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Nancy, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 746
Experience:  ABD for a PhD in Psychology, Psychotherapist for over 20 years
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My son proposed to a really fantastic girl last week after

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my son proposed to a really fantastic girl last week after going out with her for quite a while. He thinks she is fantastic and has everything that he wants. But for some inexplicable reason after the first few dates he lost feelings for her. The same occurred with many of the girls that he has gone out with in the past. Why did he get engaged? Because his entire family has been pressuring him to finally get married at his age. He is now very worried and thinks he has ruined his life. How do I help him get over this?

It sounds like your son has a commitment phobia, where everything goes really well for a while and then all of a sudden he starts finding things maybe little things that are wrong with the woman and then changes his feelings for the girl. A person who is commitment phobic fears and avoids having to commit to a relationships. Usually the person with the commitment phobia will be critical of their mate in the relationship. They will set out to sabotage the relationship even if its going well and progressing well they find things that may be wrong as a means to break up. Some commitment phobics really want to meet the right mate and get married, but will often have somewhat unrealistic ideals regarding what that person should be like because they want to be able to make it look like it's the other person and not them.

The causes of this phobia are sometimes associated with a loss or trauma of some kind such as an absent father whether it be physically or mentally. Maybe as a child they had a bad relationship with their father or someone they trusted hurt them very badly. This can have an effect on their approach to adult relationships. Often, at the heart of the fear, is the fear of rejection by others. If he gets scared he will reject first so that he won't be rejected, they will distance themselves and their mate to feel safe. What he needs to find out is where the root of the problem is and then take the steps to get over these issues, most of the time it will require some professional help so that they can help him to find out where those feelings stem from and then and only then can he figure out a solution for that issue.

Since this is a repetitive behavior with him and his relationships it will only continue to happen until he can get the help he needs to overcome his phobia for commitment, a commitment phobic craves what he fears most: love and connection, they avoid committing to long term relationships such as marriage. Previous abusive relationships, intimacy issues or traumatic childhood experiences could be causes for this kind of commitment avoidance. Another possibility is that the child might have witnessed, or been a victim of, absent role model, or even abusive relationships during those formative years. Not surprisingly, this can affect the way they feel and handle relationships as an adult.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Dear ***** Ann,
I have heard this answer before - it seems to be the standard answer for this kind of problem - but find it difficult to accept. I am the father, and although one could always be a better parent, I don't believe that my relationship with my children, especially my oldest son, was so bad that it could cause this kind of trauma. In comparison to the relationship I had with my father, it was actually paradise. Furthermore, my son and I are extremely close and he confides in me things that only he and I know, and of course consults me as a mentor. Certainly as we have grown older, the relationship has become far stronger - but I don't think that even when he was small, that I was that distant. But let's say I accept what you say. My son has gone for counselling and so far nothing has helped. So I would require far more specific advise than the suggestion to go to a counsellor. I hope that you can help me further. Right now, I am frustrated and very concerned for my son.

By no means was I saying you were the reason for his issues now, I was just trying to give you examples of what might cause this type of behavior I also included the fact that he may have had a relationship that ended badly where he didn't want the relationship to end but the other person did and there for he felt rejected but in most cases not all an absent father is the cause of commitment phobia. He could also be afraid that if he gets serious with a woman then he has to lose his own identity to make her happy and if the woman is truly in it for the long haul then she will support him no matter what he chooses to do. If this is something he has done before then he has to want to stop this no one else can and as much as you want him to be happy and with someone that loves him he has to feel that he deserves to be loved and wanted without the added pressure of fear of commitment. He asked this woman to marry him for a reason there was something about her that actually made him want to settle down with her but what you need to find out is why he has had a change of heart before you can even begin to work on the issue. Was it something about her? Did she do or say something that changed his mind? Is she always supportive of what he wants and vice versa? These are questions that need to be asked but if he has gone to counseling and nothing helped then he may not have gone long enough or may not have opened up about his commit issues and what caused it.

