Commitment anxiety – why do we fear love, and what can help?

Two hands hold a third

Attachment anxiety is the fear of love. Here you can find symptoms, causes and tips to overcome it.

Contents at a glance

"Love is like a fever; it overtakes us and fades away without the will being in the least involved," wrote the French writer Stendhal in his book "On Love". It comes as tumultuously as it leaves, tearing the innermost part of the person into complete chaos. Love and fear go hand in hand, because if love does not remain, it can tear one’s heart apart and cause unspeakable pain in the soul. Whoever is afraid of this pain tries to protect himself from it and closes his heart forever. In the modern world, we call this attachment anxiety – the fear of love – which shapes an entire generation.

One can fill whole books about attachment anxiety. Here we try to summarize the core statements and give first help for overcoming relationship anxiety.

"Love resembles a fever; it overtakes us and fades away without the will being involved in the least."

French writer

Where does attachment anxiety come from?

Attachment anxiety is "a person’s fear of engaging in a deep and exclusive love relationship," says Germany’s leading psychotherapist for attachment anxiety, Stefanie Stahl. She explains that affected persons often had to experience in their childhood that their parents were not a stable haven of security. Therefore, dependency was experienced by them as threatening. Or that parents withdrew their affection if the child did not behave in a certain, desired way. But experiences in adolescence and adulthood can also cause people to want to protect themselves from the pain of loss.

The authors Carter and Sokol use the term "active avoidant" for the phenomenon of attachment anxiety in their book "Close and Yet So Far". This refers to people who ensure sufficient distance in a relationship, even actively regulate it in order to provide more excitement or to free themselves from the confines of the relationship. Their goal is to avoid too much closeness in a relationship and to consciously control all of it – knowing full well that the partner will suffer as a result. This is how authors Theresa Konig and Ole Andersen further interpret the thoughts of "active avoiders" in their book "Understanding and Overcoming Attachment Anxiety". But what triggers their fear?

Commitment anxiety: These triggers exist

For sufferers of commitment phobia, even small things can become triggers. Holding hands, planning a first vacation, the first family reunion. Often the fear becomes insurmountable however only with larger steps, for example with the topics moving together, wedding or family planning, so king and Andersen. For each avoider, completely different triggers play a role. Relationship anxiety usually occurs at similar times in relationships – namely when it becomes too much for the partner concerned. "Often issues of commitment anxiety become acute when the relationship has reached a certain point. Depending on the severity of the attachment anxiety, this happens at completely different times, or through completely different triggers," write authors Theresa Konig and Ole Andersen. If these trigger points occur, the first symptoms of relationship phobia begin to become visible.

Attachment anxiety: these symptoms manifest themselves

The symptoms of attachment anxiety can also be completely different and vary in severity depending on the nature of the trigger. Sometimes there is just no answer to an important question, sometimes the partner disappears for weeks. Konig and Andersen summarize some possible symptoms of commitment anxiety: The partner finds that something about the relationship doesn’t fit and looks for faults, he becomes overcritical and is bothered by small flaws, but they have always been there. He withdraws emotionally, flees into busyness and also distances himself spatially. As soon as symptoms of this kind appear in relationships, the partners left behind usually already suspect what is going on.

"The partners of commitment-anxious people are as a rule chronically insecure. They suffer from a loss of emotional control and feel helpless because they have little influence over the commitment-phobe’s distancing maneuvers"

Stefanie Stahl

Attachment anxiety: How you should behave as a partner?

"The partners of attachment anxious people are usually chronically insecure. They suffer from a loss of emotional control and feel helpless because they can hardly exert any influence on the distancing maneuvers of the commitment-anxious person," analyzes expert Stefanie Stahl in an interview with eDarling. You develop fear of loss, look for the blame in yourself and try to optimize yourself – but thereby exert even more pressure. How to behave when your partner has commitment phobia? Stay calm. Pressure only makes the situation worse. The commitment-anxious partner needs free spaces? Then he should have it. Psychotherapist Stahl recommends drawing strength from hope. In the next step, the problem can be discussed and overcome, for example, in couples therapy.

How to overcome commitment phobia?

"Everyone is capable of having a relationship," promises expert Stefanie Stahl in her book "Jeder ist beziehungsfahig: The golden path between freedom and closeness" and thus gives hope to all those concerned. They believe that everyone can find love – if the inner attitude is right. What you can do against commitment anxiety? Educate yourself and develop further. Many sufferers try to get help via the many specialized books on the market. Couples therapy or psychotherapy can also help to overcome commitment anxiety. According to expert Stahl, the most important thing is that commitment-anxious partners really want to change. A therapy against attachment anxiety is only of use if both partners want it. So love without fear has a future.

Stendhal (1822): "De l’amour". Par l’auteur de l’Histoire de la peinture et des Vies de Haydn, Mozart et Metastase". 2 volumes. Paris: Mongie l’aîne 1822.

Stahl, Stefanie (2017): "Everyone is capable of relationships. The golden path between closeness and freedom"; 5. Edition; Random House GmbH, Munich.

The counseling team (ed.); Andersen, Ole; Konig, Theresa (2012): "Understanding and overcoming attachment anxiety. Why men and women suffer from relationship anxiety and what you can do as a sufferer or partner"; Bluepoint Publishing Limited.

Carter, Steven; Sokol, Julia (1998), "Near and yet so far: Relationship anxiety and its consequences"; FISCHER paperback.

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