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Man with extreme commitmentphobia - help desperately sought

(281 Posts)
butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 12:37:47

Hi there.

I'm a long time lurker but a new poster here and would be so grateful of any advice from Mumsnetters!

I've come here as I'm really at the end of my tether and quite desperate for help - I would love to hear if anyone has any advice to give me on my situation as I just don't know what to do...

I have been involved with a man for just over three years now. He is absolutely lovely - one of the kindest, most considerate and gentle men I have ever met. He's incredibly reliable and I trust him totally. (Should add that in couching him these terms, I'm not a babe in the woods - I'm 35 and since I was a teenager have had lots of long term relationships of 2, 4, 6 and 3 years' duration before him - so I do have lots to compare him to!)

So he's essentially perfect apart from one MAJOR flaw!

That flaw is that he has what I can only describe as extreme commitmentphobia. It's like commitmentphobia on steroids! Will give you a very brief summary of our relationship history (in bullet points!) so you have a brief idea of what's gone on (next post....).

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 12:39:56

1st year of relationship -
Got together. Things fine, until about six months in when he started getting panic attacks. He'd wake up in the middle of the night and I'd have to hold him tightly until it passed. Sometimes he'd have to breathe into a paper bag to get his breath back.

1st year (continued) -
Transpires that what causes his panic attacks is the fact that we are in a relationship! He says he's never been able to have a relationship that lasted longer than 1-2 years (he's now 38). Every time he gets too involved, he starts to feel panicky. He says he worries about making the wrong decision and too much intimacy scares him. I plead with him to make a go of it, through lots of tears and apologies he says he just can't, so we split up. I'm devastated as I really fell in love with him.

1st year (continued) -
Couple of months later, we get back together because I miss him desperately, and he says the same. I find hypnotherapy files that he's downloaded onto his computer called things like: "Learning to embrace intimacy" and "Letting love in". I should've taken this as a warning sign, but at least I thought he's trying his best to make this work. After a month or two of being back together though, we go away for a weekend in a hotel to 'celebrate' being together. In the middle of the night, he wakes up with another panic attack. He says he'll ruin my life if I stay with him. He says he just can't cope with the idea of being in a relationship and he's worried about ' 'what if we say together and have kids and he abanadons us because he gets panicky again'. So we split up again. I am, as you can imagine, totally devastated again.

2nd and 3rd year - We continue to text and call each other until we patently fall back into being exactly how we were when we were in a relationship. The way we communicate and everything we do together says that it's a relationship in all but name. We talk and email every day. We spend every other couple of weekends together (since getting together I moved to a different side of the country for a new job. I had no hesitation in leaving as obviously thought we had no future!). When we go out, we hold hands. We go for romantic dinners. We buy each other birthday and Christmas presents. He basically does everything for me. If I say I love him, he tells me he loves me to.


If I ask him can we get back together, he says he just can't. The panic attacks make him feel 'like he's dying', and they're terrifying. (I've never had one, so I don't know.) He says the only way to get rid of them is to not have a relationship. But here we are - having a relationship in all but name! (He did go to a hyponetherapist the first time we split up, but it didn't help. He says a can't afford a proper therapist and anyway it wouldn't work as that's how he is and he won't change.)

So the advice I seek is this:

Ever since we split up the second time, I have realised that to cling on and hope for him to change is a waste of time. Especially as he won't go to a proper psychotherapist, it's not a going to work. So I told myself, especially when I moved towns, that I had to stop seeing him and try and meet someone else. I am now in my mid thirties and have spent three years already on this man. My problem is that he is so loving and I love him so much that I can't seem to say goodbye. I have tried and tried and even went to a counsellor at work to ask her advice on how to move my life forward and forget about this man. (She wasn't much help, unfortunately. She just said I had to do it.)

I have tried before to cut all contact but I know that last time I tried I got terrible insomnia - I missed him so much. So slowly I let him back in and now I'm back to square one. I can't force him to commit to me and friends have advised I give him an ultimatum, but I know that won't work. I guess I'd just like to know if anyone has been in a similar situation, and even if not, what advice you can give me about how to cut someone out of your life that you really, truly love. I know it's what I have to do, but I just can't seem to find the courage. (I know you can't give me the courage, but I do feel a bit desperate! I am getting older with this man.) (Sas 32 and still felt like I 'had time' when it started.)

A bit of further info - he had a very difficult childhood - very domineering father of whom he was frightened and parents argued - so no good role models for marriage or relationships - even thought he himself is a very kind and stable (apart from the pani attacks!) man...

