Committment Issues

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Can a commitment phobe change in ''mid-life''?

Feb 2006

I have been dating a 40 year old man for almost a year now. I also have a one year old child, whose biological father is completely out of his life. This man I am dating has a close bond with my son, who adores him, and clearly loves us both very much. I couldn't imagine anyone being a better dad. I'm in my late 30's, and would love to get married and maybe have another child, if possible. I know this man I am with has fears of being ''tied down,'' and mostly just doesn't know what he wants, and is afraid to make any big moves, but at the same time says he can't imagine his life without us in it, and that we feel like family to him. While I do believe people can change, (and he commented himself that ''people'' might ''grow up'') I am definitely wary of hoping someone will change, or waiting for that to happen, epsecially if they are not in therapy actively working on the issue, and I am not really inclined to try to force anything. Has anyone been in this situation and seen someone change and become ''ready'' for commitment and fully on board with that, or the opposite? Thank you for any stories or advice!
--Finally Ready to Get My Mrs.

I remember my younger sister, the one we call ''the princess'' because she gets everything she wants, telling this story that has served me very well. Her then boyfriend was spending lots of time with the guys, playing sports and watching sports and talking about sports. She very sweetly told him one day that it was apparent that he liked sports a lot more than she did (this is a girl who learned to love football) and though she thought the world of him, that he deserved a companion who shared more of his interests. She proceeded to make lots of plans to do the things she was missing out on and was busy when he did tear himself away from the guys. Hequickly did an about face on the sports junkie behavior, asked her to marry him, and has been a great husband. She does NOT accept behavior that she doesn't want, she GETS what she wants, and is happy and generous with him as a result. I think there's a lesson in here for you. If you cut him loose because he doesn't want to be tied to a relationship, he'll either breathe a sigh of relief that you did it for him, or he'll wake up and get over himself. boundaries
I think you are right to be hesitant to force commitment with a ''commitment-phobe.'' My husband was terrified of commitment, would break up or leave me each time a new stage of commitment was introduced (when I wanted to start a more steady relationship, when I wanted to move in together, when I wanted to marry, and even after we married, when I wanted a child). He finally did settle into commitment after our son's birth, but then after a while I started to have issues -- because I had been so pro-active in our relationship, I finally doubted that he loved me. It's an issue that he does need to solve in therapy -- if he really wants to, which isn't certain. I am in therapy now trying to figure out mine. And there can be lots of pain involved (and in my case, the exacerbation of self- doubt) when trying to found a commited relationship with such a man. That's my experience, at any rate.

unhappily committed

The only advice I can give is ''heads up'' know what you are dealing with and figure out how to make it work.

My own experience with a commitment phobe (good term by the way!) has been a bit embittering. Every new year, my resolution is to learn how to manipulate this guy better! When I say manipulate, it sounds negative, and it is not. This type of guy needs to be managed and they are grateful when you do it with out their noticing. The bitter part comes from years of being dissapointed that unless I work him, he will not function well. This doesn't sound good! Well, nobody is perfect and if he is a nice guy basically,....

Having kids, sometimes I have been helpless and needed support. I can not count on him. OK, he is a great father (I knew he would be.) but, sometimes you need a commitment and some guys are just not reliable. Well, actually, they are as reliable as someone who blows their own horn about taking care of the family, but they will not commit to it. That can be really irritating/frustrating.

I have to rely heavily on faith that he is OK.....Levels of tolerance change when you have a defenceless child in the mix. Or, are so tired that you can not see straight...So, no matter what, you have to be strong. Commitment takes a lot of forms. Trust your gut. If you decide to go with him in life, don't expect change or be angry when he is just doing or not doing what he always has. Another hard lesson for me has been to not take it personally.

A little bitter, but, basically happy.

I forgot to mention that by successfully maniputating this guy, you may be saving his life/ giving him a family and stability and a home. With out your help and strong convictions, he will probably end up alone alone alone. There is a lot more in it for him than for you though..... Very experienced
My answer would be no. I married a man I thought would ''grow up'' and become the kind of partner I expected. He, too, made a great dad, but never matured in some of the most basic ways - never had a bank account, stayed out late partying with people (as if he were a teenager), moved from crappy job to crappy job.

Though the specifics may be different from yours, I learned the hard way that no, you can't change a man, and a forty year old has already established his patterns and values. been there, done that, and learned my lesson

What you see is what you get. People do change, but NOT because someone else wishes that they do. You couldn't force him if you wanted to. He has told you where he stands. Is that what you really want? my 2 cents
Short answer: Yes, it's possible, but it takes a while. I started dating my husband when we were in our early-mid forties. He'd never been married or really committed to anyone before. He only admitted (to me and to himself) that he loved me after we'd been dating for a year and a half, and it took more than a year after that before we started to talk about buying a house together.

Meanwhile he and my son (9-11 in this period) got to be friends and he developed what I'd call an avuncular relationship with him. He did finally come through with a marriage proposal, in style. During this 3 year period we broke up several times, but always got together within two weeks (usually 2 days). It was very hard for him to choose just one person, and forsake all other possibilities, but he did. We've been married for almost four years now and he tells me that marriage is the best thing that ever happened to him. He's certainly happier now on a day to day basis than he ever was before.

So good luck and try to be patient. anonymous

-- The worst feeling of betrayal and pain I have ever felt in the dating / living together / marriage arena has come from living with a commitment-phobe who thought he was going to change, and who occasionally made very loving and commitment-type remarks which led me on. Six years later, he became so stingy and self-absorbed and obviously unable to love I gave up. Yes, he seemed delicious, was loving, everything ''worked'' when he wanted it to... but the inability to get married was deeper than it looked. My two kids, who liked him at the time, loathe him now. I hope I never see him again, or anyone he knows. BE CAREFUL!

Leopards rarely change their spots

I dated for 20+ years and feel like an expert on commitment phobes in particular. I finally got married at 40 to a former commitment phobe who was in the process of his mid-life crisis before we met. He went to therapy etc to get his life going in a different direction.

I'm not sure why you are afraid to push the idea of therapy for him or couples counseling for both of you. I agree with you that people don't typically change. If he doesn't really want to find out why he can't commit to you and your son you have your answer. He won't change. If he does you have your man. Been there