‘I need space.’

Anybody over 14 is familiar with what it means.

It means, ‘It’s over and I don’t quite know how to tell you yet, so I’m going to start seeing you less and less in the hope that you won’t notice when I finally don’t show up at all’.

That’s what most of us mean when we trot out those three not-so-magic words.

However, not all.

There’s a certain type of person who means exactly what they say when they say they need space: the commitment phobe.

People who fear commitment are afraid to be near others or take long-term decisions.

They are easy to recognize in fiction. For example, Big on SATC or Christian Grey in Fifty Shades. However, what happens in real life?

That’s a little tougher – but there are giveaway signs.

Your relationship isn’t doomed if you recognise one or two of these. If you score more than 4, then it’s time to pay closer attention. 

Are you dating a commitment phobe? There are 11 crucial questions to ask yourself that will give you an insight into your relationship (stock image)

Is your relationship a commitment-phobe? These 11 questions will help you gain insight into your relationship (stock photo) 

They will tell you that they do not want to commit. 

Commitment phobes don’t hide their disinterest in intimacy and often say, ‘I’m not sure I want a relationship right now’, or ‘I don’t really do relationships/commitment’.

They’ve only had short-term or ‘casual’ relationships. 

Even if they did manage to chalk up a relationship that lasted more than six months, they’ll still label it because ‘nothing special’. Scratch the surface of those that did seem significant, and you’ll often find they hooked up with another commitment avoider and both led quite separate lives.

They don’t properly engage with you. 

You send a long, loving text with lots of information about your day and asking about theirs; their reply is ‘Glad you’re having a nice time’. There are no emojis nor kisses.

Tracey Cox says that finding out what's behind your partner's commitment issues is the only hope you have of moving the relationship on

Tracey Cox believes that the best way to move the relationship forward is to find out the reasons behind the partner’s issues with commitment. 

Even if you’ve just had a great night, don’t hold your breath waiting for that good night text waxing lyrical about how wonderful you are. They don’t feel like they’ve made an emotional attachment because, well, they haven’t.

They don’t like signing on the dotted line – for anything. 

Commitment phobes aren’t just scared of committing to relationships. Anything that ‘ties them down’ scares them: a mortgage, future holiday plans, a rental agreement. How have they committed themselves to other things in their lives?

They’ve had a bad experience in their past. Look at the past of most commitment phobes and you’ll usually find the reason why they’ve ended up that way.

They’ve been married or in a long-term relationship that ended badly.

 Their parents divorced and they saw the fall-out. Worse, they are still together and just as miserable as ever.

Their experience of relationships isn’t fab.

You must be in control. 

Be careful if your partner doesn’t like being told what to do. Because they enjoy being in charge, commitment phobes can be argumentative and defensive. If they’re in control, they can control their emotions and they can’t get hurt. That, of course, is ultimately what they’re scared of.

They’re unreliable. 

They are quick to cancel and then reschedule. They’re always late because they resent having to be somewhere at a certain time. It’s the same with money: they don’t pay bills until they’ve had several ‘overdue’ warnings.

They don’t like making plans. 

Fear your partner if they hate to tie themselves down, even just a few days before, If they also don’t reply to messages, calls or texts for days, be very afraid.

They aren’t affectionate and don’t like talking about their feelings. 

Again, it’s the control thing. If they tell you intimate things about themselves, they’ve given you the power to hurt them.

They’ll avoid any PDA’s because it suggests you’re ‘official’. They won’t say ‘I love you’ back or, if they do, it’s only when they’re drunk. Lots of commitment phobes won’t share deep thoughts about anything, not just the relationship.

They panic at the mere mention of commitment – even if it’s not in relation to them. 


Asking for time or being unsure

All of us need to take time before we can make major decisions such as marriage and moving in. Not being 100 per cent sure of something doesn’t make you commitment phobic either.

Even people who are happily married still have those moments after an argument when the doubts creep in (‘Yup. You knew that! I’ve made a mistake’).

There has never been a more unpredictable world.

None of us know what the future holds; all you can do is make a sensible choice and put all you’ve got into making it work.

