Love Without Fear: Navigating the Dance of Commitment and Separation Anxiety

Is your need for love accompanied by fear? Do you long for deeper connection but feel intimacy is suffocating at the same time? Do you tend to dive deep into relationships first, but your person doesn’t reciprocate in the long run?

It’s common to want connection but have a hard time letting it happen, whether in close friendships or romantic relationships. Depending on your personal history, opening up and letting someone in can be challenging. However, if you find yourself repeatedly stuck or at the mercy of a pull-an-push dynamic, you may want to learn more about love phobia and love addiction.

Understanding the driving force behind this dynamic can help you navigate your relationships with more grace and care.

How Does Fear of Love Show Up?

Hannah Cuppen, psychotherapist and author of the book Love Phobia (2021), explains that even though we genuinely want to receive love, we may be unconsciously afraid of it. Perhaps deep down, you fear that you are not enough for the other person, or you are worried that they want to move too fast and you will lose yourself in their pace. You’re aware of the deep craving and longing for relationship, but once you start dating, you’re faced with fears of your person secretly judging you, or wanting something else than you. Now that you got closer, you notice yourself pulling away. Suddenly, you doubt your relationship and wonder, is this what you truly want? Meanwhile, your person says they missed you and are wondering what happened. You panic and feel pressured to come up with some answers, but don’t disclose your doubts because if you share them, your person might leave you, and you’re not ready to separate yet. But you’re also not ready to commit. What is going on???

Pursuing love from a place of fear feels like an emotional roller-coaster and looks like a dance, moving back and forth from chasing to walking away. It feels exciting, meaningful, one-of-a-kind, the-best-sex-of-your-life, full of temptation and never ending adventure, but it is also exhausting. Just when you think you are somewhat stable, the roles are reversed, and the dynamic begins all over again. In the long run, insecure attachment can even lead to depression (Messina, 2023).

The Mix of Fear and Attachment

All relationships are based on psychological and emotional attachment. The presence of fear in relationships affects attachment and can look like push-and-pull dynamic - or commonly known as commitment and separation anxiety. Commitment anxiety revolves around the fear of being too close and losing one's sense of self, separation anxiety is the fear of being too distant and losing the connection with a loved one because the loved one becomes one’s center of self and well-being. While one is afraid to lose their sense of self, another has outsourced their sense of self to their person. Both types of fear are really just two sides of the same coin - a fear of feelings of love. Here are some examples of how this fear might show up in your life.

Behaviors driven by commitment anxiety:

  1. You are reluctant to plan ahead or discuss the future. This may stem from concerns about losing your personal freedom or identity within the confines of commitment.
  2. You have a constant need for space, intimacy feels suffocating, you have to stress your independence and avoid perceived entanglement.
  3. You often feel overwhelmed and have a difficulty expressing your feelings. With more closeness, a mild panic sets in and anything that can bring you closer together, like sharing vulnerabilities and expressing feelings, suddenly puts your mind at blank, you feel exhausted and reserve to playing video games or scrolling social media to regulate.

It's important to note that commitment anxiety is not a reflection of a lack of love or affection but rather a fear of losing one's identity within the context of a committed relationship.

Behaviors driven by separation anxiety:

  1. You observe yourself getting clingy. Being in relationship triggers such intense fear that the only way you feel soothed is by being in close contact with your person. You develop a strong need for constant reassurance - daily calls, text messages, an urge to know how your person is doing, what they think of you, how they feel towards you, etc.
  2. You anticipate your person leaving you or suspect them not loving you like you love them. With intense emotional distress, you notice a mild paranoia over the fear of being abandoned, even in absence of clear evidence.
  3. You struggle being independent, you don’t know who you are without your person, being by yourself feels disorienting. It’s like you lost your own center and began to center your person, their hobbies, their values, and their needs.

It's important to note that seemingly irrational thoughts and behavior are caused by intense emotional distress and it requires strong boundaries and high capacity/availability for reassurance.  

People who have commitment and separation anxiety are usually successful in other areas of their lives but show a pattern of unstable relationships marked by a constant push and pull dynamic. You may alternate between seeking closeness and then creating distance, overanalyzing and doubt your connection, search for signs of potential issues or reasons to quit. The fear of love can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors, such as creating unnecessary conflicts or pushing away a partner who gets too close, ultimately hindering the development of a healthy, stable relationship.

Instant Chemistry - How Does Push-and-Pull Dynamic Work

Commitment anxiety can stem from early relational wounds of being engulfed by the caregivers, whereas, separation anxiety can stem from past experiences of loss or negligence by the cagivers, creating a heightened sensitivity to perceived threats to the relationship. When two people with heightened sensitivity for perceived attachment threats meet - boom, instant chemistry!

