Commitment: Two Reasons Why You Run

No, it’s not a surprise why commitment is such a scary term. It evokes chills, nervousness, anxiety. The term immediately brings to mind visions of trap-doors, exits, and running. If people didn’t have commitment issues, the book, The Dance of Intimacy and Struggle for Intimacy, wouldn’t be bestsellers (but they are bestsellers). Bottom line is, you’re not alone. Whoever you’re involved with is absolutely as scared as you are.


I looked up some synonyms for the word “commitment.” Some are: engaged, pledge, imprison, obligate, surrender, vow, trust, confide, expose, give, promise. (Anybody running away yet?) True, these are synonyms, they’re words like ‘commitment,’ but not equal to it. Yet, isn’t that how we think? We think “imprisonment” when we hear the word commitment. We make the worst possible translation of the word!

But, I actually like the synonym “engaged.” Engaged means active participation. “Engagement” suggests consciousness – a decision to be involved (active, not passive). Engaged means you are occupied, involved, interested, in thought, attentive, and stimulated. It means that something is holding your attention is such a way that you’re making a decision to give something your time and attention.


“The married are those who have taken the terrible risk of intimacy and, having taken it, know life without intimacy to be impossible.”
~ Carolyn Heilbrun

You are going to try to convince yourself to leave your relationship, and have in the past, right? I have. We’re wired for it! My advice is this: agree with yourself that you will recognize and allow that part of yourself to exist, but don’t react to that voice. Stay. (Same goes for your job, and friendships – you probably hear that little voice, that hurting child in you, saying ‘let’s get out of here,’ fairly frequently.) When it’s no longer time to stay, if that moment comes, trust yourself that you will absolutely know it and that you will act accordingly.

People run from commitment. But why do children of alcoholics, in particular, run from commitment?

Two reasons. Drama is familiar. Abandonment is familiar. On many levels, we’re re-enacting a familiar drama when we run from commitment and break off yet another relationship (or friendship). Sure, it’s possible that we unconsciously pick partners we’ll leave. But, it’s not as simple as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we’re not victims. We’re not trying to hurt ourselves or others. No. What’s going on is that breakups are so, so familiar to us – we’re used to ‘good’ being short lived. We’re not used to or trained to be comfortable with perfect calm nor days upon end that are free of conflict. Human nature is to be attracted to the familiar, to what is habit, so it is, in many ways, the easiest course of action – to flee, to abandon someone, to blame them for hurting you – then hurt them back.

As you become more self-reflective, you’ll be able to notice your less obvious patterns. One emotional pattern to take notice of is, ‘poor me.’ How often do you see yourself as a victim of another person’s behavior or words? We’re used to emotionally invasive communication from our childhoods. That makes it hard for us to recognize non-violating communication or behavior (we have to teach that to ourselves). So, we tend to believe that someone actually meant to hurt our feelings when they do. We tend to become very angry, very defensive, when our feelings are hurt. It’s hard to trust our evaluations of another person’s intentions because we have so many defenses working overtime.

I’ve had to teach myself how to give others the benefit of the doubt when my feelings are hurt, which was not easy because I discovered that I wanted to be a victim. I wanted to be right. I wanted the guy to admit that he was wrong, or hurtful, or neglectful. I never got the chance to say ‘you hurt me’ to my mother, and on some level, I’m attempting to get that apology from everyone else. In reality, it’s the five-year-old girl in me trying to get reparations. But, that’s the past. When I realized I was reacting to my childhood memories, which took a lot of talking, self-reflection and faith (oh, faith!), I started to become someone who could give others the benefit of the doubt. Now I ask a person what they meant and why they did what they did, so that I can understand their actions – and not take their actions personally. If you can work on this, it’s a good skill to acquire – it sets you free just a bit more. If you stop taking everything personally, give others the benefit of the doubt, it forces you to grow up. It forces you to leave your victim self behind. It forces you, also, to take responsibility for your feelings and actions.

A hard truth: children of alcoholics allow themselves a lot of leeway for mistreating others. You wouldn’t think that someone so sensitive and someone who’s hurting inside would allow themselves to be careless with the feelings of others, but we do. We tell ourselves that we’re in so much pain and were so emotionally abused that we’re justified in the anger we throw at people we love. But we’re not justified.

It is an act of courage to treat others well when you’re hurting. It’s an act of courage to acknowledge that the void in you cannot be filled. You can come to peace with that void, you can nurture it yourself.