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 12:44:02

PS. Please excuse all the terrible typos! Was typing very fast!

Katisha Mon 10-Sep-12 12:48:54

If you want children at some point in life then you are probably going to have to move on. I have seen all this happen to people around me several times and nothing ever changes. Move on and find someone who can and will commit to you and basically not use you, which is what it pretty much amounts to.

CanIOfferYouAPombear Mon 10-Sep-12 12:49:03

Oh I don't know, that's a shit position to be in though sad
He sounds as if he's trying hard to get over his problems, but do you really think he ever will? Does he have any optimism about it ever working?
There's only so long you can wait around for someone.

Do you want children? Cos if you do then I'd start TTC sooner rather than later at your age. Or will he need another 3 years of dragging the relationship out before he will think about kids?

Sossiges Mon 10-Sep-12 12:51:53

You can't change anyone except yourself, so how about hypnotherapy or CBT or something to try and change the way you feel. Sorry

sassymay Mon 10-Sep-12 12:53:13

I'm so sorry to hear you are in this difficult situation. Anything I say will be woefully inadequate. What comes to mind is: Focus on You; get as much support as you can -- a new and better counsellor?; put energy into yourself and anything else you're interested in. At the same time, be kind to the part of you that clings to someone who is not fully available. Be curious about this. Don't be too hard on yourself -- changing your behaviour takes time. If/when you can -- worry about you and not him. All the best with it.

PurplePidjin Mon 10-Sep-12 12:53:18

You cannot cure him. You either accept that this relationship doesn't give you what you need, or you cut contact and get therapy to help you through the break up.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Mon 10-Sep-12 12:55:28

If the advice you seek is really how to cut someone out of your life despite loving them, here's how:

- optional first step: have the break-up talk. Mean it.
- change your SIM card, landline number, and e-mail address
- do not make contact
- do not respond to any contact he makes in any way, not even to say "I'm not interested in talking to you any more"
- fill your life with hobbies and social activities to distract yourself and fill time, even if it feels forced at first.

But I don't think that's the advice you're looking for. It sounds like you want a relationship with this man, and haven't come to terms with the fact that he won't make the necessary changes (therapy). He's not doing it, even if it would be the good and right thing for him to do, even though it would make both of so much happier. He won't, for his own reasons, and that's not something you can change. You cannot have a relationship with this particular man. I'm sorry.

QuintessentialShadows Mon 10-Sep-12 12:55:37

Move on.

This goes deeper than just commitment phobia, this man has serious issues, and I am frankly totally baffled that you are so desperate and needy that you cling to him like he was the last man left on the planet.

jadebond007 Mon 10-Sep-12 12:59:50

So sorry to hear that you're in this situation. Kind of know what it feels like. Horrible. Just horrible.

You know you have to cut him off. You love him, but those feelings will pass eventually. You need to go cold turkey. Let yourself grieve. Know that it will hurt but it will also get better. And it will never start getting better until you go through the pain.

You will, in time, meet someone else who doesn't make you feel this terrible rejection all the time. He is being cruel to you and selfish by not being brave enough to let you go completely.

Good luck xxx

GentleLentilWeaver Mon 10-Sep-12 13:06:11

Another one saying move on. It's that old chestnut of 'when someone tells you who they are, listen'. He has told you who he is early on, and has showed it consistently. You've chosen to ignore that, and repeatedly get back with him when nothing has actually changed. You need to accept he is not right for you because he'd not capable of being in a relationship (no matter how very sorry he is about that, and no matter how much you love him, it doesn't change the facts) and move on.
I know it's hellish and I have been there, but you can do it.

GentleLentilWeaver Mon 10-Sep-12 13:07:57

Oh, and jadebond - "He is being cruel to you and selfish by not being brave enough to let you go completely."
I couldn't agree more!

If you want a long term relationship with someone you need to step away from this guy completely. As long as he is in your life you will pine after him and keep wondering if he's going to change for you... He can only change for himself and his behaviour in accepting himself the way he is shows that he isn't ready to change at this time.

If you do decide to leave then you have to do what hotdamn says - its got to be complete separation - none of this 'lets stay in touch' stuff.

If you decide to stay, then accept him for what he is and understand that you will never have a 'conventional relationship', and need to be prepared for heartache if what you want is 'conventional'. But this may work if you can accept 'unconventional', although may be impossible if you want to have a family.

