Dealing With Commitment Issues

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Dealing With Commitment Issues

Commitment issues: They plague so many relationships, and they can be so difficult to navigate. 

When you want a deeper commitment and your partner doesn’t, it’s hurtful. You’re feeling sure about your future together — ready to move in, ready to get engaged, ready to welcome a child into the world. But they have reservations, and it’s hard not to experience those reservations as rejection. Even worse, you might wonder if you’re wasting time with someone who will never come around, and day by day missing your chance to find a life partner or have a family. 

Of course, for the partner with “commitment issues,” it’s not easy either. If marriage is your goal, you’re trying to choose the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with. Really, have you ever made a bigger decision? 

Commitment issues can leave your relationship in a state of gridlock, with no easy route forward. How can you know what’s causing this hesitation? If your partner won’t commit, when should you be patient and work through it, and when should you move on? 

But help is here. I’ve put together this episode of the podcast for you to answer these questions and many more. As a couples therapist and a relationship coach, I know that commitment issues come up for so many couples, and that they can be more complex than they seem at first blush. The good news is, working through commitment issues together gives you an opportunity to build a better relationship, that you can both feel good about committing to. So before you give your noncommittal partner an ultimatum, read this article (and listen to the podcast, while you’re here!).

Dealing with Commitment Issues

Our culture doesn’t always value commitment. But, love it or hate it, commitment is the key to long-term healthy relationships. If you and your partner aren’t on the same page about commitment in your relationship, you need to find the root of the “commitment issues” you’re experiencing. 

Admittedly, that’s a big task — and the possibilities are just about limitless! But here, in the broadest categories, are the most common culprits: 

Fear of Commitment 

Fear of commitment is a real thing, and it’s usually caused by past relational trauma. 

For children of divorce, or anyone who witnessed serious turmoil in their parents’ relationship, like infidelity or abuse, it may be difficult to trust on a deep level that any relationship can be safe and healthy long term. Toxic relationships with past partners, or having been cheated on could also cause someone to mistrust relationships. 

When someone has this fundamental anxiety about commitment, normal relationship turbulence feels incredibly threatening. They may see minor issues as a definitive sign that the relationship will fail, and cause a lot of pain along the way. Keeping one foot out the door becomes a way for the noncommittal partner to feel safe, although, sadly, they’re likely to create the relationship destruction they fear if they can’t commit. 

The good news is, of all the root causes of commitment issues, this one has the clearest path forward. Your partner can soothe their anxiety about commitment by learning about the reality of healthy relationships — which are always a mixed bag, and always involve some push and pull between the people involved. Understanding this can help your partner create more reasonable expectations for your relationship, and more clarity about what is a totally normal and workable issue, and what is cause for concern.

If they didn’t witness a healthy relationship growing up, they may also need to build some relationship skills that were never modeled for them, like constructive conflict, or emotionally safe communication. Once they do so, they’ll feel more capable of handling relationship issues as they arise, and they’ll probably feel more confident about moving forward with you. 

Ambivalence About the Relationship

Here’s another possibility: Your noncommittal partner might not feel ambivalent about relationships in general, but about yours in particular. 

It may be that your partner is concerned about certain problems in your relationship, doesn’t know how to fix them, and isn’t comfortable tying the proverbial knot until something changes. If this is the case, my hope is that your partner has identified the problem(s) so you can work on them together, with the goal of improving your relationship and continuing to grow as a couple

And what issues might need resolving? There are as many possibilities as there are relationships! It could be that there are old wounds that need to be healed and forgiven before your relationship can move forward. You may be having the same fight over and over, and need to find a way to move past it. You may both need to work on certain relationship skills to make your relationship healthier, more functional, and more sustainable for you both. A good marriage counselor or couples therapist can help you navigate any of these possibilities. 