“My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem. But they don’t really know me.”
~ Garry Shandling

The second reason why we have a hard time with commitment is because we’re constantly in search of control and because we’re also constantly afraid of losing control.

What better way to cure both those fears than to end relationships? That assures you that you won’t lose control and it’s a way to seize control. The question is, is that what you really want?

Knowing that you crave control and are afraid of losing it, accepting this fact, and learning to live with this fact will free you.

Are you someone who needs a lot of reassurance from your partner? Think about what percentage of that need comes from the child inside you who was abandoned either emotionally or physically. Then be careful what percentage you expect from your partner, and be fair. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Don’t expect your partner to fill up the void in you. It’s your job to nurture that void.

Are you someone who breaks up with a person in order to regain a sense of control over your life? If so, realize that part of being in a relationship is becoming comfortable with a feeling of little control. Becoming comfortable with feeling vulnerable, and be comfortable applying faith. Learn to trust yourself. By becoming comfortable with vulnerability, I do not mean trust someone undeserving of trust, and I don’t mean throw yourself headlong into a bad relationship. What I mean is, be kind to yourself and to your feelings of vulnerability while in a relationship that has signs of being a good one – be open to the possibility that you can handle it, and even enjoy it.

You cannot have a successful relationship without some degree of letting go.


“Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still.”
~ Robert Sternberg

Know your boundaries. So many relationships get off to a lightning speed start because we fail to take it slow, and because we fail to respect and defend our boundaries. There is never a good reason to rush. There is every reason to take things slow, especially if you’re the child of alcoholics. If you know your boundaries, if you learn how to recognize when your boundaries are broken, and if you learn how to assert your boundaries, you will have come a long way towards greater comfort with commitment and intimacy.

Don’t expect intimacy to be easy. Be fair, be honest, and be kind to your partner. Because we’re hurting from the past, it’s easy to expect too much emotional nurturing from our partners. Get your head straight on that, and take care of yourself, don’t expect that to be done for you. Take responsibility for how you treat your loved one – don’t punish them or disrespect them because you’re mad at your alcoholic father or mother. Treating others with respect is an act of self-respect.


To say ‘I love you’ one must know first how to say the ‘I’.”
~ Ayn Rand

When you’re committed, you’re apt to start focusing on the needs and emotional reactions of your partner. You’re wired this way. Be good to yourself and make sure that you are not losing sight of yourself, that you are growing yourself and taking time to yourself independent of your relationship. You need to experience separation and reunion (on a micro level); for instance, if your partner goes to work for the day, or goes away from a weekend, realize that they didn’t leave you, and that you’re ‘with’ one another while apart. You need to allow yourself to ‘let go’ for a day, or for a weekend and trust that everything is fine. Children of alcoholics experience abandonment too often – we’re like little puppy dogs, we don’t know that the person is actually coming back. We don’t know it because we’ve seen people leave and never come back. The trick is to separate the past from the present and remember you’re in the now – in a life you’re in charge of.

Remember that your relationship is not your childhood. Your relationship needs oxygen as much as you do. You need to walk, run, and get exercise – oxygen into your blood. Your relationship is very much a living organism that needs to be oxygenated – breaking your routine and doing something new, taking a night to yourself, a weekend to yourself, or focusing on a new hobby (not on your partner’s needs). Investing time in growing yourself and your abilities will keep you happy, in or out of a relationship.


“As soon as the love relationship does not lead me to me, as soon as I in a love relationship do not lead another person to himself, this love, even if it seems to be the most secure and ecstatic attachment I have ever experienced, is not true love. For real love is dedicated to continual becoming.”
~ Leo Buscaglia

If you’re going to get courageous, it would help to know that you’re probably in a good relationship, right? That’s fair. Here are some hallmarks of a healthy relationship. Trust your judgment on the rest.

In a good relationship these qualities will be present:

You enjoy your time together
You’re free to be yourself
You’re free to grow and explore new interests
You are respectful to your partner
You receive respect
You’re not criticized
You don’t criticize your partner
You accept your partner
You can agree to disagree
You’re free to your opinions
You value your partner’s opinions
You take time to yourself
You give your partner time to him or herself
You sometimes do separate activities

These are the basic rules of thumb. I’d read over the list asking yourself if you measure up first before you focus too much on whether or not your partner does.

Good luck! You’re not alone!


  1. rr says:

    How do you get back in the past and tell how you feel to your best girl ever?

