What Is Fear of Commitment (Gamophobia)?

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Fear of commitment, or gamophobia, is a phobia related to fears around making a commitment to a partner, being in a relationship, or marriage. Worldwide, young men express a higher incidence of this phobia than young women. Researchers suggest this is due in part to the fear of financial obligations and social responsibilities involved with commitment.

Learn more about this phobia, its characteristics, and how to cope.

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Defining Fear of Commitment

Fear of commitment can be experienced across different types of relationships, but gamophobia usually implies fear of intimate and romantic commitment. Researchers suggest that over the past 15 years, gamophobia has been on the rise.

Characteristics of Fear of Commitment

A person with gamophobia is capable of falling in love, but when pressed for a long-term commitment, extreme panic may set in.

Typical signs and symptoms of gamophobia may range from mild feelings of apprehension to a full-blown panic attack. Other signs include:

  • Hyperventilating
  • Difficulty in breathing or catching your breath
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heart
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Trembling and shakiness
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Churning stomach, nausea, and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Sweating and tingling sensations

Diagnosing Fear of Commitment

Clinicians use the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association's official handbook, to diagnose mental health conditions.

Although there is not a specific diagnosis for fear of commitment, some might consider it a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder. They typically affect 30% of adults.

Diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders may include:

  • Anxiety disorders cause excessive fear and intense feelings of worry or dread that may impact behavior.
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger that the object or situation poses, or more intense than would seem necessary.
  • Anxiety typically gets triggered by anticipating a future threat.
  • Anxiety causes muscle tension as a person prepares for danger.
  • Anxiety may result in cautious and avoidant behavior as the fear causes a person to assess their risks.
  • Panic attacks may occur as a fear response.
  • Objects and situations (in this case, the fear of commitment) induce fear and anxiety, or a person will try to avoid the fear completely, which may mean avoiding commitment and impacting relationships in a negative way.
  • An anxiety disorder differs from occasional anxiousness or fear, as it is persistent, usually lasting six months or more.

The Neurobiology of Fear

Researchers think that some people have what is called "exaggerated fear conditionability" in the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which is responsible for emotional processing and memory. This dysfunction in fear processing—when fear far outweighs the threat—seems to connect to fear processing activity in the amygdala.

What Causes Fear of Commitment?

The cause of gamophobia can be complex, but it often involves negative expectations of commitment or marriage. Gamophobia can begin in early childhood. When children witness parents fighting or experience a contentious divorce, negative attitudes about commitment may begin to form.

In the United States, currently half of all marriages end in divorce. For some people, continually hearing about unsuccessful marriages or betrayed partnerships may cause them to develop gamophobia, even if they are not experiencing a negative situation themselves.

Culture of Marriage

Cultural beliefs about marriage can also account for increases in gamophobia. One study notes that weddings differ significantly among countries and cultures. In cultures where elaborate and expensive weddings are the norm, there tends to be increased anxiety around making a commitment.

Fear of Commitment and Early Attachment

Researchers are exploring early attachment issues as a cause of fear of intimacy. Early experiences as children with our primary caregivers or parents can impact how we function in adult relationships later in life.

When parents and caregivers respond to a child's needs for comfort and love, the child is likely to develop secure attachment. If, for whatever reason, a child's emotional and physical needs are not met, they may be more likely to develop insecure attachment.

This pattern of relationships becomes internalized by the child. As an adult, they are likely to express the pattern they experienced as a child. People with a fear of commitment typically have an insecure attachment style, along with fears of abandonment and rejection.

Treatment

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are effective treatments for anxiety and depression. These can include:

These are not likely to be the primary treatments for gamophobia. Rather, different psychotherapy approaches will likely be required, and medications may be used alongside therapy in certain circumstances.

Help Is Available

If fear of commitment is impacting your life and negatively impacting your relationships, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline online or call 800-662-4357 for more information on how to find support and treatment options specific to your geographic area.

For more mental health resources, including a helpful list of links and hotline numbers, see our National Helpline Database.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy that's considered a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders.

CBT helps people reduce anxiety by exploring their thoughts and how they choose to behave based on their thoughts and feelings. CBT is a great way to challenge your behavior and choices, as well as a way to create strategies to change your automatic thoughts and the choices that typically follow.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

This approach to therapy examines people's underlying and often unconscious expectations and conflicts that might contribute to fears of commitment.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

In cases in which gamophobia is related to past trauma, taking a trauma-based approach to therapy may be especially beneficial.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is typically a trauma-based treatment method that was designed to help people overcome the emotional distress of traumatic memories. In one 20-year study, EMDR therapy demonstrated a positive effect on both panic and phobic symptoms.

Coping With Gamophobia

It's important to seek help for any anxiety disorder, especially if it limits your quality of life. Some techniques that may help include:

  • Journaling: Recording your thoughts, fears, and hesitations around marriage and commitment may help you to better understand your fears and anxieties.
  • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, and visualization can all reduce stress and tension stored in the body. There are free phone apps and videos online that can offer guided meditations, tips, and techniques to help.
  • Focus on what people are saying: People with anxiety can make assumptions that others are saying something negative when they may be just speaking from their own experience. Try focusing on what another person is saying in the moment, rather than assuming it's something worse.
  • Be present: The practice of mindful meditation can help with being present in the moment. Gently guiding anxious thoughts back into the present time may provide some relief.

Summary

Gamophobia is a fear of relationship commitment. This may be due to past relationship trauma or witnessing a negative experience of marriage in your past. Treatments and coping mechanisms are available to help people with gamophobia overcome their fear of commitment.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with an extreme fear can be debilitating, and it may be hard for others to understand just how intense the fear and anxiety are for you. It's important to seek help when gamophobia or any anxiety issue is impacting your quality of life. With effective treatments, coping skills, and support, relationships may be easier to manage.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks, LMFT
Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks is a licensed marriage and family therapist, health reporter and medical writer with over twenty years of experience in journalism. She has a degree in journalism from The University of Florida and a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University.