Why Commitment Phobics Exhibit Cycling Behavior

Cycling behavior is unfortunately something I have a lot of first hand experience with and it is not pleasant. The result is instability in a relationship and it has caused my girlfriends to feel like they were on an emotional roller coaster. 

The root cause of my behavior is the combination of being a commitment phobic and a highly analytical introvert. What I have learned though is that the behavior I exhibit is fairly common. Women that are involved with someone that cycles generally express frustration that their partner exhibits extreme changes in behavior for what looks  like no reason.  However there are very real reasons but they exist  below the surface and may take some digging to uncover.  I will describe what has caused cycling in my case. I am not going to suggest that it would be the same cause in other men but perhaps it will provide some insight into this type of behavior. 

First there has to be a fuel source. For me it is a conversation where some goal for the relationship is mentioned. For example if a woman says to me that she needs to know that I have a goal of getting married or living together that sets me on my way. 

Up to the point of “the conversation” the relationship can be very enjoyable. We are living in the moment and enjoying each day as it comes. My mind in that case is free from clutter.  After “the conversation” it all changes because now everything is seen through the lens of whether I can be with that person the rest of my life. I become a mess. 

What happens is that any perceived flaws in the relationship become magnified. For example one of my most important needs in a relationship is space. Sitting alone and letting my mind go where it wants is how I get my energy back. I have found that most women I have been with don’t understand that. If a woman needs and expects a lot of attention from me the result is a constant feeling of pressure. This now becomes my secondary fuel source and any other flaws in the relationship just continue to stoke the fire. 

So what happens is that we externally might be doing the same things we always did but internally my mind is racing and the pressure is building. I have found myself looking for all appearances very calm as we discuss some mundane event of the day while inwardly I just want to get up and run away as fast as I can. It was usually more of a function of how much I was physically present with my girlfriend more than anything in particular we might have done. Some of the articles I have read suggest that commitment phobia and claustrophobia are closely related and I can definitely see how that applies in my case. 

Eventually the pressure gets too great and I have to get away. Once a separation occurs the initial feeling is one of immense relief. Because this can be a confusing time for a woman often my girlfriends want to talk. This is certainly understandable but it is generally the last thing I feel like doing.   Those conversations usually didn’t go well and would often result in an escalation and a possible break up even if the break up was temporary. 

After some time apart my thoughts usually return naturally to the good parts about the relationship and a reconciliation will occur with the determination to make things work this time. With the reconciliation will come a feeling of relief but eventually this will be replaced with pressure again as the changes I tried to make don’t work and the cycle will repeat itself. 

I am not sure how to avoid this type of behavior in the future. One of the things I like to say is that I can actually see myself being married someday but I can’t be in a relationship that has that as a goal. Perhaps that statement only makes sense to me. If I ever get a chance to check it out I will let you know. 

19 thoughts on “Why Commitment Phobics Exhibit Cycling Behavior

  1. Well, I walk in the same shoes. I understand that a commitment-phobe man and I hate it. I really do. But I do the same. Is there a cure for this behavior? Are we so lucky that we can change after, say a 3-years of psychotherapy? Or there are only some very general principles, which are easy to understand but hard to apply? I am confused and those who loved me, are hurt and broken. Thanks for your blog anyway, at least I know I am not alone.


    1. Thank you for your comment and let me assure you that you are not alone. It would be hard for me to say if counseling would help you or not. I think the answer to that would come from looking at your past relationships and determining what caused the pressure and the cycling with the eventual breakup. If you can say that you probably would have been content and happy in one or more of your relationships and it was only fear that kept you away then some counseling may be in order. I have had counseling in the past and the hard part is finding a good counselor that you have confidence in and who will tell it to you straight, so to speak. They are out there but hard to find.

      I have taken a different approach. I don’t think there is enough acceptance of just how hard relationships are let alone marriage. I acknowledge that fact and I trust what I have learned in life. I know that it is possible that I might get married someday but it is not important to me and I know that I can’t be in a relationship that has marriage as a goal. I am not even sure I want to live with anyone full time. Therefore I won’t get into a relationship with anyone that doesn’t accept what I am saying. It is also important to stay away from women who need rescued in some way so there is no pressure to commit to give them a better life. The part that is easier said than done is to be consistent with what you want. I have encountered situations where I have said that at first but then over time been asked to just consider marriage as an option. Don’t go down that path! Stick with whatever you have determined to be true about yourself. At the same time don’t try to make the decision about what to do for the woman you are with. I have been guilty of that in the past. Make the assumption that she is a mature adult and can make her own life decisions.