  2. Me says:

    I cried reading this. Thank you.

  3. amy eden says:

    You’re welcome. You must have read it at just the right time.
    How to go back into the past… you can’t. You could write to her, telling her that the old you (and the current you) really cares for her. Maybe the timing will be right, and maybe not — you’ll have to accept the response, whatever her response is. (You can also write a letter, but not send it…that can be very effective!)
    –amy eden

  4. PHILLIP says:

    I just spent the last year getting to know a terrific lady and as I got to know her, she shared some terible truths with me about her past, and I always told her, that I could not change the past but could offer her a brighter future, I treated her like a lady of equality! my equal to say! and about 3 weeks ago, she disappeared and I see her often at work, but outside of that, we do not talk anymore, and when she finally started talking to me again, she said in so many words, PHILLIP, you have left a lasting impression in my life, no one has ever treated me or respected me the way you do, I love you and will always love you, but we are done! lets be friends! and then 3 days later she is back with her ex-boyfriend that treated her like a human toilet?! and what is frustrating is…. seeing her fall down that ugly path and not be able to stop it!

  5. Jill says:

    I just started to try to accept that my childhood past has affected me. I saw so much of myself in this posting. I have always been so fearful of commitment and want it at the same time. Sometimes I think about marriage and feel so good about it and great about the man I’m with then…those fears creep back in “what if it doesn’t work out” “what if I’m not happy”..I need to hear “I love you” all the time. I do want control. I have been accused of “wanting guarentees”. I don’t want to be like this anymore, always thinking the worst will happen and that preventing me from living my life that I want.

  6. Marie says:

    I read this at the right time in my life. I am in my mid 20′s now and have been many relationships. The last one I ran from him because I got scared. It took my almost 4 months later to realize the reason I let the relationship go. I thought it was the easy way out, but now I can see it only made my heartache in sadness.
    Reading this just brought light to what I already was trying to figure out.
    Thank you.

  7. c.m. says:

    I’m also the child of an alcoholic parent and I’ve recently noticed myself lashing out at others and almost purposely trying to break others’ hearts. I became like you said you had. I wanted to be the victim, and I never wanted to admit I was wrong. I’ve never been shown a fully functional relationship and have already begun to fail in my own relationships. I identified so much with this article that I had to thank you for helping me to understand a little bit more about myself because I do not yet have as much life experience. Sadly, I am not on speaking terms with my alcoholic parent, and therefore have never been able to tell him just how much pain he has caused me. I hope one day I’ll be strong enough to be able to overcome my fears and understand that not everyone out there will hurt me. Thank you for this article.

  8. amy eden says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and writing this comment.
    While it doesnt make sense (rationally) that wed hurt others or lash out at people we care for, it does make sense (emotionally) — we were just so hurt as children by not being unconditionally loved and allowed to be our true selves, and not being given a consistent and loving environment in which to grow into self-loving adults…that we are like wild, hurting, untouched, untamed wolves trying to live like anything but wild animals.
    But, were resilient and clearly we want to heal ourselves. Ive come to believe that we are designed to heal.
    Its a challenge to heal ourselves and grow up into adulthood (in adulthood) while negotiating our existing relationships – thats the ultimate challenge: fixing the train while its moving. But, we can. Bit by bit.
    (As an aside, Ive wanted to visit Vietnam for a long time. Someday, I will. I want to witness those resilient people and land, and see how the country has healed itself over time, post-war. Theres something about visiting a resilient people…I have a hunch that Ill learn something big about healing in that environment.)
    Big hug -

  9. Beats says:

    I’ve been dating a wonderful guy for over a year now and I don’t know why but he keeps me around despite the fact that I’m constantly trying to sabotage our relationship. I get so mad at him and demand so much from him but whenever I stop and ask myself why I’m mad at him and what I really want from him I never have any clue. I just went through this cycle with him again today and got so frustrated with myself that I actually got on my computer and Googled “commitment issues” and felt so lame when I did it but I’m so glad I did because reading this has really opened up my eyes to my situation. I’m so glad that someone knows how I feel and that these irrational feelings and this frustration is coming from somewhere real. I feel like I can finally start fixing myself after reading this.
    Thank you so much.

  10. amy-eden says:

    Beats – You’re not alone! :-)
    I don’t know if this will help further, but sometimes when I’m deeply frustrated it turns out it’s because I haven’t advocated for myself and I’m struggling against the result of not advocating for myself and truly facing the reality at hand — that it’s ME I’m frustrated with, not them. (It seems easier to avoid confrontation, or perceived confrontation..but only for the immediate moment’s relief.)
    Good luck with it, and glad you’re here!

