Camouflaging Fear in Relationships: Dr. Bonnie Explains Why People Shy Away From Marriage

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The number of unmarried couples has increased 25 percent in the last ten years (, a number that can be blamed on a number of things. Relationship therapist Dr. Bonnie says it has to do with what one recent New York Times article discussed: the fear of losing yourself (

There are fewer marriages and more long-term couples today than there were ten years ago ( and a recent article in the New York Times sheds some light on why this might be ( Aside from economic and practical concerns that many couples face nowadays, people are fearful, after such a long time on their own, of losing their identity if they commit to a partner. Relationship therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil says fear pushes many people away from "traditional" commitment. But she believes couples can overcome these challenges.

Like the woman in the New York Times article, many try to mask their fears with other activities, putting off commitment until a certain check list has been completed. "The woman in the New York Times ended up remodeling her home as an 'escape hatch,'" explains Dr. Bonnie, "and people do this in a million different ways when they're scared to commit, without even knowing it." While Dr. Bonnie says wisdom and patience are of course important when planning a future, some people take that to extremes: undertaking new projects, making sure everything is perfect, but essentially putting things off.

Often times, the step before marriage is cohabitation, something that Dr. Bonnie says many couples simply "ease into, without thinking about what it means." This can result in a broken relationship, or in escalated feelings of fear. "But really, when done right," points out Dr. Bonnie, "this step can be used to help put people at ease."

Cohabitation isn't as official or as legally binding as a marriage," says Dr. Bonnie, "but people still end up pooling their resources, financially supporting each other, sacrificing for one another just like they would in a marriage. So it's wise for couples to protect themselves even if there's not a ring on their fingers."

It can also be a good step for people who are commitment-phobic. It's less of a commitment than marriage but putting together an agreement prior to moving in together is a good idea. "It lays out the ground rules," explains Dr. Bonnie, "so that people are on the same page and have a distinct idea of what the expectations are. There are no assumptions."

In situations like these, she suggests a cohabitation contract, to help put each person at ease, but to also mark the change in the relationship. These agreements address typical issues like how to split assets should the couple break up, but they can also set day-to-day ground rules like who shops for the groceries, how the rent is divided, and so forth. She also underscores the idea that living together should be a bridge to full commitment - marriage - and not just a cop-out to avoid getting married.

"When people are worried about losing their identity in a relationship, I tell them about the Porcupine in an Igloo Theory," says Dr. Bonnie. "It states that two porcupines living in an igloo need to stay close enough to keep warm, but not so close that they might prick each other!" She says the same goes for couples when they live together - closeness is of course good, but maintaining self-identity and space is one of the keys to a fulfilling long-term relationship.

By taking smaller steps and addressing each issue as it comes up, Dr. Bonnie believes people will be more inclined - and more at ease - about making a long-term commitment.

To see Dr. Bonnie discussing how to move past fear click here: and check out her book Make Up Don't Break Up.

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