If your partner is taking things slow but the relationship is moving forward, they DON’T tick the commitment phobe box. They also don’t qualify just because…

They are willing to be committed to multiple people

A monogamous relationship is not for everyone.

People are capable of committing to long-term involvement with others, but not just one.

While it’s unlikely to become the new norm, polyamory is almost certainly headed towards being an accepted alternative, rather than stigmatised, as it has been in the past.   

Say, ‘My friends Lily and James have decided to move in. I’m so happy for them,’ and they’ll change the conversation rapidly. Ask them to come to your best friend’s wedding with you and they’ll manufacture an excuse why they can’t be there in seconds.

They talk negatively about marriage or love and talk a lot about the ‘pressure’ of being in a long-term relationship.

If they talk about the future, it doesn’t involve you. Commitment phobes continue to plan their lives – book holidays, buy or rent a new house or flat, plan overseas career moves – without thinking to factor you in at all.

You meet someone you’ve been seeing for eight months for a drink, only to find out they’re moving the next day and that’s the last time you’ll ever see them.

So that’s eleven signs your partner (or you) struggle with intimacy.

Here’s how to move the relationship forward (if it can be!).

How to get a commitment from a COMMITMENT POBE 

Your friends are buying houses and having babies and you’re still struggling to get your partner to commit to Christmas with your family?

Here’s how to move the relationship forward (if it can be!). 

Check you’re not rushing into things

For relationships to be lasting, they must develop and evolve. That’s why people move in, get married, renovate houses and have kids – you need to do new things together to keep it interesting.

Everyone gets nervous when they rush to make it to the end. It is important to first ask: Is it too early for me to make a commitment?

Are you together for at least one year? That’s a good benchmark for a serious commitment.

Find out why they’re not ready

If you’re absolutely convinced that what you’re asking is reasonable and your partner comes back with, ‘I’m not ready to make a commitment,’ the obvious question to ask is, ‘Why? What are you waiting for?’

You’ll get one of two responses to this.

The true commitment phobe will say, ‘I don’t know but that’s all there is to it’. That’s it. End of discussion.

If that’s the answer you get, bail, because there is no solution if they don’t know what the problem is.

If, instead, they say, ‘Look, I’m not ready now but I might be in the future,’ that’s more promising. Again, ask what it is they’re waiting for. Is it because they are unsure about their feelings about you? Are they feeling skepticism about you because of a terrible divorce?

You should listen to their explanations if you are willing to openly hear them. You might need to wait for them to trust you.

Don’t discount tradition

The guy who doesn’t want to get married just yet might be waiting until he’s more financially secure. The same applies to women.

If your girlfriend’s crossing the street to avoid bridal boutiques, it might be because she’s terrified she’ll turn into Mum and lose her independence.

The way to get around all this is to spell out, very clearly, what marriage, moving in, monogamy or whatever it is you’re discussing means to each of you.


Do you think it is simply an issue of not having enough courage?

It takes guts to say to someone, ‘Okay, I’m choosing you and only you as the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with, regardless of who I might meet.’

That’s a big call! Let them know it’s normal for everyone to have doubts.

Some people are too optimistic to commit. These people desire a guarantee that their relationship will be successful for all eternity. If your partner thinks like that, point out, ever so gently, that relationships don’t come with warranties like the telly does. They’re being a tad unrealistic.


Determine your bottom line. What’s the minimum level of commitment you’ll accept? This should be stated clearly to the recipient and given to them for a week.

If they can’t meet your ultimatum, move on.

Your commitment level should be reduced

Drop your commitment levels to your partner to get more love and commitment.

Don’t return phone calls immediately, go out on your own with friends and don’t rush to contact them afterwards: let them know they’re not so special you’ll hang around forever.

Your life can continue to be happy without them. Say you’re considering applying for a job overseas, travelling for a few months (solo), buying a flat (solo).

This usually has one of two effects: they suddenly realise you’ll move on if they don’t get their act together and they do. Or they don’t even notice.

Either way, you’ve got nothing to lose except someone you haven’t got anyway.

You are looking for unique gift ideas? You’ll find Tracey’s books and her product ranges on traceycox.com. You can listen to the weekly SexTok podcast wherever podcasts are available.