What to Do if Your Partner Is Afraid of Commitment

When (and when not) to warm up cold feet.


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Commitment doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Between past relationships, fears of getting hurt, and just simply playing the field, there are many factors that influence whether we decide to make the jump into serious relationships. Plus, how can you tell if you've found "the one"? The answers aren't black and white, but for many people, deciding to settle down is part of a process, and it's not one that happens overnight.

If you're looking for a serious relationship but your partner isn't meeting you halfway, there are several reasons they might be afraid of committing to you. It's important to take the time to understand your motivations, think of the relationship as a whole, and approach the situation delicately. Like all things in love, it takes care and compassion for other people (and yourself) to navigate these matters of the heart.

Below, a look at what makes people afraid of commitment.

Why Is My Partner Afraid of Commitment?

Whether you're engaged or have dated for a short time, it can be frustrating to feel like the person you care about isn't all-in. "Fear of commitment may exist in dating, and even in marriage when one or both partners are reluctant to fully invest emotionally in the relationship," says expert Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. If your partner is apprehensive about committing to you, it's not always cause for concern: Commitment is a normal thing to fear for many of us. There are plenty of explanations for this type of behavior. Concerns can come from our experiences in dating, uncertainty about the future, or even a lack of serious partners in the past. Every individual has a different approach—and love language—when it comes to relationships. So how can you tell if your partner is afraid of commitment? Here are a few signs to understand why people are afraid of getting too close, and if it's time for you to commit to moving on.

Your Partner May Have Been Hurt in the Past

One common reason behind your partner’s fear of commitment is that they had a painful past relationship. In other words, by keeping your relationship with each other casual, they won’t be vulnerable to heartache again. Your partner might need to build up more trust with you to know for certain that they're not heading toward heartbreak.

Your Partner Is Just Getting out of a Serious Relationship

Another motive behind your partner’s fears may also be tied to their ex. They might not be ready yet to jump back into a serious commitment; it's a significant decision in new relationships. If they're not eager to make it official, they might just need more time. Try not to push it—making sure both parties are ready and want the same things is key to a healthy partnership.

Your Partner Is Afraid to Let You Down 

Your partner's hesitancy may stem from their fear of disappointing you. "Relationship dynamics are often complex. The longer a couple has been together, the stronger the possibility that many variables are involved in the lack of commitment," says Ni. If they're afraid of living up to your expectations or afraid of failing, it could keep them from making the leap. In this case, it's important to talk with your partner to understand what's holding them back.

Your Partner Isn’t Sure About Their Feelings Toward You

It's not ideal, but your partner might not be completely sure of their feelings just yet. They may need to feel more confident that you're the right person. That doesn't mean it's time to break up: We all fall in love at different paces, so take a step back and give them the time they need. If your expectations are too high early on, you could hurt your relationship before it has time to grow into its full potential naturally.

Your Partner Wants to Play the Field

It's also a possibility that your partner doesn't want to be tied down. Being exclusive with you would prevent them from having relationships—or sexual experiences—with other people. "Some individuals are in a romantic relationship with the expectation that the partnership is only temporary and transient, while their partner may be striving toward a serious, long-term commitment," says Ni. When you want to be more serious than they do, it might be time to let this partner go. If they aren't the person you want them to be right now, that's not necessarily a bad thing: We all experience different stages of love. So if you're looking for a long-term romance, remember that the relationship you desire can't happen while you're still tied up in one that's not right for you. It's okay to break ties and be excited for your future with your dream partner.

What to Do if Your Partner Is Afraid of Commitment

If you think your relationship can reach your desires, then it might be time to have a conversation. We know it's uncomfortable but trust us: Communication goes a long way in love. There's a reason all those experts use this word so often. Once you know what's behind your partner's fears of committing, you'll be able to understand where they're coming from—and decide if you're both comfortable with letting the relationship grow. You can start with these steps:

Have a Discussion About Why They're Holding Back

To understand why your partner doesn't want to commit, have an honest conversation about it. After all, being truthful with each other is a cornerstone of serious, healthy relationships. If you're seeking this kind of deep connection long-term, it's essential that you be able to discuss issues openly to work through them together. Regular communication also establishes trust so you both stay on the same page (and knowing your concerns is a great start).

Look Out for Red Flags

Once you have a conversation about their fears of commitment, you'll have a better chance at understanding what your partner needs. For instance, if there's no indication that they want to get past the reluctance, take their word—or lack of it. You just simply might not be right for each other. "Maybe some people really are 'commitment-phobic'…If they exist, I think they are the people who really do want to be coupled but can’t seem to do what it takes," says social psychologist Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. On the other hand, if your partner wants to work through their apprehensions, that's an encouraging sign. Just be sure to handle it delicately: overcoming our fears is no easy task. Your partner might need time to build trust, decide what they want, or leave some difficult memories in the past.

Decide What’s Right for You

Aside from how your partner is feeling, it's important to consider your own wants and needs. If they don't want to commit but suggest other options like an open relationship, be honest about what you want. You might also decide that, even though you care for them, this person has too much to work through internally for you to take on. "The people who wonder if they—or their partner—are commitment-phobic describe all sorts of preferences that seem to suggest the same thing: They don’t really want to be with a romantic partner," says DePaulo. It doesn't make either of you a bad person for knowing your limits: Your mental health and desires should come first. The more comfortable you are with your expectations and boundaries, the better you'll be at navigating a healthy relationship with the right person.

No matter the answers, it's never easy to feel like you're walking a one-way street with those you love. Whether you move forward with your partner or decide to change your path, remember what's important to you. The right relationship is out there: so take a deep breath, and let your intuition lead the way.

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