Recently I was asked why it is that some people never enter into a mature, thoroughly committed relationship? Although there are many possible reasons for this fear, most of the time it boils down to one of the following.

ONE: Peter Pan Is Alive and Well

This is more common in men than in women. The person simply does not wish to grow up. Being an adult requires that you place your needs (at least much of the time) second to those of others. Particularly those with whom you have a commitment. Moreover, a committed relationship has obligations attached to it, and this means one must be accountable to someone else.

TWO: Ghosts From the Past

Another very common theme. Those who grew up in homes where the parents had a horrible relationship are more likely to be afraid of commitment than those raised by parents who had a reasonably happy relationship. This is particularly true if there were no alternative role models (e.g., happily married grandparents, or close friends whose parents were happily married).

On the other hand, you also find this in men and women who have experienced betrayal. At one time in life they had been willing, perhaps eager, to commit themself to someone else. Sadly, they chose the wrong person to invest their trust. In some very painful manner they received the ‘kiss of Judas.’ The experience was devastating and they decided to lock the gates of their heart from that time forward.

This sort of person wants to commit, but puts up so many barriers and tests of true allegiance that even Sir Lancelot could not win the day. Their romantic partners invariably grow weary of the challenge, and eventually concede the field of battle. When this happens the commitment phobic person sighs and reflects “I knew they would eventually leave me. I’m so glad I kept my gaurd up.”

THREE: Greener Pastures Await

Although seen in both men and women, it occurs more often with men. This sort of person is haunted by the idea that there may be, perhaps, just maybe, another partner out in the world who will more fully satisfy his or her desires and longings. People who perpetually struggle with the Greener Pastures fallacy have failed to accept that no one will be a perfect match.

The Greener Pasture aficionado fails to see that it is not a matter of finding a soul mate who is without flaws. It is all about finding a soul mate with the qualities you cannot live without, and the flaws that you can tolerate (and keep in mind, your soulmate will need to live with your flaws as well, so let’s not put on airs). These sort of individuals are also known to chase unicorns in the spare time.

FOUR: No Dice, Home Slice

These individuals are simply terrified of rejection and failure. They have no problem being in a relationship as long as it does not involve meaningful commitment. When the “we” of a relationship starts to be more important than the “me” of the relationship, they head for the hills.

Asking for a deeper commitment with the failure phobic man or woman is like offering Superman a kryptonite appetizer. You’ll see him shake with fear looking like the lead singer in a rumba band as he makes towards the exit.

Men and women who are terrified of rejection/failure in relationships believe that were they to make a commitment and it not work out, they would be crushed. Devastated beyond repair. Their solution to this fear? Play it safe, don’t risk too much, don’t take that big step into commitment.

Very sad. At the end of life, no one looks back and says “I’m so glad I played it safe. My life has been so rich and full because I always, and with great anxiety, never risked my heart.”

So those are the four main obstacles to commitment that I’ve noticed. But people can change, and no one is destined to remain stymied by these obstacles. It’s a matter of having the courage to try something new.

If you are terrified of commitment the only solution is to grow up. Don’t let your overblown fears dictate your life choices.

If you are someone who is in a relationship with a commitment phobic individual then the solution is to set a timeline. Let your love interest know that he, or she, has X number of months (note, I said months, not years) to make a commitment. They may protest that this is an ultimatum. The appropriate response is “Damn right.”

Your time and emotional investment are valuable. Important enough that you should feel comfortable giving an ultimatum (just like the bank that owns your auto loan will give you an ultimatum about taking back the car if you don’t pay on the loan… are not your time and emotional investment worth more than a car?). If your true love responds “I will not be bullied into a commitment” then you have your answer. Time to say goodbye and find someone who is worthy of your love.

I am a clinical psychologist who works with adults, teens and children. But my dream job is being paid to ride motorcycles, sail and build cabins in the woods.