      The earlier you can have discussions about goals the better off you will be. If you want something different than the person you met wants it will create a problem. Try to look into the future and if you see the eventual outcome to be a breakup then it is better to end it earlier rather than later.

      I suppose I should emphasize that it is is important to determine what is true for you. What works for one person may not work for another. Stage of life can play a critical role. If you are young and want a family my approach wouldn’t fit. Sometimes success is really about making the right compromises as you go through life so you would really need to look at your own situation and see what fits. If you are looking for Miss Right it may not be reasonable whereas just finding someone you are compatible and comfortable with is good enough.


  2. In your writings you mentioned fatal flaws.
    A) what are the fatal flaws you have encountered?
    B) would you tell your partner about the flaws
    C) would you give your partner a chance to address the flaws?
    I think my partner has this perception but refuses to tell me anything. He is just distancing himself. I don’t want him to be unhappy.


    1. I have definitely encountered some fatal flaws. I define a fatal flaw as anything that might kill a relationship or prevent a commitment, and which would be very difficult to change. The ones I have encountered include being with an extreme extrovert while I am an extreme introvert, a need from my partner for a lot of a male attention and therefore a dissatisfaction with monogamy in general, and having a partner that just needed more from me than I could comfortably give.

      Sometimes it can be something that would be embarrassing to talk about. For example, maybe just something about a person’s appearance or belief system could simmer under the surface. However, I believe in most cases you should attempt to get it brought into the open to see if there is some kind of compromise solution. If not, there is not much that can be done. I made the mistake of staying too long in a relationship with the woman that expected too much from me. We both kept hoping that the other one would change.

      Good luck. Let me know if you are able to draw anything out of your partner.


      1. Thank you very much mullguy. I really appreciate your insights and your taking time to share your views. So far i have identified a few flaws; extroverted need for attention, refusal to appreciate his hobbies/interests, and my need for pushing fast when he wants to go slow. Upon reflection i have been very aggressive with the result of distancing him. He is still very affectionate but i sense he doesn’t trust me. Not in terms of faithfulness but more that he doesn’t think he can be himself with me.
        I love him for his values, his mind and the uniqueness of his personality; but i don’t think that comes across to him. How do I show that? Any suggestions would be welcome, but you have been very helpful already so I will understand if you do not reply.
        Thank you and may you find that special someone who will meet you halfway.


      2. Men get frustrated and start to pull away if it feels like their partner is never fully happy with what they are able to give. Try giving him some space so that he can do his hobbies, and try to avoid complaining if you feel like you are not getting enough attention. In other words just see if you can make it a comfortable relationship. The flipside, of course, is that what is comfortable for him may not be comfortable for you. Hopefully you will be able to find common ground.


      3. Many thanks mullguy. I don’t want to pester him and make him feel inadeqate and withdraw as a result. As you said, the key is a comfortable relationship.
        Your insights have been invaluable. Perhaps you could write something about your relationships past the 2 year mark?


      4. I have. My early posts were all about a 5 year relationship with a Narcissistic woman. I haven’t really written much about my 26 year marriage because I see that as outside the scope of this blog. I am currently in a very comfortable 3 year relationship and that prompted my post on mature love. I have come to the realization that when feelings are intense it usually means some kind of dysfunction is involved, and it doesn’t result in a healthy relationship.


      5. Have just read your blog on mature love and some about the narcissistic woman. On another site i read about how we need to mix the nice and nasty to get a man obsessed. I suppose that is how the N drew you in. I am sorry you had to go through that and you are still feeling the effects. These things never leave us and mixed with a growing cynicism it is no wonder we find it hard to open up to someone new. Take care.


  3. I’ve just found your blog and I’m so glad I did. It’s very insightful and I’m hoping will give me a better understanding of why I’ve recently lost the man I thought was the love of my life. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with it but I do see his is commitment phobic and has a history of leaving women when things become too real or some type of commitment is called for. I was due to move to be with him (it was a long distance relationship) after he’d applied for a job in my city and hadn’t been successful. I can work remotely so it made sense for me to go to him. We were both gutted when he didn’t get the job here. All along he told me he couldn’t wait for us to be together full-time, that I was the love of his life, he’d been married before and swore he’d never do it again yet brought up the subject of marriage with me and said he wanted to make that commitment. Then a week before I was due to move over to him, he ended the relationship, citing different excuses every time. Several of my friends have said he’s a narcissist but he’s not. I don’t think he set out to hurt me. And I believe he’s hurting too. I tried to cling on to him, kept asking him to change his mind, but he refused. I’m a bit shell-shocked by it all, although admittedly, he did change the goal posts a bit recently when he suggested we cut back on constant contact (which he’d initiated in the first place). Coincidentally, he suffers from claustrophobia too. I’m absolutely heart-broken and still love him, but I’ve had to let him go. Thanks for your blog posts, I’ve found them very helpful.


