Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
My partner and I have now been in an uninterrupted committed relationship for almost two years. In that time, our relationship has known its ups and downs, like most relationships do, but ours are often related to the specific dynamic of our attachment styles: fear of commitment and fear of abandonment.
I’ve written about this topic on multiple occasions (see here, here, here, here and here) but today I wanted to go a little deeper into what it’s like to experience these bouts of fear while in a relationship.
The thing about attachment styles is that they seem very much interwoven with our personalities. I find it hard to draw a precise line between where my personality ends and my fear of attachment or commitment starts. Am I someone who really enjoys being alone or do I mostly get scared around other people? Am I just sensitive to touch or is it scary because it means someone’s getting too close?
Even though my experiences can be placed on a continuum, there are also plenty of moments at both ends of the spectrum that make it seem as if I’m just two different people altogether. Let me give you an illustration of the way these two people act, feel and think in my life. I will name them Person A and Person B because labelling one as a commitment-phobe doesn’t really do justice to the fact that this person also embodies many qualities and has a fully developed personality (not completely unlike person A, of course). The person who has fear of commitment isn’t defined by that fear: she also still has aspirations, plans, joy, etc.
Person A really enjoys doing things together with her partner. She likes to cuddle up on the sofa with him to watch a movie together and enjoys long talks over dinner. She feels calm and relaxed most of the time when she’s around her partner, and will turn to him for support and comfort. She realizes that she’s very lucky to have found someone who is such a great match for her, who loves her for who she is and who she can rely on. She enjoys expressing her love by giving him little presents, cooking a meal for him, kissing him and exploring the world together. She embraces who he is, including all his little quirks, with humour and kindness. She can’t wait to see which future they will build together.
Person B really enjoys her own space. She can enjoy the company of others but she doesn’t miss them when they’re not around. When it comes to her partner, she can tolerate him being around as long as he takes care of himself and doesn’t interfere too much. She just wants to have fun together, no drama, please. She can get annoyed easily when things don’t go her way. She thinks that relationships mostly serve a practical purpose of combining efforts to take care of material things, but when her partner starts expecting some kind of emotional connection from her, she often sees this as a hassle and a weakness. She doesn’t really think about the future, and if she does, it is clear to her that the future is completely uncertain. That’s been her experience up until this moment.
When her partner tells her what kind of relationship he’s looking for (the kind that involves vulnerability and intimacy) she is convinced that she is unable to have this kind of relationship. She is just too damaged. At the same time, whenever she’s not in a relationship, she dreams of this sort of intimacy and vulnerability with someone who can give her what she needs but who doesn’t expect too much in return. She doesn’t want to have to live up to anyone’s expectations because there’s no way she can meet them. It’s really just much easier to stay single and not disappoint anyone.
As you can imagine, these two people don’t really get along. As a matter of fact, they both think the other person is completely delusional and believe that they are the only ones who see the situation clearly. In this way, being in an episode of fear of attachment can be similar to feeling depressed, in which you find that the convictions and beliefs you hold are not all wrong, but mostly incredibly unhelpful. The fact that person B thinks that the future is uncertain is true, sure, but the fact that she uses it to justify never committing to anything is unhelpful, to say the least.
Mostly it is incredibly unnerving when person B arrives unannounced, as she usually does, and makes it really difficult for both me and my partner. I can plan a trip as person A, really looking forward to it and expecting to have an amazing time full of romance and connection, but halfway through person B shows up deciding that there’s been more than enough intimacy already thank you very much. The only way to get person B to leave is by helping her feel safe, and usually, that involves her spending stress-free time alone, which gets in the way of the pre-planned romance (though we’ve learned by now to just take things as they come and not plan too much).
By now, we’ve met person B enough times to kind of get an idea of when she’ll pop up. My partner is better at this than I am, and can give very logical reasons for my fear to arise (Person B usually doesn’t see herself as fearful). Somehow, person A is usually sure that person B won’t be coming around this time. It is also easier for me to identify who I’m dealing with at which time, and to remember that the other person exists and has valid needs and desires.
When I look at the situation as I’ve described it (writing it down here definitely gives me some perspective), it seems that getting person A and person B to talk and find some common ground could really help them both feel safer. Person B is often really afraid that person A is going to make promises that person B will then be forced to keep, whereas person A gets frustrated with person B because it seems that the relationship is constantly being sabotaged. Yet deep down, really really deep down, they’re both me, and they both want what’s best for me.
Luckily, I actually know of a way to get both of them to talk, it’s called voice dialogue. Now I’ll just have to check whether my therapist is familiar with it, so she can facilitate. Fingers crossed.