If the words "committed relationship" make your breath accelerate and your skin crawl, you are far from alone. The idea of feeling trapped in a relationship is a pretty common fear. Even when you start seeing someone great who brings out the best in you, that fear can be a strong deterrent to defining your relationship.
Dr. Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Taking Sexy Back, says these concerns stem from a deeper fear of commitment, and there could be a few underlying reasons why commitment makes you nervous. For one, the idea of breaking up with someone one day may feel like too much to handle.
"One of the big external factors that can keep us stuck is the hassle, effort, and expense of de-coupling," Solomon tells Elite Daily. Think: the tedious process of updating loved ones, returning your ex's stuff, and fielding questions about why you've deleted them from Instagram.
"Even if we are partnered, we might stay in an unhealthy relationship because we equate a breakup with a failure," Solomon adds. The thought of a "failed" relationship or post-breakup judgment from others may scare you so much, you don't want to enter a committed relationship, period.
Another potential reason commitment freaks you out is fear of what you'll miss out on by being in a relationship. "Commitment and grief inevitably go hand-in-hand — a truth that very much confronts our romanticized notion that love should be easy, breezy, [and] carefree," Solomon says. "When we choose to commit to this partner, we must simultaneously let go of all the lives we will not live."
For example, Solomon says, if your potential partner is a city slicker, you might have to release your fantasy of small-town living. "If we partner with someone who is an only child, we likely surrender the fantasy of huge Thanksgiving dinners. If we partner with someone and practice sexual monogamy, we surrender first kisses," she adds. Being boo'd up with someone means you can't always just think about yourself when making decisions — you have to consider your significant other, too.
"There is a beauty in this, as well as a loss," she says. "If we cannot tolerate these competing truths, we risk feeling 'trapped.'" Of course, relationships aren't all loss. As Solomon points out, you gain someone who can celebrate life with you, provide comfort, help you develop a fulfilling sex life, and bring out the best in you. But if you're nervous about losing your freedom, or "failing" at a relationship, these worries can outweigh all the pros.
If you're eager to move past your fear of commitment, Solomon suggests focusing on the positive parts of being in a relationship — like having someone who can be in your corner and with whom you can develop intimacy — instead of the things that scare you. "Invite your attention to all of what you are gaining by committing to this person. You are multiplying life by the power of two," Solomon says.
If you just started seeing someone, you don't necessarily have to bring up your fears right away, says dating expert Meredith Golden. In her experience, fear of commitment typically dissipates when someone meets a partner who feels right. It's possible your fear is a sign you haven't quite met the right person for you. "Regardless of what the [nervous] feeling is, if two people like one another, they will still go through the motions of dating to see how things develop," Golden tells Elite Daily. "The right relationship doesn’t feel smothering or trapping. The relationship should feel fun and positive."
Both experts say therapy, individually or with your partner, is worth a shot if your fear starts negatively affecting your relationship. If therapy is a turn-off, or financially unrealistic, have a frank conversation with your SO, one-on-one. "I don’t think you need to say, 'I feel trapped,'" Solomon says. "But I do think you need to let your partner know that you're feeling frustrated, misunderstood, or worried about the state of the relationship."
With any kind of romantic commitment comes compromise and an adjustment period as you figure out your relationship. While working through your issues may be uncomfortable in the beginning, trust that it'll be worth it in the end.
Dr. Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, professor at Northwestern University, and author of Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want.
Meredith Golden, dating coach and dating app expert.