I've come across commitment phobes like this - maybe not as extreme as the panic attacks - and I've seen them change, but its like an on/off switch. There's the classic behaviour of finally being dumped by a long suffering girlfriend, usually after several half-hearted dumps, to then hook up with someone completely new and decide that they do want marriage and kids. (I've been the previous girlfriend and its very devastating - but since then have seen this pattern repeated amongst friends/acquaintances a few times).

Longdistance Mon 10-Sep-12 13:14:48

Dump him love. I wouldn't waste my precious time with him.

My dh was given a 2 year block in which he had to pop the question to me. He didn't know this, it was kept to myself. If he wasn't gonna pop the question in that time frame, then it was bye bye. Move on.
Luckily he asked me after a year, and married a year after that.

Play devils advocate, and see what happens......

Personally, I don't think he'll ever change his mind sad

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 10-Sep-12 13:28:59

I am afraid to say the writing was all too clearly on the wall with this man even in the first 6 months of you being together.

You have to walk away now for your own sanity and peace of mind. You will receive neither from this man partly because he is too damaged from his own childhood. He probably needs years of therapy but he has previously stated, "says he can't afford a proper therapist and anyway it wouldn't work as that's how he is and he won't change". I would also argue too that he does not want to change, what he is saying here is really a cop-out, an excuse.

You cannot fix or indeed help someone like this; it is okay to walk away and not look back.

Its not just him. You carefully need to look at your own reasons for wanting to be with this person in the first instance. What did you learn about relationships when you were growing up?. This codependency is toxic to both of you; one of you has to let go and let go for good now.

Read Codependent No More written by Melodie Beattie.

HeartsTrumpDiamonds Mon 10-Sep-12 13:41:39

Some excellent advice on here butterscotch, and brave of you to be facing the issue. As others have said, it sounds like you need a lot more than he is able to give you.

I would ask yourself a few questions...

- Can you handle having an ongoing "relationship in all but name"?
- Is he faithful or does he use his commitment-phobia to be able to play around?
- What would happen if you wanted to try to get pregnant or married?

Love can forgive all sorts of things and only you can know how much the benefits of loving him outweigh the costs of his phobia and the impact on your emotional and mental health. Good luck x

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 13:57:47

Dear All

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post (mini essay!) and for your's just what I needed, to be honest. It got to the stage where I felt like I'd drained all my own inner resources and I somehow was missing the ability to tell myself what to do. (Or rather, I know what I have to do, but just don't know how). Will reply to each individually as you've been so kind to reply...

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 14:11:11

HeartsTrumpDiamonds & StuckInTheFensAwayFromHome -
I've asked myself this question about whether I could handle an ongoing relationship-in-all-but-name / unconventional relationship many, many times.

As far as I can see, if I don't say anything he would be okay with it continuing the way it has done indefinitely. (As someone else said, in some respects this does suit him on him many levels!!)

So because I love his company and he treats me so well (excepting not giving the relationship a name....), I have tried to see in the future and ask myself - is it worth demanding that he give the relationship a name and risk losing it, or should I maybe consider accepting unconventionality and know that I could have a loving and kind 'companion' for (at the moment) what seems like forever?

If I was say in my 60s, then I know what the answer to that would be!! I know it would be far better to have a man like this in my life, who I can rely on, have fun with and who would look after me (sorry - that last one sounds very unfeminist, don't mean it in that sense.)

The problem is that I'm 35 and surrounded by women my age, younger or older who have 'proper' partners who are getting on with life with them. I feel like I'm living in this weird kind of 'twilight' relationship. Every knows about him..... he comes along to social gatherings with me, evern work related ones with bosses etc. I had to ask one boss at her bday party if I could bring him along and explain 'our thing'.... very awkward and felt a bit of a pratt.

My close friends fully understand the situation and have accepted him as my sort of plus .5 9as opposed to plus one). They can see how frustating it is as they can see he's such a nice person. So they are at a loss to advise me now as he's kind of become part of the furniture (hence all of your replies being extremely helpful..)

But - in answer to your questions - I don't think I can handle the unconventionality. Even without the children question, I somehow want my relationship to have that stamp of validity. I have no idea why and it's a bit pathetic perhaps? (If I definitley didn't want children I wonder if I would be bothered by the relationship-with-no-name thing, and I think I still would be.) The alternative of course is that I may never meet someone as kind and loving as him and that scares me so much.

This is the difficulty I face in ignoring those fears and biting the bullet and leaving.

