Many adults on the autism spectrum never get to have the experience of a satisfying, loving relationship because they fear commitment. If they do have a committed relationship, they are constantly fearful and worried about breaking up, fighting and other conflicts that can enter a relationship – so they manage to mess it up.
Your ability to open up and feel comfortable with commitment is affected by a host of factors, which include the following:
- Society shapes the extent to which you might feel comfortable opening up (e.g., many male heroes in movies, television and novels are usually portrayed as emotionally distant and independent).
- Previous romantic relationships can also shape your behavior and expectations for future relationships (e.g., a person who was in a very intense relationship with someone who was emotionally abusive could develop a distorted perception about what to expect in a relationship).
- How you were treated as a youngster has profound effects on how comfortable and secure you feel getting close to others (e.g., kids who were raised by warm and accepting parents tend to feel much more comfortable getting intimate and close to their romantic partners later in life).
- How your mom and dad interacted and treated one another serves as a model of how you're likely to communicate with - and behave toward - your romantic partner. Individuals who grew up with moms and dads who were emotionally distant or argumentative tend to express their emotions and develop communication styles that are similar to the styles they observed as children.
What is your reason for not wanting to commit? For example:
- Can't trust the opposite sex
- Fear of being rejected
- Fear of not finding your "soul mate" – a person who is nearly perfect
- Fear of sacrifice (e.g., relinquishing your identity and independence)
- Fear of trusting people in general
- Fear related to relationship performance (e.g., pleasing the other person, meeting his/her expectations, not letting him/her down, etc.)
- Fear that the consequences of a future “relationship breakdown” will be all the worse the more time you invest in that relationship
- Loss of space
- No more freedom
- Not ready for it
- Only one sex partner – forever
- Prefer to be alone
- Have a history of painful breakups
- Have an “inferiority complex”
- Been burned before
- Experienced feeling "trapped" in a relationship before
- Witnessed the rocky relationships of parents and have the blueprint that “no relationship ever works out”
Research on romantic relationships suggests that there are at least four different types of people with commitment phobia:
- People who find partners who are good matches, but then pick them apart (e.g., this person is not attractive enough, too tall, likes country music, etc.). No matter what the potential partner’s strengths are, people like this are able to dissect them to the point that they are no longer desirable.
- People who engage in relationships with partners whom they are very incompatible with. These types of relationships always fail and serve to confirm the individual's expectations that commitment is unattainable. These people select romantic partners who will reinforce their fear of becoming too close to them.
- People who go back and forth with the same partner. One week they're together …the next week they're apart …the next week they’re together …the next they're apart, and on it goes. This can go on for a very long time and allows people to carry on in a relationship without feeling committed. It's their way of avoiding commitment.
- People who are too idealistic. They're always in search of Mr. or Ms. Right. Unfortunately, "right" is equated with "perfect." These people have super high standards for their partners. Their potential partner has to be attractive, intelligent, physically fit, have a good sense of humor, be financially stable, have loving parents, a nice car, and so on. If the potential partner fails to meet even one of these criteria – he or she is dropped.
Luckily, there are ways you can overcome your commitment phobia, letting you enjoy a relationship and experience love with that special someone. Here’s how:
1. Why are you afraid to commit? (e.g., “Because I’m afraid of being rejected!”). Write down these questions and answers. It's important to know what the issue is before you can find an answer. Read the list to yourself. Do these answers make sense? Expand on them into the smallest detail you can go into. Take each question from many angles. Also, you may want to spread this process out over the course of a couple days so you don't make rash decisions in the heat of a moment.
2. Sometimes we like to “control” everything, but “control” is often out of your hands in a relationship. This can be very fearful for some adults on the spectrum, and in turn makes them fear commitment. You have to learn to trust that things will go the way they are supposed to. You may not be able to control everything, but there’s no need to do this. Give up the idea that you must be in control of everything at all times. Life doesn't work like that -- never has -- never will. Period.
3. Indecision becomes a habit over time. Whenever we make a “choice” about anything, we are committing to it (at least for the time being). If commitment to any particular “choice” has been a problem for you, then start practicing being more resolute in a few small ways. Sometimes the more time we spend reviewing the pros and cons, the more perplexed we get. Research has found that “over-thinking” a decision can lead to poorer choices. So get used to just deciding what to do, where to eat, and how to spend your money, and you'll find decisiveness becomes a habit, too.
4. Learn from your friends’ experiences in relationships (e.g., how they have been intimate and loving with each other, how they have stuck together even when problems occur, etc.). Look at your parents and grandparents who have been together for so long and still keep the bond they promised. By knowing about other’s success stories, you will realize that it's a beautiful experience to be committed – and there's no reason to be fearful.
5. Learn how to make small commitments in general. What are the non-romantic choices in your life that paralyze you? Deciding what to eat? Deciding what to wear? Making firm appointments? What type of computer to purchase? When to take a vacation? Which car to buy? Which interests to pursue? Which movie to see? Which organizations to join? Start with the commitments that you perceive to be less intimidating and begin to take small steps in overcoming your indecisiveness. As your successes accumulate over time, challenge yourself to take on slightly more ambitious commitments. Don’t punish yourself with unnecessary pressure, just keep building slowly.
6. Seek support from others when you want to commit, but are afraid to do so. Having someone to help you through your reservations and concerns when you enter a relationship can really do wonders.
7. Consider discussing your fear of commitment with a therapist who can really understand your situation. Talk about anything and everything about your fear, your reasons, and the causes. You might have a specific fear that comes in mind when you think of committing yourself in a relationship. What is the main reason for this fear? Did someone you know go through something that made you feel this way? Discovering what triggers your commitment phobia can help you tremendously in overcoming it. Consulting a therapist is the quickest and most effective way of working out these problems. However, be sure to be proactive, and be willing to cooperate with things the therapist asks you to do.
8. Face your fears head-on. Inform your potential partner of your commitment phobia, but let him or her know you are willing to give it a shot. Who knows, maybe this person can help you overcome it as well!
9. Be patient with yourself as embark on the journey toward developing self-assurance in relationships.
10. Use the "Law of Attraction": Visualize yourself being confident, assertive, calm, cool, and collected in all your relationships – romantic or otherwise. Start with an easy relationship first (e.g., your next door neighbor), then graduate to a “love interest.”
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