If your partner is unwilling to commit because of specific problems with your relationship, this is ultimately a good thing. As long as you’re both willing to work on your challenges, you can improve your relationship before things get worse, and become a stronger couple, ready for a deeper commitment. 

Ambivalence About You

There’s a final possibility, which is not as easily fixed as the others, and far more upsetting to experience. 

It could be that your partner won’t commit because they’re not so sure about their feelings for you — and they may never be. They may be having a relationship with you, without an authentic interest in growing that relationship. They don’t want to break up, but they don’t want to close off other possibilities either. When you ask for deeper levels of commitment, like moving in together, getting engaged, or even just planning a trip a few months in advance, they drag their feet or make excuses.  

I know this is selfish, and hurtful, and probably difficult to even consider. But as an experienced therapist, I also know that it happens. I’ve listened to many people sit on my couch and say things like, “She’s great, and smart, and fun…for now. But I’m not sure if there’s a future. I imagine my life partner being more successful, or better looking, or more (fill in the blank).” 

So, they spend time with a good-enough partner without fully investing in the relationship, while waiting to see if someone who meets their criteria comes along. Meanwhile, you’re attaching more deeply, and your expectations for the future are growing. 

This kind of non-commital behavior is associated with an avoidant attachment style. At their core, avoidantly attached people fear intimacy, closeness, and dependence, so they find fault with perfectly nice partners to justify holding them at arm’s length. 

Of course, all of this would be fine, if your partner was open with you about their true feelings. But that’s likely not what’s happening. If it was, you would probably be breaking up with them, not furiously searching for answers about why they won’t commit to you. More likely, your partner is citing vague reasons for their unwillingness to move forward. These reasons may not make a lot of sense, and you may notice they’re constantly shifting. 

If this is what’s happening in your relationship, I’m sorry. I know it’s incredibly hurtful. I also know it’s unlikely to change. As the author Cheryl Strayed once wrote: “You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.”

If your partner doesn’t have the feelings for you that they want or expect to have for a life partner, flushing this information out into the open sooner rather than later can only be a good thing. If you want real love, or a family, you are wasting your time and possibly your fertility on someone who’s treating you like a placeholder. And you, my dear, deserve better than that. 

When Your Partner Won’t Commit

“Commitment issues” in a relationship can have many different causes, and the problem is often more complex than it seems once you crack open the relational hood and begin poking around. Most commitment issues can be worked through, and doing that work together will lead to a stronger, happier relationship that can carry you both forward. 

Even if you don’t find a tidy resolution, you’ll have more information to make the choice that’s right for you. I wish you the best of luck.

Episode Show Notes:

[01:49] What are Commitment Issues? 

  • Commitment issues arise in a relationship when both partners are not on the same page about their desired level of commitment. 
  • It hurts when your partner doesn’t demonstrate the same level of certainty about you that you feel toward them.
  • Fear of commitment is a complex issue, and the root of the problem can go incredibly deep. 

[09:39] Signs of Commitment Issues

  • A partner may seem anxious about the idea of trusting and committing to other people. 
  • They may attribute a lot of negative meaning to normal relationship issues.

[13:49] How Can I Address Commitment Issues?

  • Have open and honest conversations on common areas of conflict.
  • Learning constructive communication and problem-solving skills can instill confidence in a relationship.
  • High quality couples counseling helps partners see “commitment issues” as an opportunity for growth. 

[20:55] Does My Partner Have Commitment Issues?

  • Ambivalence toward a partner may be an indication of them having commitment issues.
  • Some people may remain in a relationship because they fear they won’t find anyone better, but they’re not eager to close off that possibility. 

[28:05] Counseling and Commitment Issues

  • An experienced marriage counselor can guide you through commitment issues.
  • Commitment issues are solvable when you agree to work them out with your partner.
  • Some avoidant partners fear couples counseling because it may reveal emotions and intentions they would rather keep hidden. 

[35:12] How to Get Over the Fear of Commitment?

