By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Are young adults abandoning commitment all together? No exactly but over the last fifty years, there has been a quiet shift in the landscape of family life in America. Approximately 50 percent of adults over age eighteen marry; this number is compared to 72% in 1960, according to The Pew Research Center. The medium age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7years) according to this report.
In Not Quite Adults authors Richard Settersten, Ph.D. and Barbara E. Ray speculate that many people harbor misconceptions about a recent trend to delay marriage, believing that young adults are afraid of commitment and are abandoning marriage. They write, “Marriage is on hold for this generation, but it is delayed, not abandoned. The majority of young people eventually marry. They are just getting their ducks in a row before they do.”
A recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men crave commitment and report that being married someday is “very” or “somewhat” important to them. That being said, many people seek lasting commitment, often in the form of marriage. This can be a healthy desire if we bring realistic expectations to it. But many adults don’t have a healthy template of marriage to follow when it comes to nurturing and sustaining a committed relationship, making it difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the first step is reevaluating your view of relationships and adjusting your expectations.
Some think this decline is because the progression of individualism has made it more difficult for couples to achieve satisfying and stable relationships. Others believe that changes, such as increasing acceptance of singlehood and cohabitation, have made our lives richer because we have more opportunities for personal growth.
According to Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, “Ambiguity is now the norm as opposed to clarity.” Author Jessica Massa, who interviewed hundreds of singles and couples for her book, “The Gaggle: How to Find Love in the Post-Dating World” informs us that many couples claim exclusivity but won’t call it a relationship.
Most observers agree that ambiguity in romantic relationships is on the increase in the past decade and options range from friends with benefits to indecision about permanent commitment. Perhaps one the most compelling reasons is cultural since the first generation of children to grow up witnessing mass divorce are now making their own decisions about love and commitment.
In fact, fear of relationship failure plagues many of us who grew up in a culture of divorce, even if our parents stayed together. It makes sense that people in their 20’s and 30’s might hedge their bets and see relationships as risky if they watched their parents’ marriage fail or even relatives and friends parents’ marriage collapse.
Fear of failure can hold us back and prevent us from being our best self. It limits us by causing anxiety and fostering a pessimistic attitude about the future. Divorce expert Paul Amato posits that many adult children of divorce (ACODS) fear relationship failure. They fear that when they open themselves up to other people, they will get hurt, and will lose out on love.
For example, many daughters of divorce, like Suzanne, have a fear of commitment because they saw their parents’ marriage crumble. As a result, they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Suzanne just can’t see a relationship working out, but she desperately wants one. Although she says she doesn’t believe in love, Suzanne wants someone who will be a true match for her. “I think I can have a happy, long-lasting relationship, but I change my mind a lot, she says. “If it’s the right guy, if we’re compatible, I’ll be optimistic. But it’s going to take a lot to prove it to me because I want it to be foolproof.” Suzanne’s craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied because such relationships don’t exist.
If you fear commitment like many people, you might want to consider the following: Know that no relationship is conflict free, but you are worthy of having a relationship that makes you happy. If you aren’t there yet, embrace where you are now. What is it that holds you back from achieving a satisfying relationship? And once you have it, what will you do when you get there?
6 Tips to Overcoming Your Fear of Commitment:
- Gain self-awareness about your past and face your fear of commitment. If you still have baggage that is unresolved do your best to seek counseling or attend a support group.
- Don’t let your “What Ifs” get in your way. This might range from “What if I get hurt” to “What if this relationship ends in divorce.” Challenge your thinking and don’t give in to self-sabotaging thoughts.
- Remember that life is more rewarding when you take risks and make a commitment to someone who seems to be a good match for you and is trustworthy. If you wait for the perfect partner or soul mate you may never find love. This doesn’t mean that you should settle for less than you deserve.
- Take your time dating someone and make sure you’ve known them for at least two years to reduce your chance of divorce. What’s the rush? Give yourself the chance to really get to know a new partner gradually so you can develop a true friendship.
- Make sure that you have common values with individuals who you date. If you marry someone with drastically different values, you will face complex issues that could put you more at risk for divorce.
- Learn to trust your judgment and be consistent with your commitment. Commitment to someone you love and consider your best friend and partner is not an on-again, off-again proposition.
Although it may be hard for you to trust your own judgment when it comes to making a commitment, it’s important to understand there are no guarantees in any relationship. Some work out and some don’t but approaching relationships with fear or doubt almost guarantees a negative outcome. Therefore, it’s key to embrace the notion that a lifetime commitment has to be made when there is some degree of uncertainty. If you wait to make a commitment when you are free of doubts, it will never happen.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Facebook and Twitter and check out her new book written with her daughter Tracy “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship” It is available here.