The instant chemistry is due to the release of dopamine. Research shows that love addiction works much like any other addiction in the brain (Songur, 2023). Addictive behavior comes from stimulating a very old part of the brain associated with survival. That part is called ‘pleasure center’ because it releases dopamine. Dopamine feels great in the body and it impacts our perception of ourselves and the world. With dopamine we get a sense of grandiocity, an expanded worldview, boost in energy and creativity, we may feel purposeful, become more efficient, feel more confident, and on top of things. Naturally, we want more of it! Instant chemistry feels exciting at first until it turns into longer periods of anxiety and self-loathing, and only sparce moments of pleasure, joy and safety. That intermittent reinforcement of the high moments, is what keeps us hooked and wanting for more, even when we rationally understand it is bad for us in a long run.

Constant use of dopamine in the brain at some point wears out, we feel depleted, and in some cases depressed.

Feelings of excitement and intrigue of the unknown are common when falling in love, but when your person becomes your primary source of comfort, pleasure, and confidence/efficiency, that signals a potential love addiction and can lead you to pursue relationships that are not healthy for you.

Healing our Relationship to Love: Practical Steps

If you are in a pull-and-push relationship right now, like with any addiction, you need time and space to wind down to get your nervous system more balanced, and gain access to your rational thinking. Ideally, take some time off from your significant person and talk to a professional about your fears. Hopefully, you can get back to your old habits or re-join your old group of friends to keep you busy socializing with less emotional intensity while your body is restoring the natural chemical baseline. This process might feel like going through a withdrawal, and everything else that is not your relationship might feel like a boring useless waste of your time. Believe me, boring after intense relationship is a good sign. Be bored.

How to navigate the emotional roller-coaster when love just entered your life?  

  • Observe your relationship dynamic - does it show the pattern of wanting closeness and pulling away? Notice the situations in which it occurs and try to maintain curiosity - when and how does it happen? Take notes if you like and track the pattern for a while. Stay curious. Observe the circumastances that can potentially trigger the dynamic.
  • Give some loving attention to the underlying pain that is causing you to engage in addictive patterns. Is there a sense of loneliness deep inside? Sense of emptiness, hollowness in your chest? Intense pressure in your belly or solar plexus? You can place your hands in the areas of pain and hold yourself.
  • Spend some time sitting with your feelings whenever the compulsion towards your person arises. If it helps, try naming each feeling as it rushes through your body, and look for healthy ways to soothe yourself. Take a warm or cold shower, go for a walk, call a good friend, or cook your favorite meal. Focus on what you always wanted to do that’s nurushing for you and focus on fulfilling your needs.
  • Talking about your process with your person can be healing too. You can walk your person through your journey of loneliness and share how you’re learning to enjoy time alone rather than expecting your person to rush over to comfort you. In the case of commitment anxiety, clearly express your need for space, and mention when you will reconnect. You may share the underlying guilt and fear of setting boundaries with your person. This will build more trust than pushing your partner away without further notice. Keep each other updated about where you’re at in your relationship.
  • Develop new habits to build yourself up. Having a nurturing routine gives you a stable base to rely on as you go through your ups and downs. It might be daunting at the beginning not knowing what you want, who you are, or you may feel crippled by the guilt and shame about not knowing your boundaries or how to communicate your feelings. Tap yourself over the shoulder and remind that nobody is perfect and healing takes time. Learning something new includes being clueless at it first. Ask for ideas of your family or friends. Get curious how others do it? Talk to them and see if you get inspired about something you haven’t thought before. See if you can engage with your person at times when you feel safe and fulfilled with yourself.

These practical steps may not work for everybody, and if you find yourself in a situation where love phobia does not apply, then don’t hesitate to dismiss it and look for other resources that feel closer to your particular relatiosnhiop dynamic. Seek appropriate support.

Healing ourselves from addictive behaviors can greatly impact the choices we make in our lives and the overall happiness we experience. Understanding our attachment wounds leaves us less susceptible to unhealthy dynamics. At some point instant chemistry and unstable connection becomes a no-go. New standards for yourself and quality of your relationship emerge once you know how to attend to your needs well. Just like a hangover becomes unnecessary, so does intense unpredictable relationships. I hope that knowing about your attachment, love phobia and addictive dynamic can help you navigate your relationships better.

If you’d like my support in understanding better your relaitonships, schedule a free assessment call. I’m happy to talk and see if I can bring you more clarity and practical steps that help you stay grounded, emotionally stable and fulfilled with yourself and your person.

Disclaimer: I write my content with the help of AI. My content is educational and should not be interpreted as professional medical advice. If you are struggling with mental health issues, please seek professional help from a certified human and don't rely on online content.

Written by
Jura Glo

With over ten years of experience guiding individuals and couples worldwide, I specialize in supporting those impacted by complex trauma.  

My personal experience navigating cults, institutional betrayal, and manipulative individuals has given me a unique understanding of the psychological and emotional impact of these dynamics.

This translates into my work and writing, where I help my clients identify core issues and co-create solutions within a safe, balanced and supportive environment.

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