What you may need to do is, make him understand that to change his behavior, he first needs to change how he feel about commit and long term relationship inside. It's not difficult if he realizes one thing: if he is commitment phobic, then he is committed to the behavior of being afraid of relationships so he can also change that so that he is committed to being with one person and be assure that they love him unconditionally and wants him to be happy. I think the only person that can change his mind about commitment and marriage is his fiancee, if he knows that she is in it for the long haul he will be more apt to give it a try but there is something that is scaring him away from committing, she may be talking too much about the wedding plans and the future instead of living for the here and now. Maybe she is keeping him from doing something he wanted to do and now feel he cannot because she is in the picture that is why it's important for her to always be supportive.

What you can do as his father is to explain to him that relationships are not perfect and they have their ups and downs and that it's normal to have issues in a relationship but as long as he and his mate work at those issues anything is possible he has to know that break ups are not failures and it's a normal process to finding your soul mate or the right person for you, what he may have done was gotten his heartbroken and then blamed himself and thought it was something he did and now he breaks up with them before the have a chance to break up with him. What he has to realize is it may not have been him and it's just a process of dating and finding that special someone. Now that he has found that special someone he has to want to make it work and commit to being with her and marrying her and giving the relationship a chance.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Hi, I know you are trying and I very much appreciate it. But it's just not doing it for me. I am a Minister. I do a lot of counselling myself - and I can take criticism and acknowledge if I am wrong - but it's got to make sense. I didn't have oodles of time for my kids - but we are a family and they were loved. I am prepared to work together with my son - but I need some guidance as to how to do this.

In answer to your questions (and some further notes):
She didn't do anything to make his change his mind.
She didn't press him about the wedding.
My son, to the very best of my knowledge, has never been rejected in any relationship that he has had.
He is a very popular and talented boy and all the girls want him although he has had a reputation of not committing.
He is a religious boy and has never had a sexual relationship with any girl - not even touching - and this in spite of the fact that he is almost thirty. (I don't believe that this is an issue as it is the practice of most in our community although most are married well before thirty).
Not sure what else I can add.

Reading your further response leads me to believe that you may benefit better talking to one of our psychiatry experts they may be better equipped to give you some ways and guidance into how to handle your sons situation I think it is more of a mental issues as to why he cannot commit. I'm sorry I was unable to help you with your issue. Please let me know if that is what you rather I do or would you like for me to continue working with you on your son's issue?

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I very much appreciate your help and assistance, but believe that you may be correct. I would appreciate it if you could connect me to one of your psychiatry experts. Thank you.

You're quite welcome! Good luck to you!


I am Nancy and I saw this question open up in Psychiatrist/Mental Health.

I just want to recap to see if I am correct- yuor son dated a girl but after a few dates lost all feelings for her - then, continued to date her and proposed - but now regrets it.

Is that right? I am really looking for the timeline - just to see if that's right.


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Hi Nancy,

Thanks for your interest. Let me clarify.

He went out with her a few times and told us, his parents, that she was fantastic, had everything that he wanted, and she was the ONE.

Our son has gone out with countless girls, but never was there this reaction.

Then after the sixth or so date, he told as that he had lost all feelings. I sent him to a psychologist who suggested, as Kimberly Ann that he had commitment phobia based on childhood neglect. Nevertheless he continued going out with her.

We came to America from overseas for other reasons, but were really hoping that he would surprise us. I have been telling him for a long time - rightly or wrongly - that he must just jump and propose. He is almost thirty - which is very old to be single in our community - and although he is popular and has gone out with countless girls - the "shine" would not last forever. He resisted this.

But then when he realized that we were leaving for overseas, and wanting us very much to be part of his joy, he decided to jump.

He proposed in a very beautiful way and the girl was over the moon.

He then came and told me that he was dead inside, that it was all a show, and he couldn't care less if he never saw her again.

Nevertheless, being responsible, there was an engagement celebration, and he is doing all the right things.

I am however very concerned about his telling me that he has no feelings.

He doesn't want to break up; he just wants to have feelings. But these feelings are eluding him and making him very sad.

He is concerned that he has "ruined" his life.

Although I think that the feelings will grow - he is a good guy, religious and moral, and will certainly do the right thing - I am at least a little concerned. Especially when he tells me that he is afraid that his feelings will never grow. I am concerned that he is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I hope this helps clarify the situation and thank you for your time.

Thank you for clarifying. That information helps a lot. I just want to mention first - that when people *are* commitment phobic - that it doesn't always stem from childhood neglect or abuse. But that's not what is going on with your son.