  11. Heidi Supkis says:

    I have been married to an Adult Child of Alcoholics for 22 years….both his parents were “drunks”.
    This journey has been most difficult even knowing what the issues are……and he refuses therapy or counseling. My life has become placating him, his important CHIEF job (workaholic symptoms),
    his lack of respect for others (he makes no friendships) and his lack of physical and emotional intimacy. I am ready to call it quits. No trust in this relationship because he does not mean what he says or say what he means. His issues of control and authority have caused numerous employment changes and he resorts to bullying others to conform to his way of thinking. He is 6 foot 4 inches, very fit – lean and fastidious but so needy and child like. Too hot outside, too cold, too many bugs, I have stickers in my socks……and unable to give someone a helpful, kind gesture.

    I cannot change HIM……but need to save myself from this destructive relationship.

    • Amy Eden says:

      I feel for you, big time. I really do.
      You’re right, just knowing the facts of what you’re dealing with doesn’t make it easier day to day on the ground. Yeah, it’s up to him to change himself, if he decides that he wants to (if the people around him morph themselves to fit what he needs, would he need to prioritize changing?)
      Sounds like you’re fed up! What is it that you most want for yourself?

  12. NS says:

    This post is really quite helpful! As the daughter of 2 addicts, I am very used to abandonment (both from them and other adults in my life when I was growing up) and it is because of this that I have become a master of pushing people away. When there is someone (a guy in most cases) that manages to stick around past that, I then think something is wrong with them. Who likes someone that doesn’t respond to a text message for days at a time? OR who likes someone that insists on driving herself everywhere? Of course, after that I feel like I have been so awful that I don’t deserve the positive feelings or time they have for me. Either that, or I get close to someone and as soon as I know they aren’t going to be around I attempt to convince myself that they didn’t actually like me in the first place, and that they were just being nice! That position is one my college advisor is in right now, she has been the most supportive person I have had in my life for the past 2.5 years and I am leaving college. I can’t lie, I have noticed for a while now that I do a great deal of what I mentioned and what is mentioned in the post above, however I have never really felt I was able to put a stop to the behavior. Until now that is!! Thank you for the excellent insight!

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  14. Sarah says:

    This is great. My relationship is perfect when my mood is. When I’m off form I do try push him away .i want him to want me. But he couldn’t want me anymore than he does. Poor guy. Was brought up by a loving mother and when she drank the insults would fly and fights would happen. Dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to put the dishes away.running home from school and knowing by the stale smell in the house that she’d be drunk.always expecting the worst. I can’t cope with normality.when you spend 18 years in that atmosphere. How do you live like a normal person?

    • Amy Eden says:

      Define “normal” person… :-) I think a compassionate partner can work with someone “off form” as long as there’s respect and responsibility happening on both sides consistently in the relationship. And that you can still love and have compassion for yourself coming out of an off day is key – to know, deeply, that you’re loveable even when you’re in a panic, and to embody that self-esteem is key.
      When two people deeply respect one another and also give the other person the room to be who they are, on any given day, then that’s “normal.”
      There’s no relationship that’s good solely because one person is perfect. Similarly, one person can’t save or maintain a relationship. There are always two parties involved. Both people steer the boat.
      There’s no normal, there’s no perfect :-) there’s humanity, compassion, and loving our wacky, imperfect selves.

  15. Really Hollow says:

    I really wish I could have read this 3 months ago. I fell in love really fast and really hard for a man that had a huge impact on my life. He healed me from so many hurts by just being himself and allowing me to be myself. He accepted me for who I was and celebrated me. To say the least the passion developed quickly and just as quickly he backed away. I have never trusted so easily. Haven’t trusted in a dozen years. Now this. I am hollow. I wish I could have understood his challenges, failure to commit. I so miss him and wish he were still a part of my life everyday.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Thanks for sharing that – so, sweet and bittersweet. (It reminds me of the quote it’s better to have loved than never to have loved at all), but… wouldn’t we rather keep the love?! It’s a beautiful thing that you experienced that state of being yourself with someone else, that depth of acceptance. That gives you a touchpoint — you know know what the feels like and won’t accept anything else. And perhaps in the future there will be a love that provides that …from a person who is able to stay, and stay the course, too. :-)

  16. JartyTek says:

    It was nice reading all of these posts as they help me to understand my problem much better.

