Are You in a Committed Relationship?

What does commitment mean in a relationship?
on January 30, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

In the realm of human relationships, commitment stands as a foundational element, particularly in romantic partnerships.

While you don’t need a public declaration or a promise ring, there are certain expectations around committed relationships, and what it means to be committed to your romantic partner. Unlike casual or fleeting interactions, a committed relationship signals a profound dedication, where both individuals see themselves as part of a united team, facing life’s challenges and joys together. 

Since commitment can mean different things to different people, how do you know if your partner is committed to you? And, if they truly see a future with you, can you spot the signs early on? 

Key Takeaways
  • Commitment in a relationship transcends casual bonds, embodying a profound dedication to a shared life. It’s about seeing yourselves as a team, jointly navigating life's experiences.
  • Commitment is subjective and can vary between couples. What's essential is the mutual agreement on the level of commitment, exclusivity, and future expectations. This understanding is vital in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.
  • Open and honest discussions are crucial in defining commitment. Whether in traditional or modern dating contexts, articulating expectations and future plans is a significant step in cementing a committed relationship.
  • People commit for various reasons — emotional bonds, security, societal expectations, or practical benefits like economic stability. The drive for commitment reflects a blend of personal desires and cultural influences.
  • If doubts about the level of commitment in a relationship arise, it’s crucial to openly discuss these concerns. This conversation, while challenging, clarifies where the relationship stands and what future steps might be.

What is a committed relationship? 

Commitment in a relationship is generally defined as the intention to maintain a relationship, with both partners willing to put the effort in to make the relationship work. Instead of treating the relationship casually, both parties are in it for the long haul and are willing to commit to a long-term relationship. 

To be in a committed relationship, a couple has to agree upon the level of commitment expected and decide what their future together will look like. In the modern era of dating, this conversation is usually seen as a big deal — with both partners agreeing on their level of exclusivity and what they can expect from each other going forward. 

While we often think of these conversations being limited to monogamous relationships, people in open relationships, or who are polyamorous will have extensive conversations and clarity on how they define their expectations and cement the boundaries they want to put in place. 

Research does not recognize married couples as ‘more committed’ than other serious romantic relationships. This study highlights the importance of commitment over a formalized ceremony, as moral consistency values to stick together through adversity, signified what it meant to be committed. 

Why do people commit to a relationship?

People commit to relationships for a variety of reasons, including a desire for an emotional bond, security, or even a fear of loneliness. 

At the heart of many commitments is the search for a profound emotional connection, with a lot of people set on a quest for their great love story. This encompasses the human desire for companionship, love, and a sense of belonging. Not only that, but finding your significant other can be a great sense of security and safety — as you’re no longer taking on life alone, but as a team player. 

However, it's important to acknowledge the influence of social and cultural expectations. In many societies, being in a committed relationship is seen as a normative stage of life, and societal pressure can sometimes play a role in the decision to commit. Additionally, there are tangible benefits, like economic stability and shared resources, which are also a driving force for couples considering marriage. 

Why human beings find such solace in commitment is a much wider argument, with many factors pulling couples to commit to each other long-term. However, more modern relationships are opting for a greater lack of commitment in their relationships — choosing freedom and exploration over more traditional romantic avenues. 

Is commitment important in a relationship?

Commitment is an important part of any serious relationship, as it promotes security and can help naturally override any fears or insecurities. 

In a new relationship, things can feel a bit confusing and complicated, as you’re unsure about the level of commitment you should be expecting from your partner. However, once a commitment has been made, it helps define your future plans together — enabling you to continue your journey from a place of security and trust. 

Research shows that commitment has a powerful influence on individuals’ relationship behaviors, promoting actions that serve the best interest of the couple rather than the short-term interest of the self. 

This provides a solid foundation for the relationship, as committed partners more naturally tend to each other’s needs and consider what their partner wants, alongside their own desires. 

These benefits are not restricted to monogamy, as all romantic relationship dynamics can benefit from defining the level of commitment in their relationship. As long as everyone is in the loop, and is comfortable with the arrangement, the same perks still apply. 

What is expected in a committed relationship?