What is going on with him is that he has become detached from his feelings. He has simply shut down - emotionally- which is what you are stating over and over. People do this for many reasons (which are, for right now, unimportant). They intellectualize their feelings- and mistake their feelings for thoughts - and eventually can say they feel, but you can see and hear that they are not expressing or actually making decisions based on their subjective experience of their own feelings. When some engages in intellectualization - they sometimes think they are feeling, but when you ask them about how they feel, they aren't sure - that is the litmus test of a disconnect to their own feelings.

Treatment starts with counseling to help him identify his feelings and reconnect to them. Most people who do this are fairly analytical in nature - are usually of above average intelligence and are quite popular in their peer group.

Again, for right now - the reason this has happened is unimportant - it will become important again when he is fully engaged back with his feelings, but until then, he doesn't need to worry about hwy it happened, just that is has.

This is not uncommon, it is not pathological, and does not indicate any mental illness - for now, think of it as a simple disconnect for which there is an easy solution - he just needs to start really paying attention to his feelings. We usually start by simply focusing on identifying feelings.

With a good therapist, he could fully resolve the unconscious disconnect within 6 weeks and be able to identify all of his feelings in every situation.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to email back with any other questions or comments.


Nancy, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 746
Experience: ABD for a PhD in Psychology, Psychotherapist for over 20 years
Nancy and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Hi Nancy,

I think that you have hit the nail on the head. What you say makes eminent sense. Unfortunately I cannot continue this conversation now, but I would like to show your answer to my son as I think it describes him exactly. If necessary, could we continue this conversation on Sunday? Also, do you know any good therapists in the New York area?

Thanks again.

Yes, I can continue this conversation - if not Sunday during the day - Sunday night or Monday.

Have a wonderful weekend!


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Hi Nancy,

Well we have an engagement party planned for tomorrow (Tuesday) night and a wedding scheduled for August 16. It is the practice in our community to move quickly once the proposal has been given and accepted.

Although they seem very happy together - and I am sure that on a certain level even my son is - he still assures me that he deserves an "Emmy" for acting. My personal opinion is that he is overly focused on some idealized version of what "real" feelings are meant to feel like, instead of just going with what there is - but then again, I am not a psychiatrist! And even if I am right I have no idea of how to actually get him to let go.

You mentioned that six weeks of counselling should be sufficient. Not sure that this could be achieved before the wedding but would really welcome your suggestions. Do you think that it is possible for you to engage him in conversation either over the internet or over the phone? I really like your approach and think you may be able to help him.

Or do you have any other suggestions?

Good morning!

Unfortunately, since JustAnswer is a question/answer site, I cannot work with him - but any Doctoral level therapist who practices Cognitive-Behavioral therapy should be able to make some headway in this time frame.

My only other suggestion is to now ask your son to do the work - if he is going to see someone, he needs to find them. If he is going to really take ownership of this issue and deal with it - he needs to be the one - fully engaged in seeking treatment :-)


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Thanks very much Nancy. I really appreciate your time and involvement in this. You have already helped a lot.

I am sorry I can't do more.

I wish you the best of luck!


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Hi Nancy,

This is the "son" writing this time!

Firstly, thank you for your help and advice. It has surely been reassuring enough knowing that I can be helped to make it much more pleasant and even enjoyable the last few days.

I still have a long way to go. I find myself filled with feelings of emptiness every so often and I would like to address this professionally.

Unfortunately though, I have not had good experience working with therapists here in New York (I am only visiting here - albeit long term), and was wondering if you know where I could get GOOD recommendations of therapists in the New York area. I would really like to do this properly and don't want to take chances with mediocre talent at this most crucial time.

Thank you,

Hi C.,

You are very welcome!

You can try this link:

Or you can pick up your local Yellow Page Phone Book and call people - most will chat on the phone with you for a few minutes, and if you like them you can set up an appointment.

Good questions to ask include where they went to school, what their training is, what their theoretical orientation is (you want to hear cognitive-behavioral, and you don't want to hear Jungian, Psychoanalytic, REBT). Ask about their fees and how they accept payment (credit cards, checks, cash), and if you don't like them on the phone, assume you won't like them in person :-)