    1. Thank you for your nice words, but I am sorry about your breakup. You are correct in realizing that it is commitment phobia and not narcissism. Commitment phobia and claustrophobia go hand in hand. I am the same way, but it is not just being in tight places, it is being surrounded by people in tight places.

      I guarantee you that he is in pain right now, but unfortunately he probably also feels a sense of relief. There is something that triggered him, and it may have absolutely nothing to do with you. It could just be a ghost from his past.

      Your situation is so close to my real life situation I feel like I must share it. Perhaps it will give you some insight.

      I was in a long distance relationship with the one I have called my Narcissist ex girlfriend in this blog. I liked the long distance part because it gave me the space I needed.

      She wanted me to move near her so we could work towards marriage. I at first agreed, and even put down a deposit on an apartment.

      Immediately my mind started racing out of control, but I tried to hold it together by force of will. I told her how much I wanted to make it work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would lose control to her once I was there, and how foolish I might look if I had to move back. I also had serious doubts about being able to move consistently towards marriage. However, I did look at engagement rings as a way to try to talk myself into it.

      Our case might be different because in addition to my internal demons I had real, tangible, reasons to be concerned about our relationship. I was never able to fully make her happy, she was insanely jealous over everything else in my life, and she hated the idea of giving me space. I realize now that our marriage would have been a disaster.

      She kept asking me when I was going to give my 30 day notice where I was living. I didn’t sleep for a few nights and finally just had to tell her that I couldn’t do it. I am sure that I hurt her but it was not my intention. A part of me really wanted to try. It hurt me also but I loved having the release from the pressure.

      A major problem with us is that I wanted to talk about our issues, but she couldn’t stand hearing anything she didn’t like and would fly into a rage. My only suggestion is that you might want to try to engage in a real, gut level, dialogue with him at some point even if it hurts. Perhaps somewhere in there you can find a path forward. If that doesn’t work then you will know that you did everything that you could.

      There is hope. I am in a committed 2 year relationship and we have lived together for about the past 6 months. I don’t feel any pressure and I am very comfortable. The key difference is that I was able to be open about my issues and we arrived at solutions together. Just going through that process has made me want to make it work. The good thing is that it feels natural, and it doesn’t feel like work. I hope you can get there also, either with your ex or someone else.

      Let me know how it goes.


      1. Thanks for the reply. I read your story and while I can see similarities, I should point out that it was always him pushing for us to be together as he said he felt the distance was the main source of our rows and that if we lived together, he felt the relationship would improve and grow. He continuously referred to us being in a ‘love bubble’ and said he felt we needed to be together to make things work. Hence my confusion. I don’t think I pushed or pressurised him in any way.
        I’ve had to have a rethink about my last post here as I wanted to believe that commitment phobia was the issue. This can be worked on, so that’s what I told myself. But sadly, I do believe my ex is a narcissist and I have to face up to this truth. He’s since told me he shares many traits with narcissists and had me on a pedestal but I ‘let him down’ too often. He said the first few months of our relationship were perfect and he genuinely believed he’d met his soulmate but that his feelings for me began to change. He blamed this on an incident several months ago when he called by his ex gf’s name. I was very hurt and reacted by asking him to leave. He sobbed uncontrollably so I set my hurt aside and went to him to comfort him. I apologised for hurting him and said I wasn’t ending things between us. But he keeps citing this as ‘the writing on the wall’, saying I changed afterwards and became insecure and needy. Yet he’s the one who cried! He says we should’ve ended it then, which I can’t understand, but I do feel he’s been punishing me ever since. We did go on to have some lovely times together after this. He still professed to love me with all his heart but something shifted. He was always very controlling with me, but he became nastier and threatened to dump me regularly. One day he loved me, the next he didn’t. He made me cry so many times then apologised and promised never to hurt me again. Our last weekend together was so lovely and he said we were back in our ‘love bubble’ again but after another row, when we were apart, he ended it for good. And yet, he continued to reply to my messages and to pick up when I called. I had my flight booked to go out to see him and he told me to come ahead, that we would ‘see how things go, but I can’t promise anything’. I felt it was another control game so I cancelled the flight and told him I wasn’t coming over.
        Since then I’ve tried reasoning with him but he’s put the blame at my door, with a different excuse every time. He said I had an issue with his kids (not in the last bit true), I wound him up and made him jealous, he even said my sex drive was too high and he felt he couldn’t keep up with me and would end up disappointing me. All nonsense. He’s also admitted to me he has serious issues around anger and had we lived together, would’ve got even nastier and eventually would’ve hurt me through his mood swings. He’s also back on weed, which he’d given up while we were together. Of course, this is down to me, he said, and his fractured relationship with his kids. He always plays the victim. He says he suffers from depression and that although he knows he needs therapy, due to issues from his past, he’s happy to self medicate with weed. You mentioned in your reply that perhaps a ghost from his past triggered his recent behaviour. That may be the case but he refuses to get help.
        I’ve tried as much as I can and now I’ve gone no contact. I gave it 100% but he’s not interested. He says I was perfect for a while but it seems my flaws were just too much to bear. I’m in counselling now tbh, and my therapist says I’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship and that for some reason, he’s been punishing me. That’s exactly how I feel. He told me he’d put me on a pedestal higher than any other woman he’s been with, so I had a longer way to fall. My friends and family are supportive and said they felt he was controlling me so are happy it’s all over. But I still feel heartbroken and almost traumatised by his actions. This will take me quite some time to recover from, I feel. Sorry for the long reply!


