Is your mate afraid to commit?

A commitment phobia is a fear and subsequent avoidance of having to commit to anything — especially a relationship. If you are involved with someone who is afraid of commitment, it can be both frustrating and perplexing. And if you, yourself are a commitment phobe, life can be pretty lonely.

While there may be many reasons for the fear of commitment, the fear often begins when a child has a loss of an important person in their life. Divorce or the death of a parent can be so traumatic that the child may always fear losing a loved one.

This fear of loss and rejection keeps the commitment phobe from taking a risk on a relationship.

If a child is a witness to spousal abuse they may fear getting hurt or hurting other people when they grow up, and they could grow up to be an adult who never wants to get married.

A commitment phobe is someone you date who tells you they want to be with you desperately, and they chase you with incredible zeal. But once they "catch" you, they turn cool and critical.

How to identify a commitment phobe:

1. Hot and cold
The person exhibits very aggressive interest, with lots of compliments and professions of love. Once you are hooked, however, they suddenly create distance, act as though they are trapped and tell you they "need space."

2. Picks fights
When a relationship is working well, they annoy or hurt you in an attempt to blow up the relationship.

3. Creates a roller coaster relationship
They get very involved and then break up, only to come back to you and break up again and again.

4. Avoids the next step
They cannot discuss marriage or living together.

5. Looks for perfection
They have unrealistic ideas on the perfect mate.

6. Self-fulfilling prophecy
They pick "unavailable" partners so they don't have to worry about commitment.

What to do if your mate won't commit:

1. Get out while the gettin' is good
If you can identify the signs in someone before you are in too deep, you may want to hit the road and find someone else. Working out intimacy issues with someone who is afraid of commitment is difficult. There could be a lot of heartache ahead, with no certainty of a happy ending.

2. Be empathetic
If you are already hooked, and solidly in the relationship, try to be empathetic and discuss the problem with your partner. Avoid being critical, which will only drive them away.

3. Therapy is a must
Therapy is a must for the person. Tell them you understand that it is scary for them, but that in order for you to stay with them, they have to get help.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” For more information, you can visit her Web site, . Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” is to be published in May 2004.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.