Have you ever contemplated the phrase “long-term relationship” and shivered a little? If so, you’re not alone. From fears about repeating past romantic mistakes to concerns about boredom with a partner, some of us just aren’t so sure about commitment. If the idea of anniversaries counted in years instead of months scares you a bit, read on for expert advice on how to deal.
Fear #1: Unforeseen incompatibilities that will lead to the relationship’s demise
“Among the irrational fears that many people have about long-term relationships is a fear of ‘incompatibility,’” explain Greg Kuhlman, Ph.D., and Patty Kuhlman, LCSW, the originators of Marriage Success Training™ premarital education. “Many people might be attracted to a particular prospective partner, but fear that he or she is not ‘compatible’ enough. Money, sex, in-laws, raising kids and chores are the most common area of difference and over-concern in relationships.” After all, two adults are never going to agree on absolutely everything…and the idea of compromise can indeed be scary. “To be happy, couples should stop worrying so much about their compatibility and focus more on learning how to manage their differences successfully,” advise the Kuhlmans. In other words, let go of your fear and look for solutions when conflict arises.
“The ladies I coach have high standards, and they fear that a long-term relationship could result in them being unequally yoked and even trapped with someone who doesn’t live up to their expectations,” says Amy Bonaccorso, dating expert, life coach, and author of How to Get to ‘I Do’: A Dating Guide for Catholic Women. To get past this fear, Bonaccorso advises that her clients focus on the good in others instead of thinking only about the potential negatives.
“There are so many things that can go wrong in a relationship that we can become paralyzed by these fears — but only if we let them,” says Jennifer Musselman, M.A., a psychotherapist practicing in Los Angeles. “But if we’ve dated enough to know what qualities we value in a partner, have dated someone long enough to experience a few difficult times with this person, develop trust in this person, like who we are when we’re with this person, and still find ourselves in ‘like’ and in love with this person, then we have done everything in our power to stack the odds in our favor that this relationship won’t fail over time.”
Fear #2: Feeling trapped after getting into a long-term relationship
“I have noticed an underlying theme pertaining to fear of long-term relationships: fear of the unknown,” says Scott Gordon, PLC, EPLC, MA, a certified life coach who runs Capital Coaching Group in Washington, D.C. “The men and women who fear long-term commitments are often highly spontaneous and extremely social people. They are typically afraid of losing their identity, their social standing — and frankly, losing their youth.” Our popular culture definitely associates youth with a thriving and varied social life — and singlehood. Those contemplating a long-term relationship might fear that it’s an indicator of entering true adulthood (or even middle age). Still, letting a television writer’s idea about youth determine your relationship status seems rather irrational, too, doesn’t it? “If the fearful are going to drop anchor for a while, they need to re-program how they look at commitment,” asserts Gordon. “They need to stop seeing it as the end of anything, and instead view it as the beginning of everything.”
Fear #3: Being rejected after you’ve been emotionally vulnerable with your partner
Embarking on a long-term relationship can mean opening yourself up to true vulnerability from an emotional standpoint. After all, you can only hide your true self for so long before your partner sees who you really are. For some, this is a terrifying prospect. New York City social coach Nick Sparks sums it up as “the fear that you’re not good enough — that if the other person whom you hold in such high regard finds out about some faults that you (consciously or subconsciously) are too afraid to share, then this person will no longer want to be [in a relationship with] with you.” If this fear sounds familiar, ask yourself: Am I sabotaging my relationships before they even have a chance?
Fear #4: Falling into a boring routine that kills the relationship’s “spark”
“I think that there are a lot of fears that people have — especially men — regarding long-term relationships,” says author Darren Michaels. “I personally have not had a girlfriend in 12 years, but have instead been a serial dater, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of casual relationships along the way. However, I have recently entered into a serious relationship with someone, and so far, it’s fantastic. I know one of my fears during all this time has been getting ‘stuck’ with just one person. I also fear things becoming routine and dull between us, the sex fading away, and missing out on being with new people on a regular basis.” This is yet another fear fed to us by pop culture and the media. However, adds Michaels, this might just be the kind of fear that dissolves on its own: “All of these things go away when you truly meet the right person for you.”
Furthermore, this is one irrational fear that you really can do something about. Each partner can do his or her part to mix things up and keep the relationship interesting — both in and out of the bedroom. “You always hear stories about married couples not having sex or becoming bored with each other in the bedroom,” says Yue Xu, a dating coach with Singlefied.com. “This fear is common, but it’s also what I call a ‘lazy’ fear. Of course, if you stop trying in any relationship, you stop getting what you need in return. Marriage or a long-term relationship doesn’t mean that the work ends. You still have to be proactive and put in the effort. The advantage is that you can try crazier, funkier things in the bedroom without fear of coming off as a freak. But if you’re just lying in bed reading 50 Shades of Grey thinking your man/woman is going to rock your world, you should think again. Passion doesn’t die — effort does.”