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 14:18:42

HeartsTrumpDiamonds -

Regarding faithfulness, we have had this conversation and as long as we were still seeing each other the relationship would be exclusive. This is why it really is like a relationship in all but name, and all the more frustrating....!

Re. becoming pregnant - yes, I just take it as a given that children are not an option. And so I have never even bothered riasing it as an issue. I remember at the start of our relationship he said that if I accidently got pregnant he would look after us, but of course that's when we were in 'relationship' proper. I of course would never get pregnant without his consent and so it's not really an issue.

Regarding the question of do I want kids? Well, I often wonder how good a mother I would make, if I'm really honest... but I guess that sort of equivocation is quite common I hope?) My gut feeling is that yes, I do really want to be a mum. So that's why I'm now panicking a bit about this dragging onand desperately seeking ways to find the courage to move on - so that I can give that hope at least SOME chance!

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 14:20:44

AttilaTheMeerkat -

Yes - I think you're quite right that he won't change. I know this deep down, and that's why I've stopped asking him about it. The problem is making ME change so that I move on... I really don't know why I'm struggling.

I've heard of this phrase co-dependency, but know nothing about it.... what it really means, or how and why. I guess I should look into it!

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 14:22:20


So glad it worked out for you!! smile

PurplePidjin Mon 10-Sep-12 14:25:51

By not being a fully loving, committed partner, he's giving you the subconcious message that you're not good enough for him. He doesn't show you the same respect that your friends' partners show them, and you are becoming less and less confident as this erodes your self esteem - as HE erodes your self esteem.

FWIW, I'm 6months pg and have worked with children with sn for 7 years. I have the same worries about whether I'll be an adequate parent bit bloody late now so afaic it's completely normal!

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 14:28:11

GentleLentilWeaver & jadebond007

You both say you've kind of been in a similar situ and know how it feels. It feels so good to know that I'm not alone!

I was just wondering, do you have any advice about how to 'cut them off' then successfully? I have tried it...... Back in 2010 I did the whole deleting emails / deleting phone number (didn't go so far as changing my own number admittedly, though for work reasons that would be hard).

The result was that I basically stopped was awful. Because I love him a lot, it really did feel just really, really, really bad I know that everyone goes through this.....but whne you can make the pain stop by just picking up the phone to text them (and of course the problem is that you can't wipe his email ID from my memory!) then it's hard.

Any tips on getting the guts to do and do it properly very VERY gratefully received!

butterscotchbiscuit Mon 10-Sep-12 14:42:36

QuintessentialShadows -

You said 'I am frankly totally baffled that you are so desperate and needy that you cling to him like he was the last man left on the planet.' -

Tough love perhaps but absolutely true, and I don't mind you saying..... To be honest, I am baffled myself!

I fully admit that in this scenario I am am clinging on to him...but I don't think that is my default setting, at all. Like many women, I have experienced SO many crap guys that I just haven't even hesitating finishing relationships with.

Guy who cheated on me? Dumped his ass!
Guy was crap at texting/staying in touch when he worked away in London? After giving him three years to buck his ideas up....dumped him!
Things not happening in the bedroom department, and he wasn't willing to try? Dumped him.
Over-possessive and too insecure? (Eventually.....!) dumped him.

I have had zero problem in finshing inadequate relationships before. So I don't think being 'needy' is a natural setting for me. So I too am kind of baffeld about why I am being 'needy' with regards this person.

I suppose when it comes to it, it's cos he's so kind and wonderful (in all OTHER respects of course!) that this is why I love him and this is why it's hard. He is so much more of a man than many other previous boyfriends, and that it is why it's hard and scary because I KNOW how rare his qualities can be. This doesn't exmept him from the crapness of the whole situ and that's why I know I need to leave.....

Am I treating him like he's the last man on earth? Yes - I think you're right - I am a bit to be honest. That probably speaks volumes about me, I realise.

The other problem is that (as mentioned) I am now mid-30s and the harsh reality is that it IS bloody hard to find decent guys out there now. I am scared, and I don't assume that I'll easily find a decent guy, and that does all conspire against me taking the plunge. I know I'm not alone in these feelings..... they're sit though and I just don't know what to do.

How I long for the days of being in my late teens and 20s and meeting a guy was so bloody easy you almost had to fend them off with a stick!! Not anymore ;-) (And yes...when I look back and think of perfectly decent men I rejected thining I had all the time in the world.....oooh, the regret!!) [big grin]

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