      2. That is quite a different picture you painted compared to what you said in your earlier post. Often it is the little things someone says that shows their true character. I couldn’t imagine telling anyone that I put them on a pedestal and that they let me down, and I suspect that you couldn’t say that either.

        Your therapist is exactly right. You are lucky that you didn’t move. It is time to run for the hills and to maintain your policy of no contact. Be prepared for him to beg and cry but hold your ground. You will be happier long term.

        Let me know how it goes.


  4. Dear Mullguy,
    I hope you don’t mind if i ask a further question. How does one know the right amount of contact to maintain with a commitment phobic person? He is also suffering from lack of love during childhood and i noticed he does not like being ignored or neglected.
    Your kind advice would be highly appreciated.


    1. You have a real dynamic going on! Your initial comment said that he was distancing himself so he must really be exhibiting some cycling behavior. You might want to consider some professional relationship counseling.

      However, with that said, my opinion is that what you should do is really more dependent on you and the boundaries that you establish for yourself. If your highest priority is some kind of commitment, and you aren’t getting it, then there really is no reason for you to worry about how neglected he feels. If you aren’t that worried about a commitment, then his fear of neglect should match up with your need for attention.

      Let me know if I am missing something. I suspect that I am.


  5. Dear Mullguy,

    I’m curious why do you think your ex a narcissist, managed to get a commitment phobe like yourself to commit to a relationship? Do you still miss/have feelings for her despite being in a new relationship?


    1. Excellent question. I never had a problem committing to her in the sense of her being my only girlfriend. My problem was going to the next step of marriage. I was most comfortable in the relationship after she moved two hours away, because I could see her for three days, and then come home to recover. In a later post I differentiate between being commitment resistant and commitment phobic. I am comfortable in my current relationship, so I have no need to recover from anything. Our balance of giving is optimal for both of us. For me, that means she doesn’t want more than I can give on a daily basis.

      But yes, it has been 4 years without my ex and I still miss being with her. However, what I really miss is the good times, the feeling of pride it gave me to go out with her, and probably the drama. I don’t miss being constantly criticized, or being yelled at, but that was part of the addiction at the time.


  6. Dear Mullguy –

    Thank you for your post. It gave me some much needed perspective. I recently broke up with a guy that I was “dating” for just over two years. He could never call me his girlfriend and he never introduced me to his family. He told me that he loved me and showed that love in various thoughtful ways. He even said that he wanted to get married one day. However, any discussion of labels on the relationship, marriage, or further commitment, turned him cold. He seemed to have every excuse in the book: divorce statistics, his need for privacy, I “pressured” him too much, the demands of his job, he wasn’t “ready,” etc. but my requests were beyond reasonable for a normal romantic relationship. At the end, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt that if someone loved you they should want to see more of you and move the relationship forward. I had lost all hope that he would ever want to see more of me or get married. Yet he looked at me like no man ever had. It was an incongruence that I continue to struggle with. Since the breakup, he hasn’t come back to me asking for another chance or trying to explain his feelings. I love him dearly and would do anything to be in a real relationship with him, but it feels like he won’t ever get there with anyone.


    1. Meg,

      Thank you for your comment. It sounds to me like you did all you could, but it also seems like you just have different goals. It can be very frustrating, and addictive, because you probably think it should be easy for him to change. It is best just to put him behind you. To his credit, he has realized that maintaining contact with you would not be the best thing for either of you in the long run. My suggestion is to look to the future, and make sure that you discuss goals early on before beginning another serious relationship. Good luck!


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