In the modern dating world, commitment issues have become the new epidemic.
With a generation of daters avoiding labels and dodging conversations about the future, it can feel like a fear of commitment is haunting your hopes of finding your true love. However, before you give up, it’s important to understand why people struggle to commit and what lies behind this throwaway phrase.
To save yourself some time, it’s important to know how to spot signs of commitment issues and how to cope if you’ve found them lurking in your own psyche!
We may all have heard the term thrown around, but what does this term really mean?
Commitment issues describe an individual's hesitation or anxiety about making long-term decisions, usually pertaining to romantic relationships. Commitment-phobes are usually easily identifiable, highlighted by their refusal to put a ‘label’ on your relationship, or a reluctance to chat about the future.
If your partner has a fear of commitment, it’s very difficult to navigate a healthy relationship. For example, if you try and discuss your long-term goals with your partner, or raise the subject of relationship commitment, this may trigger a knee-jerk reaction. Due to their fear of long-term relationships, or inbuilt trust issues, they may run for the hills as a form of self-sabotage — rather than dealing with their fears head-on.
Within the online dating sphere, it’s common to get stuck in a situationship where your partner feigns ‘commitment issues’ in order to retain the ability to play the field. According to research, this has been dubbed as ‘Relationshopping’ and is not usually aligned with an actual commitment phobia.
If someone has genuine commitment fears, it’s important to consider the root cause of these issues, and hopefully be able to work towards open communication rather than avoidance.
Depending on your relationship dynamic, commitment can take on a lot of different meanings. However, according to various theorists, commitment is defined as the intention to maintain a relationship over time, which is rooted in further theories of interdependence and social exchange.
To put it simply, being committed to one person means that you’re solely focused on your intimate relationship, and they’re included in all your future plans.
This choice affects your day-to-day relationship behaviors, with decisions being made to preserve the best interests of your couple, rather than just yourself. These relationship theories correlate with how we all make sacrifices in order to maintain a romantic relationship, even if it isn’t always in our best interest at the time.
If you have a fear of commitment, you’re likely not willing to make these sacrifices. This could be because your attachment style prevents you from doing so, or you may not have found the right partner, or maybe you’re just not ready to settle down.
There are many different causes behind a fear of commitment, with most of these rooted in attachment issues — with early experiences affecting your ability to form healthy emotional attachments.
However, there are lots of other reasons why you or your partner are unable to commit wholeheartedly to the relationship.
Relationship anxiety is a huge factor in whether committed relationships are sustainable, with research showing a significant correlation between anxiety disorders and relationship distress.
For example, if one partner has an anxious attachment style it can be more difficult to overcome their insecurities in order to fully commit to their partner. This dynamic can be difficult to attain, especially if one partner is more securely attached and is unable to provide the kind of support or reassurance required.
Some people may refuse to engage in a serious relationship because they’re afraid if they expose themselves in this way, their partner may simply change their mind and abandon them.
These tendencies are commonly seen in those with an avoidant attachment style, with this fear of intimacy stemming from a mode of self-preservation. In this case, the refusal to take things to the next level is really a defense mechanism — if they don’t get too involved, they can’t get hurt.
In order to fully commit to a romantic partner, you need to be wholly vulnerable and authentic with them.
These requirements could be seen as too much for some people, especially if they have a disorganized attachment style. This kind of fear can be particularly debilitating if you have been hurt in past relationships, with your ability to establish an emotional connection significantly tainted.
For example, if you have dealt with infidelity in the past, it’s normal to experience qualms about trusting others again. However, while bad relationships are incredibly impactful, it’s possible to work through these issues with the right partner — who would never hurt you in the same way.
With the new modern dating landscape, it’s easy to engage in short-term relationships with a variety of people. This kind of dynamics means that you don’t have to commit or settle with anyone if you don’t want to.
For example, if one tiny thing goes wrong in the beginning stages, it’s easier to throw in the towel — as someone else is just a swipe away.
