, the more anxiety a commitmentphobe feels. This is the result of their conscious desire battling with their subconscious fear. Since they consciously know they want a good relationship, they usually assume their partner is wrong for them when they find they are just not happy in the relationship.

In reality, their unhappiness is brought about because their partner is such a good choice for them that it triggers their anxiety. As they start to recognize a true commitment might actually come to fruition, they become increasingly fearful and they withdraw. Sometimes by just getting space and creating distance in the relationship, but many times they suddenly bail out completely. Then the abandoned partner is devastated and usually has a very difficult time letting go.

As your partner starts to feel anxiety and withdraw, if you become afraid he doesn’t love you as much as you love him, you’ll start to act out of insecurity rather than love. You may try to manipulate him into loving you more by using guilt or blame, or by playing the victim. If you’re afraid he’s going to leave, you may become needy and smothering—hanging on for dear life—or you may begin competing with him to prove your worth.

You may start to sabotage the relationship, creating arguments over nothing or acting out. You may become jealous of others that you perceive your partner finds more attractive—which only makes you less appealing. All of these actions, conscious or not, drain your energy because they put your happiness in the hands of someone else. When you succumb to your fears by taking insecure action, the result is usually what you fear most: you push him away and he leaves you.

Alternately, when you act empowered by choosing to face your fears and to accept responsibility for them, you can gain wisdom to make your relationships better.

Here are some ways to avoid future heart break:

  1. Slow the pace of a new relationship.
  2. Don’t talk about any kind of commitment for a minimum of one year.
  3. Guard your feelings if he has never had his heart broken, had a relationship last at least a year, or if he says all his past partners were inappropriate in one way or another.
  4. Don’t act insecure.  His anxiety will cause him to start finding fault with you.
  5. Give him healthy space.

Most relationships only last three to six months, and in my experience many of those were high intensity that crashed and burned.  True love takes time to develop, and a person’s issues take a few months to come to the surface.

Everyone has fear on some level; we develop it in our childhood. Be it fears of abandonment, intimacy, commitment, change, rejection, failure, or even fear of success. Unfortunately, most people have no interest in changing their issues until life as they know it becomes unbearable—typically by having their heart broken—which can actually become the best thing that ever happened to you.

Donna Barnes

Donna is a life and relationship coach certified by New York University, and Founder of Donna Barnes Dating. She is the relationship expert for Good Morning America and Nightline, and author of Giving Up Junk-Food Relationships: Recipes for Healthy Choices.

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What Do You Think?

7 Comments | Join the discussion

  • Scott Sep 20, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Thank you for the article. This very thing just happened to me. It’s gut wrenching to believe (and have been told) that you have a solid relationship and then she goes poof. She did give me hints (telling me that she was inclined to cut and run, duh!!!) but she also told me how much I meant to her (a lot!). Believe the negatives. Now it’s time to pick up my pieces and start over.

    Reply
  • Tony Feb 1, 2014 at 1:09 am

    It seems that relationship is almost a thing of the past, and everyone is turning to the internet and some the same sex. I’m just searching and reading to see why when a partner cheats they get hostal with you, but gives the person that they are cheating with all the information about the problems that are going on at home and they want tell the one that they so call love about problems on the home front. And they always gives the outsider better sex.

    Reply
  • Kat Dec 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I should let you also know that he could never say what it was that was bothering him… He just said he couldn’t figure out what he was feeling… And couldn’t figure out how to fix things… His solution ending up being…. Leaving .

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Heartbroken during the Holidays

    Reply
  • Kat Dec 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Donna…

    This seems to spell out what happened to me back in the fall almost perfectly… After a short trip away when he was busy with work, I came back to a guy who was the polar opposite to the guy that was telling me how much he’d miss me and told me he loved me everyday. When I came back…. He was cold, distant, and acting completely unlike himself… After a little prodding on my part to figure out what happened.. He said he didn’t feel the same way, and even though we tried to work things out for a few weeks, he eventually just bailed. We were together for almost six years, and had been seriously talking marriage in the next little while. I’m just in shock still that this happened… And am left picking up the pieces of what was a beautiful relationship… Does this sound textbook commitment phobe to you?

    Reply
  • Keating Jun 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

    The researchers note that the best predictors for developing an extramarital relationship was engaging in cybersex, which often followed on from sexting. For women, engaging in cybersex tripled their odds of straying online and doubled their odds of cheating offline, while for men, having cybersex quintupled the odds of developing an online extramarital relationship and slightly less than doubled the odds for cheating offline. Generally speaking, exchanging sexually explicit chat and photos with another person online was a major indicator that the person in question was about to or planned to cheat.

    h/t ars

    Reply
    • Jenna   Keating Apr 30, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      I discovered quite by accident that my now former partner had quite a cybersex relationship. He didn’t view it as cheating. He also became quite defensive when I brought up his obsession with porn. We had been together for 4.5 years. It appeared to me, his family, my family that we had a good relationship. But he seemed to always be looking for reasons for it not to be good between us. Things like I didn’t always rise the bathtub out after a bath even though I was the one washing it once a week. I didn’t give him enough space. (I took a night class and frequently did things on my own so he could have space.) He wanted the space so he could engage in his habit of cybersex. He also exchanged emails with an old girlfriend. He was open about it, but he didn’t set boundaries. He ended up moving on to her when he decided he didn’t want to be with me anymore.
      He broke his 4 daughters hearts. I had been a mother to them from the beginning of our relationship since their mother was mentally ill and then died suddenly. I gave his girls a home, stability, security and a lot of laughter. Since the break up, his youngest daughter is being bullied at school, his oldest dropped out of college and his daughter who is a senior in HS won’t graduate. I moved a 1,000 miles away to be with my family. I still have contact with his girls and some contact with him. It still hurts it has been a year now.
      It was good to read that statistic about the cybersex. The funny part is we had a great sex life.

      Reply
  • Donna Barnes

    Donna Barnes Jun 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Thanks Wendy, I hope it helps!

    Reply

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