We live in a singles world – and instead of being happy about their freedom, these singles are, for the most part, lost and lonely. If the obvious solution is to get hitched, the obvious question is: Why aren’t they doing just that? Why are they afraid of commitment? Here are three reasons.

Children of Divorce

Research shows that ten years after divorce, adult children may delay commitment in order to avoid putting future children of theirs through the same experience they had. They search for lasting love and faithfulness. They can still remember traumatic moments from their parents’ divorce (http://www.jabfm.org/content/14/3/201.full.pdf).

In other words, adult children often search fruitlessly for the ideal relationship that their parents didn’t have. The task is doubly hard for them because their family of origin didn’t teach them what they need to know about happy homes. In fact, if roughly 50% of first marriages end in divorce, 75% of second ones do. What do the children learn from this?

Children in Conflicted Homes

There is a significant proportion of homes in America that remain intact in spite of abuse, affairs, and neglect. Parents worry that a divorce will harm their children, but without two people on board to create a harmonious home, the children are harmed anyway.

Here’s an excerpt from my own published research:

“Cummings and Davies (1994) have been observing young children from non-violent homes in laboratory situations for twenty years. They catalogue the following behaviors in response to witnessing laboratory anger between adults: ‘crying, freezing (motionless tension for an extended period), facial distress, distressed body movements (e.g., covering of the ears), requests to leave, and verbalizations of discomfort, anxiety, or concern’ (p. 40).

“Internal reactions are: ‘changes in heart rate . . . systolic blood pressure . . .  and skin conductance’ above baseline control conditions. ‘This sensitivity to adults’ angry behavior begins as early as the first year of life and continues at least through adolescence’ (p. 44). The authors label the intense biological reaction to frequent exposure to anger as sensitization. Further studies show that, in addition to systemic arousal, witnessing adults arguing in the laboratory increases aggression amongst the children.”

How safe do such people feel about marriage when they get older?

Feeling Less Than

Finally, when parents frequently worry about their children, those children may get the message that they are not good enough. This works as follows: When a parent worries, what the child hears is, “My parent doesn’t believe I can handle things.”

A child with this message feels imperfect. The person we look for in a relationship needs to be, to some extent, a complement to us: Our strengths are appreciated by a person who lacks in those areas and vice-verse. When the child, as a dating adult, feels lacking in many areas, then the date has to have an awful lot of great qualities to make up for what he is missing. And then it is impossible to find such a near-perfect person.

I believe that this is a major source of dating “fussiness” and “commitment phobia” but all three reasons need to be considered.

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