Question:

I don’t know why I’m afraid to be in a relationship. I want one but when it’s time to get serious I get so scared. I’m enjoying being single, but feel lonely at the same time. I’m attracted to the guys who don’t want a relationship. I find that the guys who do want relationships aren’t attractive to me, even though I would like them to be with me. I want to be happy with someone, but it’s hard for me to commit.

Answer:

The conflicting feelings you’re experiencing aren’t going to disappear until you find a secure connection with another person. I’m not suggesting you run right out and jump into a relationship. I’m suggesting you work to understand what keeps you from committing to connection and then take steps to build a healthy relationship with another person. You’ll be much better off in connection than in isolation.

Individuals who swear off relationships usually have experienced loss, abuse, rejection, abandonment, or betrayal in a close relationship. The hurts could have happened in childhood, adolescence, or in adulthood. I’m curious where you have been hurt in previous relationships and why being alone seems more attractive to you.

Just because you’re scared to be in a close relationship doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. Being close to someone requires vulnerability, which most of us instinctively avoid. However, as Dr. Brene Brown once said, “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, belonging, and creativity.”

When we put ourselves in the hands of someone else, we are totally exposed and vulnerable. They can hurt us in a way no one else can. When you’re in a safe relationship, you don’t even realize how vulnerable you are because you’re in a secure bond. On the other hand, if you’ve been burned, you have a heightened awareness of your vulnerability.

I recommend you pick up a copy of Sue Johnson’s new book, “Love Sense”, which will help you better understand your conflicting feelings. Humans are born wired to connect to others. We only disconnect when we learn connection isn’t safe. As you understand where this went wrong in your life, you can begin taking steps to fix it.

Recognize that even though you are alone, you’re not alone. A recent report in USA Today cited census data showing that more than one in four households had just a single person in 2012. In contrast, in 1970, one-person households accounted for fewer than one in six. In 1900, it was one in 20. Our society is moving toward isolation, even though we’re more connected electronically than previous generations. Some commentators, such as Sherry Turkle, author of “Alone Together”, are noticing that our electronic over connecting is actually our way of hiding from real connection.

I recommend you practice connecting in a real and present way with those around you. Put down your electronic connections and work on spending quantity and quality time with your friends in person. Practice asking good questions, listening, making eye contact, and see what you notice. Perhaps you have difficulty tolerating closeness with others. Perhaps you enjoy the experience, but have fear that you’ll be rejected. As you better understand your own reactions to closeness, you’ll be better prepared to understand how to navigate a close romantic relationship.

I see your desire to connect to others. You can have a close relationship, even if it takes time and practice getting it right with the right person.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.


You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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