“Getting clear on what are real deal breakers for you and what is a subject that just needs better communication around is an important part of relationships, especially early on in the relationship,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.
This kind of approach can be a huge blow to your self-esteem if you’re the one cast aside. However, your person would never bypass you in such a cruel way — commitment issues or not!
We all want our fairytale ending.
However, the societal pressure associated with finding the ‘one’ can lead to a refusal to commit because someone doesn’t fit your idea of a ‘perfect partner’.
Although it’s not a crime to be picky, perfect relationships aren’t found, they’re made. Real relationships don’t exist without sacrifices and consistent effort, but unfortunately, these kinds of commitment issues cloud this realization — to their own detriment.
Being in a relationship with someone who has commitment issues isn’t always plain sailing, but if they’re willing to work on overcoming their fears — there’s no reason things can’t work out!
“You need to understand your own reasons for being attracted to someone who is going through this, as well as your own boundaries,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Otherwise, you may find yourself in an imbalanced relationship, where you are constantly chasing or pursuing them. Leaving you feeling rejected and lonely. This can have a negative impact on your mental health.”
“However, if your partner is open, honest, and actively working on personal growth in this area, it may be worth exploring whether this relationship is a good and healthy fit for both of you,” says Seeger DeGeare.
If you’re struggling with commitment issues yourself, or if you believe your partner is displaying these signs, don’t give up hope for your future.
With time and patience, it’s possible to work through commitment issues in order to form healthy and fulfilling relationships. However, remember that you can’t make someone want to be in a relationship with you, and you should never feel you have to change to be worthy of someone’s time.
If you’re struggling to commit to your loved one, it’s important to self-reflect and consider what could be holding you back.
“One of the key parts of a healthy relationship is your own understanding of your emotions,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“We can not expect our partners to understand us and how we experience the world if we don’t even have that understanding ourselves.”
Do you want to date other people? Are you afraid to open up to them? Are you worried that they might leave you in the future? Do you feel that they don’t tick all your boxes?
After reflecting on your relationship circumstances, it’s important to try and understand the root cause behind your commitment fears.
It could be helpful to understand your attachment style, in order to trace back why you’re unable to form this kind of connection in committed relationships.
Once you have gained a better understanding of why you may be behaving this way, it’s important to verbalize this with your prospective partner.
If you don’t talk openly and honestly to your significant other, they could misunderstand your intentions and think that you’re just not interested — when that’s not the case. Take the time to explain your reservations and why you might struggle with commitment while emphasizing that you want to try and work through these issues with them.
You don’t want to tackle these issues all by yourself!
If you’re struggling with commitment issues, it could be helpful to try couples therapy or couples counseling in order to find a way to move forward as a team. If you aren’t ready to involve your partner in your healing process, it could also be helpful to try individual therapy to get to the bottom of everything in your own time.
If you’re dealing with commitment issues, rushing through the healing process is one of the worst things you could do!
Try and take baby steps in your new relationship, being patient with yourself so as not to trigger a negative knee-jerk reaction to this kind of commitment.
Surface-level conversations will only get you so far in a relationship. When you’re ready, try and dive a little deeper, becoming more vulnerable with your partner at your own pace.
If you’re struggling to start the conversation, these deep questions should put you on the right track.
Every healthy relationship relies on boundaries to ensure the dynamic is comfortable for both partners.
If you have a hard time with commitment and intimacy, it can be helpful to put boundaries in place to ensure things don’t become too overwhelming or constrictive. Chat with your partner about how you would like to approach the relationship, whether that involves boundaries around personal time or how you want to see each other.
Since commitment issues often stem from early childhood experiences or past bad relationships, it would be silly to assume they can be resolved overnight.
Be patient with yourself and your partner as you navigate a committed relationship. Even if there are some speed bumps along the way, it doesn’t mean it can’t work out! Practice patience, and you might be surprised by what you’re able to achieve.