  • Resolving fear of commitment requires a combination of personal growth and relational work.
  • The healing path would more likely be experiential to familiarize than informational.
  • Communicate and externalize the presence of commitment issues. Then, figure out a common ground to work together against the problem.
  • Accept your difficult past, and commit to building a happy and healthy relationship now.

Music in this episode is from Raccoon, with the song, “Bloody You”

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Dealing With Commitment Issues

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

That little slice of sonic gorgeousness is the band, Raccoon, with the song, “Bloody You”. A poignant start to our episode together today because we are talking, yet again, about a tough topic. Today, we are tackling commitment issues — issues y’all. A lot of couples struggle with us. It can be incredibly painful on both sides when you’re going through it. My hope today is that, if this has been a thing for you or somebody in your life is struggling with this, you will leave our time together today with some new ideas, and hopefully actionable ideas, that can help you find your way through this. Let’s just dive right in. Let’s dispense with all formalities. We’ve been through this together. 

If you’ve listened to this show at all before, you’ll know I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I’m a licensed psychologist, I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’m a board-certified life coach, and I love making these podcasts for you. I have the best time doing this, and I love, especially, having the opportunity to address topics that I know are on your mind, and also to answer your questions. And this topic in particular is one that many of you are struggling with. I know this because I get a lot of questions about it through Instagram, through our website, So here we are today — we are tackling this together. 

To set ourselves up for this, let’s just define our terms here for a second. What do I mean when I’m talking about “commitment issues”? There are probably different iterations of this. But the one that I hear about most of the time is a situation like couples, individuals trying to figure out how to handle it when maybe you want to move your relationship forward — you want to get married, move in together, or even become an exclusive couple, everybody take down their dating profiles. I mean, it can look like a lot of different things. 

Even a facet of this can be related to whether or not to start a family like to have children together or not, to have another child can have tinges of commitment issues as well. It has tentacles that can kind of sneak into different areas of life and have a relationship.

But it all kind of boils down to people being in different places with their readiness or willingness to move into that stage of relationship. If you’re the partner who wants a deeper commitment, you already know how difficult this is. I mean, it’s so frustrating, but also, it hurts. It can feel like a really deep and painful rejection, even, to be with somebody who you feel very sure about, but who isn’t demonstrating that same level of certainty about you — like that hurts, right? And it can also trigger a lot of anxiety about the future, particularly if you are at a stage in your life where you’re ready to find your person — get engaged, move in, do the stuff, talk about starting a family — and the person that you would like to do this with is like, “I don’t know.” I mean, that that’s hard, right? 

Also, though, on the other side of this — and I want to speak to this too because it’s super real. It’s also not easy to be the person who isn’t ready to commit either — there’s a ton of anxiety. Choosing who you are going to spend the rest of your life with is truly one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make, and it is totally valid to be overwhelmed and uncertain when you’re faced with that decision. Also, I think that there’s a lot to be said for attempting to make a very thoughtful and informed decision. But given the fact that all relationships are, to a degree, a mixed bag, and there is no perfect person, there is no perfect relationship, that can be so confusing to try to figure out, “What is good enough?”, like when would you know that this is a very nice relationship that could have a wonderful future compared to signs that it isn’t, given the variability of any relationship. That’s not easy to do. 

I want to talk with you about this and how to navigate it when you’re not on the same page as your partner. Again, my hope is that after this episode, you will have some ideas and some takeaways about what to do with this, how to handle commitment issues in your relationship, and how to find a way forward that respects your needs, as well as your partners’. I have to tell you — so I’m certainly going to share my ideas and recommendations, and things that I’ve seen, and one of my original hopes for this podcast was to actually speak with somebody on the show who was dealing with this. If you’ve listened to recent episodes, this is an idea that we’re experimenting with a little bit more as actually inviting selected listeners, like yourself — Lisa waggles her eyebrows — onto the show to actually talk with me about what’s going on in your life, and we can kind of hash it out a little bit. 

