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The table before you is set with fine china and the room is bathed in candle-light. Soft music serenades you as your dinner is served. You talk about your day and chatter about the plans for the weekend. As the evening is drawing to a close, your date catches your eye. She hesitates, then laughs, and says “I almost thought you were going to propose tonight”.
Your world stills. Everything comes to a halt as your breath catches in your throat. Your palms begin to sweat and your mouth becomes dry. You laugh it off on the outside as she masks her disappointment. You can’t bear to tell her that the thought of committing to marriage chills you to the bone. If this scenario describes your worst nightmare, you may be suffering from Gamophobia. Gamophobia (pronounced [gam-oh-fo-bee-ah]) is the irrational fear of marriage (or commitment).
While this scenario describes a man struggling with gamophobia, women are also susceptible, dealing with many issues that can contribute to a fear of marriage. Read on to find out what underlies this fear—and what to do about it. We all deserve to ditch our commitment woes and live happily-ever-after, right?
Statistics about Commitment
Ever wonder why so many people fear commitment? These stats can lend some insight:
- According to Pew Research, more people are waiting longer to get married with the average age being 29 for men and 27 for women.
- The divorce rate is higher among couples without a college degree, and those who get married younger are more likely to divorce.
- In recent years (2013-2016) the divorce rate has hovered around 3.2 divorces per 1,000 marriages. It’s actually down from what it was!
- This article supports that data as well—divorce rates dropped 18% from 2008-2016.
Why Am I Afraid of Marriage?
Divorce is only one of many reasons you could be afraid to get married. Honestly, the downturn in divorce is a huge step towards calm for some—but what other reasons could you be afraid? In this section, we will cover past negative experiences, fear of missing out, and feeling trapped. We also discuss both infertility and genetic issues.
Past Negative Experiences
I think we’ve all known someone with divorced parents, or who’ve been divorced themselves. Some of us have watched what seemed like the strongest marriages crumble. Others have been part of that experience firsthand. If you’ve experienced divorce, it’s hard to fathom why you’d bother getting married, right? If it’s going to be years of hard work it’s easy to adopt feelings of impending doom.
However, there are a lot of factors that come into play for couples who’ve divorced. Some had unresolved mental health diagnoses that ate away at their relationship. Others did not have the same goals and desires for their future. Sometimes people place unrealistic expectations on their spouses. Others suffered loss or tragedy that tore them apart. Many men and women have divorced due to domestic abuse. Or you witnessed the abuse as a child—or experienced it yourself. Here’s the thing:
You cannot look at someone else’s failed relationship and believe that it’s going to be you.
Obviously, there is a myriad of reasons relationships fail. Even if you yourself have been divorced, that doesn’t mean your future should be devoid of meaningful relationships. The heart of the matter is, you have the power to change who you are and how you carry out your relationships. Everyone changes and grows through the years, and you can make that change a positive one.
Fear of Missing Out
Coined ‘FOMO’ among Millennials, the “fear of missing out” is something we’ve all felt but rarely admitted. If I choose to marry this person, am I giving up the possibility of someone who is better for me in the future? If I choose to get married, will it hinder my ability to travel? Or to focus on my work and move up the proverbial ladder? Settling down with one person when you have a whole smorgasbord of men/women to choose from can be frightening.
So many of us are so uncertain of the future and what it holds that we are afraid to commit in the present. If there is something bigger, better, and grander in my future, why not wait? I think if we are being totally honest with ourselves, this fear comes into play in every part of our lives, not just relationships.
Playing off of a fear of missing out, you may look at the idea of marriage with disdain because it sentences you to a lifetime of feeling trapped. We’ve all heard the negative phrase associated with a spouse—”the old ball-and-chain.” Or you focus on the odds of the marriage failing and the cost associated with alimony or child support. Or you simply cannot imagine a life without the freedom to do as you choose.
Look, I’m not saying that everyone has to get married. If you fall into the category of simply never being interested in the notion of marriage, be honest with your significant other up-front. Or, don’t enter into a relationship at all. If you are happy living out your life as a single man or woman own it. Enjoy your life as you see fit. But don’t lead anyone on.
For some, your lack of ability to commit to someone can be related to something deeply personal. Many women struggle with infertility—10% of women in the United States to be exact. Perhaps you’ve been in a relationship only to find out your significant other has had a life-long desire to be a parent. Or you struggled to conceive and a relationship fell apart because of it. I just have to say this now:
Your self-worth is not measured by your ability to have a child.
This doesn’t just apply to women. Men deal with infertility issues as well and it can be a difficult subject to broach. Maybe you’re in the category where you’ve had a vasectomy or think you’re too old to be a parent, or just have zero interest in kids. If you’re afraid to talk to your boyfriend/girlfriend about these issues and beat around the bush they can sense that something is up.