Expectations are normal in any relationship, and if you have certain boundaries or dealbreakers, this should not be viewed as a bad thing! It’s important to know your expectations going into any relationship, as it helps define the dynamic from the start. 

Within a committed relationship, expectations are defined based on both partner’s needs and wants. Therefore, they are completely malleable depending on each individual couple. 

For example, some couples have certain expectations about how often they should spend time together, what they can expect from a future together, or even how often they hang out with each other’s friends and family!

How do you know if someone is committed to a relationship?

Conversations about commitment are crucial to the development of a healthy relationship, as it ensures that you’re on the same page. 

However, even though your partner may provide you with frequent reassurance, how do you know if someone is really committed to a future with you? 

Research uses the interdependence framework to define how couples go from thinking from an individual perspective to developing an identity as a couple. This “transformation of motivation” turns couples into ‘We’ people, whereby they take into account long-term goals for the relationship as an entity in addition to their own needs and desires.  

This can start with the little things, and while you will have to make sacrifices and compromises for the sake of the relationship, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your individuality or opt for co-dependency. 

When you take on your partner’s needs and wants in this way, this strengthens your emotional connection and solidifies your bond as a couple. Even though this sounds intense, being in a committed relationship can be as simple as combining the intention to be together — with the sense of building a future as a team. 

This transition might be easy enough to theorize about, but how do you locate these changes in a committed partner? 

While it’s important to openly discuss the level of commitment expected in your relationship, there are also a few signs of commitment to look out for — especially in the early days of a new relationship. 

Signs of a committed relationship

Mutual respect: If you’re in a committed relationship, there should be an obvious level of mutual respect. If you’re both a valued aspect of each other’s life, both partners value each other's opinions, feelings, mental health, and boundaries.
Trust: Trust is a foundational aspect of a committed relationship, and this trust should go both ways. If you’re concerned about your partner’s actions when you’re not around — it could be a sign that you’re worried about their commitment level.
Communication: If you’re in a committed relationship, there shouldn’t be any communication barriers. Therefore you shouldn’t be afraid to touch on certain topics or refrain from chatting about your future together. Walking on eggshells is certainly not a factor in a committed and secure relationship!
Prioritization: Both individuals prioritize the relationship, making time for each other and planning a future together. This may involve one partner making sacrifices or compromises to fulfill their loved one’s needs and vice versa.
Emotional support: Each partner provides emotional support to the other, especially during challenging times. They celebrate successes and offer comfort during hardships without complaint.
Intimacy: While physical intimacy is a clear aspect of most casual relationships, committed dynamics go well beyond this. If your partner is committed to the relationship, you should both be investing in your emotional and intellectual intimacy (as well as your physical side!)
Shared goals: The couple often has aligned life goals and values, which helps in navigating life's journey together. This could relate to career, family, lifestyle choices, or moral values.
Reliability: When your partner says that they’re going to do something, you believe them wholeheartedly, and don’t secretly feel that they’re going to let you down! Instead, both partners are reliable and consistent in their actions and behaviors, creating a stable and predictable environment in the relationship.
Public acknowledgment: Are you still waiting for that public declaration of love? While you can’t expect your partner to shout it from the rooftops, they won’t keep you a secret if they’re truly committed to the relationship. For many couples, there is a social media aspect to this public declaration, with a hard launch usually signifying a clear commitment signal. (A dismissal of this milestone is usually seen as a red flag!)
Shared responsibility: In a committed, happy relationship, both partners are pulling their weight! This might involve sharing financial, household, or emotional responsibilities, indicating a partnership approach to life's challenges and daily tasks as a team. If you’re worried about the level of commitment in your relationship, there’s no point in bottling it all up inside. Even though it may be the last thing you want to do, it’s important to express your concerns and open up the conversation around commitment. While you may not get the answer you desire from ‘the talk’, at least you will know where you stand in the relationship, and if you want to move forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a relationship and a committed relationship?

    The distinction between a relationship and a committed relationship lies primarily in the depth of the bond, and the expectations of the partners involved. Perhaps most importantly, the difference lies within what the couple has explicitly agreed and the level of commitment they have agreed to.
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