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Is Fear Keeping You in a Situationship?

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Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistJanuary 31, 2020

Somewhere between hooking up and being in a committed relationship lies the “situationship.” You know you’re an item, but what sort of item isn’t entirely clear.

Some people love their situationship—the feeling of freedom, the casualness, the flexibility. For example, coming out of a long and intense relationship can make a situationship feel light and spacious. Others appreciate having time to get to know the person they’re with before deciding when or whether to level up the relationship.

But what if you’re not enjoying your situationship status? What if you crave a deeper connection, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing where you stand? Love isn’t the only emotion that can motivate you to stay in a situationship. For many people, fear is the driving force keeping them committed to a noncommittal relationship. Here are some common sources of fear that maintain situationships.  

Fear of Commitment

Some prefer to keep a relationship undefined even though they plan to stay with the person because they’re afraid of being “tied down” by them. They may have witnessed their parents’ miserable marriage or bitter divorce, and fear going down the same road themselves. Or they may have an avoidant attachment style, in which too much closeness can feel smothering. Others may worry that they’ll be in an awkward position if their feelings for their partner start to wane. For one reason or another, it feels safer to keep their relationship status undefined.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

FOMO can motivate a person to stay in relationship limbo, which provides a relatively easy out if they decide they want to pursue other options. This factor may be especially relevant in communities like college campuses where people tend to have many casual trysts with little expectation of an ongoing connection.

Fear of Pushing the Other Person Away

If you want to know what the deal is with your relationship, you might hesitate to ask out of fear that your partner will get annoyed. Maybe you worry they’ll think you’re too “needy” or overly dependent. While you’d prefer to have some clarity, you don’t want to risk losing the relationship completely. This fear may be especially prominent if a previous partner has gotten upset with you for trying to talk about the relationship.

Fear of Asking for What You Want

You might also hesitate to ask for a more serious commitment in your situationship because you’re not used to having your needs met. Maybe you’re so accustomed to focusing on what others want that you don’t even think about what you need. Or maybe you’re just afraid the other person will say “no” when you ask for something more. 

Fear That Nothing Better Will Come Along

If you’re disappointed that your situationship still hasn’t developed into something more serious, you might choose to stay in it because you’re afraid there’s no one else out there for you. And so you opt for company over satisfaction, to avoid the risk of being all alone. This factor can be especially important as we get older and start to worry that we’ll never have the kind of relationship (and possibly family) we wanted.

Fear That No One Else Will Want Me

A related but more damaging fear is that you’re undesirable as a partner, and so it’s best to stick with a halfway-relationship. This fear is almost certainly a lie, but these types of lies we tell ourselves can be hard to see through. If it resonates with you, share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust (most likely not your partner). While this fear is common, most of the time it’s not the least bit true.

Finally, if you’re self-critical for being stuck in a situationship, try to go easy on yourself. Situationships are a product of our times, and are common enough that people write blog posts about them! Instead of beating yourself up, start to explore your fear. There may be something better waiting for you on the other side of it.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and host of the weekly Think Act Be podcast. He is author of The CBT Deck, Retrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan provides resources for managing stress, anxiety, and other conditions on the Think Act Be website.

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