Let’s be honest, infertility is a huge hurdle for some couples to overcome. Coupled with that is the decision to not have children for genetic reasons. There are numerous diseases (one example is Huntington’s Disease) that can be passed on to a child, and if you know you have one you may have decided you cannot have children. It can be terrifying to commit to someone else knowing that you can’t risk having your own offspring. You may be asking yourself how you broach that with a loved one.
Symptoms of Gamophobia
- Intense fear, dread, or panic at the thought of being committed to someone else.
- Lack of desire or interest in a committed relationship (marriage or otherwise).
- Inability to form strong bonds with a significant other; constantly pushing people away.
- Feeling smothered in a relationship by things considered normal by others (making future plans as a couple, committing to events together, etc.).
Recognizing Gamophobia in Others
- Does your boyfriend or girlfriend shy away from conversations about engagement or marriage?
- Does he/she trend towards keeping things casual?
- Do they avoid planning ahead—vacations or weekends away are out of the question?
- Does your significant other avoid meeting family or other important people in your life?
- Do you have a friend or family member who ends relationships before they “get serious”?
If any of these statements/questions ring true for you, it’s time to confront your fears related to commitment. Read on for some ideas, for yourself and the one you love.
How to Overcome your Fear of Commitment
I’ll be honest here, this is the one article I’ve written where there isn’t a cut-and-dried easy answer. This isn’t a “5 simple steps” article for a reason—for most people, their fear of commitment is a struggle with deep roots and no quick fix. But, based on my life experience and research I’ve done for my degree I have some thoughts to help you move forward.
Be honest with yourself and your significant other (if applicable). Admit that you struggle with an aversion to commitment. If you aren’t ready to open up to people close to you about the reasons, talk to a therapist. They are impartial and can help you navigate what you’re feeling and how to convey it to loved ones.
Take a Deep Look
If you care deeply about someone but are afraid if you marry them you’ll miss out on other paths your life could’ve taken, do this exercise: sit down with paper and pen (or with your laptop) and write out your goals and dreams for your future. Look at this sheet containing what you want to accomplish—is it compatible with marriage or commitment? Will this person enhance your life? Will they push you to reach your goals? In many instances, your fears can be assuaged by simply taking the time to realize this person lines up with your life goals.
Conversely, take an honest look at your relationship. Sometimes, your fear of commitment can be related to the person you’re with. If you sit down and truly think about your future and don’t see them in it, do not string them along. You may feel sick to your stomach about the relationship for a reason—in that case, it’s time to move on. Self-care is important too.
See a Medical Professional
If your gamophobia is related to infertility or genetic issues, seek out the help of a medical professional. There are many ways to treat infertility. Likewise, genetic concerns don’t have to rule your future—talk to your doctor about your options. If you cannot have your own children, there are thousands of children waiting to be adopted into good homes.
What to do if your Partner has Gamophobia
If you’re in a relationship and you recognize the signs of gamophobia in your loved one—don’t panic. Do not confront them. Instead, find a way to start a conversation with them in a gentle and non-threatening way:
“I sense that you tense up when I talk about the future, is there a reason why?”
“I know the idea of commitment makes you uncomfortable, would you like to talk about it?”
If your partner isn’t comfortable with opening up to you, ask if they’d be able to speak to someone else about it. Remind them you care for them and want the best for them. Let them know you desire to understand and want to be able to move forward in the relationship.
You also need to prepare yourself and know that not everyone is ready for a relationship or marriage. If the person you’re dating is open about that, accept it and know you may not be with them long-term. If that isn’t for you, it’s better to move on earlier in a relationship versus years down the road.
I work closely with the intake department at a counseling agency. Without going into details or compromising client confidentiality I can tell you this: Most people wait until it’s too late. Many couples don’t seek out counseling until they’re contemplating divorce or their marriage is all conflict. They see it as a last resort or a failure. Instead, choose to see therapy as a tool in your marriage/relationship. Therapists are trained to mediate conflict, to help guide you to talk through your issues. They facilitate honest and open conversation.
People carry a lifetime of experiences into their marriages, both the good and the bad. If past traumatic experiences are holding you back from committing to a meaningful relationship, seek out counseling. If you desire to marry your partner, but your fear outweighs that desire there are trained therapists who can help. DON’T enter a relationship if you aren’t ready—seek help first. Look in your area for a therapist who is experienced in this area. If your options are slim or you are more comfortable participating in therapy from your home, we recommend BetterHelp as an online and mobile resource. Address your fears today and protect your relationships—move towards a happier and healthier you.