What is Gamophobia?

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March 3, 2020
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Many people can think of at least one person in their lives that they would consider to be “afraid of commitment,” but most do not realize that this is an actual phobia. If you or someone you know has a serious fear of commitment, and a fear of marriage in particular, you (or they) may have gamophobia. As with many phobias, gamophobia’s name has an interesting etymology. ’Phobia,’ of course, is the fear of something. Meanwhile, ‘gamos,’ is Greek for ‘marriage.’ Thus, gamophobia quite literally translates to ‘fear of marriage.’

Gamophobia is not always quite as simple as someone being afraid of getting married. Its effects can vary depending on the person and their individual situation. There is a bit of nuance involved in the issue, but remember that that is the case with most phobias. Gamophobia is rather straightforward once it’s broken down.

Contrary to what it may seem like at first thought, someone with gamophobia is more than able to take part in a happy and successful long-term relationship. Monogamy is often not the problem. The fear is of the institution of marriage itself. Gamophobia is a form of social anxiety, so the crux of this fear is heavily dictated by society at large. With gamophobes, the societal expectations for marriage can be the big hurdle they are unable to overcome.

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Women and men are affected by this fear differently, and the way that society perceives the roles of men and women in marriages can be attributed to this. In fact, people who are afraid to get married may liken the act of marriage to death itself.

What Causes Gamophobia?

For men, the persistence of gamophobia may be partially affected by the way society views men as the providers for the family. There is a lot of pressure put on a man’s shoulders once he gets married, not necessarily by their partner, but by society. It is very possible that for some men, this pressure is just too much. It seems impossible to live up to the expectations and this manifests itself as a fear of the institution of marriage itself. Societal pressure may not be the only reason for gamophobia, but it seems to play a large part in many people’s reasons as to why they are gamophobic.

Another predisposition to gamophobia is caused by past trauma that someone may have experienced. This is more often the case with women than with men, according to studies done on the subject, although it is impossible to make a blanket statement about how trauma will affect any given person. A considerable portion of the population grew up with parents who were not married or were married and later got divorced. Witnessing this, especially the stressful divorce process, can be very traumatizing. It is normal for someone who comes from a divorced household to be wary of marriage or long-term relationships as a whole, but when this wariness becomes anxiety towards the idea of marriage and commitment is when someone has moved on to being gamophobic.

As previously mentioned, studies have shown that being the child of divorced parents seems to have a much greater effect on women and their long-term relationship habits than it does on men. This results in a two-fold effect. The first effect from this upbringing is that gamophobic women are simply less likely to seek out long-term, monogamous relationships if they come from a household that experienced a divorce. The second effect is that they may seek out a long-term relationship, but enter this relationship with lower expectations.

They are prepared for their relationships to fail, sometimes even going so far as to expect it, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of the relationship failing. It also creates a negative feedback loop, because now that person is more likely to be wary of their next relationship as well. If the cycle continues for too long, this phenomenon can turn into gamophobia, where a woman is simply averse to the idea of marriage or commitment as a whole.

While many people with gamophobia are fearful of marriage and not commitment at large, some people have a total fear of long-term relationships, whether a marriage license is involved or not. For people suffering from this slightly different form of gamophobia, the idea of even being in a committed relationship turns them off. Someone suffering from gamophobia may have feelings toward a person romantically, and may even love someone, but upon finding out that the person shares those same feelings and would be interested in pursuing a relationship can cause the gamophobic individual to lose their feelings toward the person. In severe cases of this sort, the brain will not only negate positive feelings towards someone, but it may even actually cause them to start actively disliking the other person, thus sabotaging chances of a relationship.

What are the Symptoms of Gamophobia?

Gamophobia is highly psychological, as many phobias are, and the symptoms can manifest differently in each afflicted person. People who suffer very severely, as previously stated, might naturally push away people for whom they have romantic feelings because the best way to avoid a committed relationship is to not let anyone close enough for a relationship to develop. In cases this severe, it can be very helpful for someone to seek treatment with a therapist or trained specialist to help them through these feelings. However, people suffering from severe cases of gamophobia are not the only ones who can benefit from treatment. Even people who are experiencing more mild symptoms may seek out professional help in order to help them overcome their fear. Let’s dive into some of the symptoms.

Gamophobia is sometimes compared to the fear of death (thanatophobia) in the way it affects those who suffer from it, particularly in regards to dread. One of the main symptoms of gamophobia is an overwhelming sense of dread at the thought of getting married or being committed. This, much like the sense of dread people feel when facing the realities of life and death, can be all consuming. Such strong feelings of fear can lead to anxiety, from mild to severe, simply from talking about the subject of marriage.

People who are suffering from gamophobia have reported feeling like they are losing control whenever they are sent into a phobia-related spiral. They can often acknowledge that the fear itself may be irrational, but that does not change the fact that they still suffer because of it. Like many other anxiety-induced ailments, gamophobia can come with a variety of physical symptoms as well. Physical symptoms of gamophobia can include nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, chest pain, increased heart rate, dizziness, insomnia, and more.

How can Gamophobia be Treated?

It can be embarrassing for some people to cope with their gamophobia. Suffering from a form of anxiety that is obscure, severe, and oftentimes hard to explain can cause a myriad of problems in day-to-day life. Luckily, treatment is always an option.

There are a few different ways of trying to conquer gamophobia. The first, and most common, is speaking with a therapist. This is the usual method of treatment, as therapists can provide tools that someone living with gamophobia wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. Together, someone who is suffering and their therapist may be able to get to the root of the issue.

When looking at the prognosis for gamophobia and the potential to conquer it, it’s important to think back to what caused the phobia in the first place. For many people, the cause is that their parents are divorced or remained in an unhappy marriage. A cause for gamophobia can even be that they themselves were in a bad relationship in the past and now the trauma from it manifests as a fear of all relationships. This is normal and therapists are able to help people overcome this with enough time and effort.

For more out-of-the-box treatment methods, someone may try hypnotherapy and see if their brain can quite literally be tricked into no longer fearing marriage or commitment. Someone experiencing gamophobia may also try something like exposure therapy, where they are exposed to happy marriages to show them that it is possible and that if they want to overcome their fear, they can do it. However, the most effective route, much like any form of depression or anxiety, is regular counseling with a licensed professional.

No matter what the cause of gamophobia is, the result is often the same. Someone is overwhelmed at the thought of getting married or being in a committed relationship to the point where it becomes prohibitive. Although not an exceedingly common affliction, gamophobia is both valid and debilitating. On the bright side, if someone is suffering from gamophobia, there are ways to combat it.

Fears are tricky and often irrational, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be overcome. With the right people and resources, gamophobia can be managed and combatted. However, it must be noted that marriage, or even long-term commitment, is not necessary and everyone’s life path looks different. Every case is highly personal, but each can be overcome should you choose to seek treatment.

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.