Why do people (men and women both) in relationships typically want what they don’t have, and when they have it, they do not want it anymore? Is it the hunt? Is it the thrill of the kill? Is it the chase? Or is that just a person who does not know what they really want? I know that some people have commitment issues and are runners when they get into a relationship, but people fight so hard for something and then at the turn of a switch are willing to throw it all away. This makes no sense to me.
You’re right that it doesn’t make much sense when this happens. It’s terribly painful to be in a relationship you think is going somewhere and then someone disappears on you. While there are probably as many reasons as there are people, I’ve seen a few patterns over the years that might explain why people sabotage what they say they want. And please recognize that even though there might be explanations, it still doesn’t make it any easier to suddenly lose a relationship.
One pattern I’ve observed over my career involves distorted expectations about how relationships work. We don’t have many healthy examples of long-term stable relationships in our media saturated culture. Most of the relationship stories told in movies, songs, and books focus on starting the relationship but fail to model how to keep a relationship going. In other words, they show the easy part that doesn’t require much from us.
New relationships are full of excitement, novelty, and infatuation. These qualities run on autopilot without much input from ourselves. In fact, it mostly requires us to temper our reactions. There’s nothing wrong with infatuation in the early stages of courtship. It’s essential for the formation of an attachment bond, but it eventually serves its purpose and gives way to more stable forms of love and commitment. Infatuation is a terrible substitute for the long-term qualities of commitment, sacrifice, compassion, and understanding.
For some people, once the newness of the relationship wears off, it’s tempting to seek out a new relationship thinking that something must be wrong if it doesn’t feel amazing all the time. Remember that intensity is not the same as intimacy. I realize that stories about long-term commitment and sacrifice don’t make very good Hollywood blockbusters. However, I think that only showing panicked lovers chasing departing taxis in the rain doesn’t give us a good sense of what real love and commitment looks like.
Some people also have commitment issues because of previous relationship losses, such as betrayal, abuse, and other traumas. These are serious and real issues that keep injured people cautious about forming and maintaining new bonds. If you or someone you love has been deeply injured in a previous relationship, seek the help you need to heal those wounds, so you don’t drag those fears into the next relationship. I once heard someone say that we can’t start a new relationship until we finish the old ones.
Many of us have been hurt in family and romantic relationship, yet we’re hard-wired for connection. If you’re dating someone and they suddenly disappear on you without explanation, see if you can re-engage them to understand what happened. If they avoid the discussion and won’t work toward resolving their hesitations, it’s probably best to let them go. Commitment is a two-way street and can’t work if one person is doing all the reaching. Healthy relationships are comprised of two people who are actively working to care for the comfort and well-being of the other person.
I hear your frustration and worry about people who can’t commit. Instead of trying to answer that question in the abstract, I encourage you to make sure you don’t have these commitment issues in your own life. Be the person who can commit and build connection. Then, take that committed heart and see if you can build a relationship with someone else. You care about commitment, and I invite you to act on it. Someone out there needs your committed heart, for sure.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com
Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.