How to Deal with Commitment Issues in Relationships

Picture two islands rising from the sea near one another. On one island, food grows plentifully: there are trees laden with fresh fruit, there are fields of grain, and there are forests filled with leafy greens. But there is not a reliable source of fresh water. On the other island, there are streams and waterfalls and flowing springs; there is an endless supply of water, but little food grows there.

If the inhabitants of each island worked together to build a bridge connecting the two, a wonderful future could be created, one in which life was so much the better for both islands. But that future could only be relied upon if both sides worked equally to construct a strong, sturdy bridge. The same is true in a relationship: the bridge is commitment; when people are committed to a relationship, it has the chance to thrive and endure.

One of the most important – indeed, essential – relationship goals must be solid commitment to the partnership. That’s not to say your relationship with your partner needs to be perfectly solid at all times; few if any long-term partnerships are ever thus. It means that, even when things are rocky, you can both count on being in the relationship with full commitment.

When commitment issues arise, they threaten to poison a relationship no matter how much potential it may otherwise have had based on the compatibility between the parties. Knowing how to spot commitment issues may help you salvage a relationship before it is torn. So too can spotting commitment issues help you stay out of romantic relationships that may have been doomed from the start.

What Are Some Commitment Issues?

Couple sitting on a rooftop at sunset by Khamkeo Vilaysing on Unsplash
(Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash)

A fear of commitment can come in many forms; some people avoid taking on major projects at work for fear of responsibility or failure; some people don’t fully invest themselves in friendships for fear of being taken advantage of or concerns over feeling more alone should the friendship fade; some people might be wary of parenthood because they don’t think they can give over so much of their time and energy to a child.

For our purposes, we are focusing primarily on commitment issues in couples involved in – or potentially involved in – serious relationships. Commitment is necessary for a long-term relationship to work, after all. It is the foundation of healthy relationships, so knowing the signs of commitment phobia, as it were, are crucial. As for defining commitment issues, broadly speaking we can refer to them as any (or all) of these behaviors when they occur repeatedly:

  • Ambivalence to a partner’s needs, emotions, and hopes
  • Disinterest in the future of the partnership
  • Inconsistent levels of intimacy
  • Failure to give (and/or earn) trust

Now that we’ve laid out some of the most common signs of commitment issues in a romantic relationship, let’s talk about ways you may be able to overcome them. And we mean that in helping your partner overcome his or her issues, or in you identifying commitment issues in yourself and working to make your own changes.

Ambivalence to a partner

When one partner seems ambivalent to the hopes, wants, needs, concerns, or feelings of the other, that may not be a sign of a lack of capacity for care and concern – such as may be present with a sociopath – but may show the person is afraid of committing to the relationship, perhaps because they fear they would not in turn receive the same care and concern in return when needed.

If you feel your partner is too ambivalent to your feelings, you need to clearly express not only that you need more mindfulness from them but you also need to make it clear that you care about what they are feeling – in a successful relationship, hopes, concerns, desires, and goals should all be shared, not one-sided.

Conflict avoidance

Avoiding arguments does make problems go away; in fact, it makes them much worse. If you or your partner always avoid conflict, eventually you will just be avoiding each other. In a committed relationship, things get hashed out, dealt with, learned from, and left behind. In a relationship marked by commitment phobia, conflict is tiptoed around or run from.

The problem may be not that your partner isn’t invested in the relationship, but that they are not comfortable with the way you fight. Talk about conflict in a moment of calm and you may be able to figure out how to argue more productively.

Disinterest in the future

If your partner seems disinterested in the future you’ll share, that’s a major red flag of commitment concerns. But it’s another thing to simply not be great about making plans – don’t confuse the two, but if your partner seems to genuinely not envision a future for the two of you, then the present is the time to work through it or consider ending things.

Inconsistent intimacy

When we say intimacy in this context, we’re not talking about romance, but about warmth, patience, connection, and openness. Even when angry, a reliable partner should still seem a safe and available person. Even when saddened, a committed partner will make his or her thoughts available. Even when tired or frustrated, your partner should still factor your feelings is with theirs. If you don’t know how a person is going to act or respond from one situation to the next, they may be incompletely invested in the relationship.

Lack of trust

If you just don’t think you can trust your partner, it may not be because he or she is actually hiding anything from you, but rather because they are not fully committed to your relationship. They may be holding a part of themselves back in self-defense, and in so doing weakening a needed pillar of any partnership. There is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of how to build trust in a relationship. There is, however, the necessity that you find a way to do it in yours.

What Causes Commitment Issues?

man's hands on therapist couch

Most commitment issues can be traced to past experiences. A home where the parents were separated or together but in a toxic partnership can strongly imprint on a child. Painful past breakups, especially after long term relationships, can lead to commitment problems in later relationships. So too can certain personality disorders cause commitment issues.

In some cases, though, a person with commitment issues may simply lack proper awareness of how they are acting. They may fully want the partnership to work and just not know they are not showing up to the relationship in a mutually fulfilling way. Patience and communication can fix this in many cases.

And in any case, know that you – and your partner – are not alone in your issues. Read a few relationship quotes and you’ll see just how many people have dealt with the same struggles and, more to the point, how often love has won out in the end.

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