Why Is There So Much Fear of Committment in this Generation?
In our private practice we seem to see a lot more people who are afraid to venture into the committment of marriage. Although it is often presented in our office as “commitment phobia” we think that in the current generation there are a lot of bonafide reasons why people (yes, men and women) are afraid to enter into a “until death do us part” contract. Here are some of the ways we understand men and women’s fears of marriage:
1. Too Many Choices Creates Indecisiveness: A lot of people who have a fear of committing to a long term relationship have a difficult time making decisions about a lot of other things as well. Some people are overwhelmed by the fear that making one decision will eliminate all other choices/possibilities available to them. This “black and white”/ “what if ” mentality might keep doors open yet it also keeps people from having deeper experiences in relationships and life in general. Choosing something/one, committing to something/one and investing time and energy into that something/one will enhance, deepen and enrich a person’s life experience. The process of valuing and developing what we choose to invest in is how we derive meaning in our lives. We also believe that society’s intense competitive pressure to be the best at all things and have the best at all costs to prove we are “special” compounds and heightens the fear of making “the wrong” decision. When we put ourselves in a “win at all costs” mentality we set ourselves up for competition and comparison versus valuing our unique choices and experiences. Hence...the grass is always greener.
2. Reaction to Experience of Divorce Instills Fear and Avoidance: We see a lot of people whose pattern is to stay in a relationship for a couple years and then bail out when it starts to feel too vulnerable. This is a way to avoid the pain of rejection or to steer clear of issues that require self-reflection and hard work. Here, the fear of rejection is most often connected to previous experiences of abandonment (most often through parents divorcing in childhood) or a sense of not feeling good enough due to emotional neglect in childhood. There is a generational backlash of people not wanting to re-experience the pain of divorce again due to their personal trauma. The overall zeitgeist of the times demonstrates that 50% of marriages fail and this too seeps into the collective unconscious and manifests as a fear of commitment. There is not yet a comprehensive paradigm in place for a new vision of marriage that incorporates all the changes that have occurred for the current generation. People are lost and avoiding the exploration of a new model of relationship because it is so complicated and enigmatic.
3. Fear of Responsibility: A lot of people in this generation have experienced their parent’s divorce and/or other traumas that have caused their emotional development to arrest at an early age. These types of early traumas force individuals to take on more responsibility than their young psyches can manage. Many of these particular individuals have lost their childhood and want it back! Because so many people come from divorced families there are a lot of people out there who are much more comfortable taking care of “me” than having to care for a “we” (which eventually may include children). People today are also much more conscientious and fearful about the depth of personal investment it takes to raise an emotionally and physically healthy child. The cohorts of people who already feel over- whelmed are even more inundated by the onslaught of information arriving via the technological age, the recession and an unknown future. Together with high expectations of success and material gains...all roads lead to a heightened fear of taking on more responsibility across the board.
4. Confusion of Roles: Co-dependence versus Independence...Is there a Middle Ground? Despite all of the psychological sophistication in this generation, adults still get trapped in an idealistic, immature version of love that is about needing to be taken care of or saved by the other. This romantic version of marriage then locks horns with many different, advanced concepts of relationship. Whether it is about women being equal to men, women being the provider and men assuming childrearing responsibilities, traditional roles, women wanting their man to be the provider but not wanting to assume traditional roles themselves, open marriage, etc...identity and role confusion in marriage is abundant! Everyone is struggling against old hardwired patterns and new possibilities of what being in relationship means. In our private practice we do also continue to see a lot of individuals who want to move forward into marriage. For those that come to us for pre-marital or marital counseling we feel it is our job to help them to reality check their “idealized” version of marriage and develop a more mature and realistic perspective of the venture they are about to undertake. Our goal with couples is to set a strong foundation of trust and develop a communication style that will help them work out all the issues they will face. We encourage couples to not set themselves up to be so easily disappointed and disillusioned when issues do arise. Despite the evolution of the technological era, human beings will never lose their desire for connection and love. We believe good relationships are at the root of what makes everything else on our planet work so we believe finding a new paradigm for relationship that works is a critical endeavor. Dr. He ~ Dr. She