    I was engaged to a ACoA for two years. She moved in to my home in anticipation of our marriage in late August. In late September, I went out of town on business….there were no arguments, disagreements or any controversy. I received regular texts like we always did in the morning but in the afternoon, I received one from her that said that our relationship was over, she had moved out and that I should NOT attempt to contact her.

    I immediately tired to call and text her but my phone was blocked. I tried to call her family and friends to see what was going on to which I received a text from her threatening to call the police if I attempted to do so again. Later that evening, I learned that she had unfriended and blocked me on social media, did the same with all of the people she had met through me and encouraged her family and friends to also unfriend me (what does one even say to get people to do something like this??? I wonder what kind of stories she is telling them?).

    Since then I have tried to call her from n unblocked hotel room I was staying in while traveling, and sent her a couple of emails from an account she was unaware I used (‘we are better than this, lets talk”). This was greeted by a letter from an attorney threatening if I continued ‘harassment’ (1 phone call and 2 emails) that they would arrange for a personal protection order.

    Three weeks later and there has been no communication at all save the anger that she has expressed through her attorney and the unfriending and such by her and her friends (this is a 43 year old woman!!!!).

    Though she has done variations on this theme in the past, this time the ‘scorched earth’ policy is very surprising. I was very confused by her actions this and the other instances. We did very little arguing and I was sincerely good to her to the extent that people in her sphere would go on about me and how well I treated her (not a pushover my any stretch, but I was very considerate to her).

    I was finally able to make the linkage and realize that her ACoA status was at the heart of the episode. The various articles that I had read that describe ACoA were spot on to the extent that they seemed to be written specifically about her (and her teenaged son). I helped to garner a better understanding of what had transpired and what had governed her thoughts….I never imagined the that fear of commitment could result in a situation like this one.

    So; in the wake of the relationship I am of two thoughts. On the one hand, I could – logically – never entertain the idea of going back with her even if could find a way to contact her (part of me believes that she WANTS me to come for her) after all of this. While the other side of me believes that there is a good person in there that needs help and that I love her. I am a fairly well educated and rational man who is usually sure footed and confident with what I do. This situation has really throw me for a loop.

    I welcome your thoughts and opinions regarding this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow! Your story really resonates with me! I have spent 6 yrs. with an active alcoholic whose mother was emotionally unavailable, and father abandoned them altogether. There was lots of drinking in his home and in the various homes that he then tried to escape to at an early age. He bounced around from family member to family member as a young boy, grandma, aunt, sisters, uncle, then friend’s homes as he got a bit older. He was sober for seven years when I met him. So I did not realize what I was getting myself in to. I loved this man. And I thought he loved me.

      Several times now he has pulled this same exact M.O. Yesterday we had plans to eat dinner and out of the blue he texts me to say that dinner is off and he’s moving out. Nothing had happened between us at all— no argument. I too have even told that same thing… To leave him alone or he’ll call the cops and get a restraining order, change his number, move out of state, disappear… Oh boy! I’ve never experienced this type of roller coaster before him.

      I am in a state of extreme anxiety and depression over this. I know that he wants to be left alone to drink. Yet the level of anger directed at me is intense. I have loved this man for six years, although he now claims it was six years of hell. I am so saddened and hurt by the way that he has treated me. I feel thrown away like a piece of trash. The man I love wants nothing to do with me. The whole police thing is wild though. One phone call and be says I’m harassing him, threatening him, just by calling cuz he wants to be left alone! :(

      • Amy Eden says:

        A lot of alcoholics carry intense feelings of shame within them. Maybe that’s what it driving him to want to be left alone – like an injured animal gnashing its teeth, “Leave me alone to heal my wounds, or…to be wounded.” The toughest truth is that we can’t be loved until we love ourselves. I’ve tried to love an addict, and ended up being accused of not giving him what he cannot give himself. It’s not your fault. And you can’t help him. You can love him by granting him aloneness and to love him from afar — while taking very good, kind care of yourself. Big, big hug.

  17. Kat says:

    Love this article. It really makes me think.. Wow! .. I chose to stick with a shitty husband for over 20 years because because at least I knew he’d never leave me.. Finally left and now I’m terribly skittish in relationships – ready to leave at the drop of a hat. Reason #2 hits home with me big time! So enlightening.. thank you so much! I think that now that I’m better aware I can work on this.

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