On this topic, we actually put a call out on my Instagram — @drlisamariebobby, in case you’re interested — but to say, “Hey, who’s dealing with this? Would you like to come talk to us about it?” And I got some amazing responses. If you are one of the people who responded about that question, thank you so much for getting in touch. As I read through what you were going with, dealing with, and how it was feeling for you, I actually decided to abandon that idea because this is not an informational kind of answer. 

The last thing in the world I want to do to you is to put anybody in a situation where we open up a bunch of stuff that is actually quite painful and complex, and that requires a growth process to get all the way through to the other side, and to invite people to be starting to have that first conversation with me in this kind of scenario on a podcast that will be heard by others. I’m not your therapist, I am not your coach — and so we would start having this conversation, start talking about hard things and be like, “Alright, well, that’s a wrap, but good luck with that!” I don’t want to do that.

I decided, instead, to tackle some written questions that people have sent to me so that we can still kind of accomplish the same thing, but not potentially damage someone or their relationship in the process of making this podcast. I will certainly put out other opportunities to come and talk about questions with me on the show — I’m still excited about doing that, but may just have to kind of make that decision on a case-by-case basis so that I’m fairly certain that it can be a positive experience for you if we do that together, and not a potentially a negative one.

As I was reflecting on what I wanted to share about this podcast and the information that would help you is — we’re going to dig into this together, but the idea of commitment issues is quite complex. On the surface, it often seems like a gridlock situation, a yes or no, black or white, “Should we move in together?”, “Should we get engaged?”. We can just make a decision, and in reality, it is not that at all. The roots of this go incredibly deep. In order to work through it and arrive at a place of clarity, and confidence, and certainty about what to do, what’s right for you, it is often a growth process that takes at least a few months of regular attention to get all the way through in an authentic way. 

I just wanted to say that out loud and prepare you in advance that I am not going to give you trite  advice. You are not going to listen to this and be like, “Okay, well, let’s get engaged. We have it all figured out now.” It’s going to go deeper. That is a good thing, and I hope it provides you direction on what might be true and how to begin going through the process of peeling that onion, doing the work, and coming out the other side, using it as a growth experience that benefits both you and your relationship. That is my sincere hope for you because you deserve that — you deserve that. You don’t deserve trite basic advice — not from me or anybody else.

Alright, climbing down from my soapbox. Let’s talk about some of the things that I have seen and experienced in my role as a therapist, as a marriage counselor, as a psychologist related to these commitment issues. One — and here’s probably the most common thing that I see that leads to a real vexation when it comes to, people trying to figure out what to do with their relationships. Sometimes, one or both partners can have quite a bit of anxiety around trusting other people and trusting the idea of commitment itself. This, again, can have very deep roots — not infrequently. 

It’s due to their having life experiences where they’ve seen not so great outcomes for other people — their parents, family members, culturally even — that relationships last. They’ve been exposed to a lot of divorces or relational trauma, affairs, addictions, betrayals — they might be children of divorce, and it was hard for them. Because of all that, they have a really high degree of need of certainty that, “This relationship is a good one. It’s not going to end badly.” But again, because all relationships, every single relationship has elements to it that are not perfect. They may experience normal relationship issues — people getting into conflict about things, having to get on the same page about how we’re handling things. 

All relationships have a certain degree of unsolvable problems — just differences between people that will always exist. They aren’t a bad thing, but because they have this need, I think, for certainty, they experience these normal relationship issues as a potential sign that there’s something wrong. They’re attributing a lot of negative meaning to a fairly normal relational turbulence, but it makes them feel really worried. 

The path of growth I see here is when people are actually able to do some work, often with a trained professional such as myself, but even reading some books or educating themselves about healthy relationships, and understanding that it is not a one-dimensional love fest — there’s light and dark in all things. What does a real-life fundamentally healthy, emotionally safe relationship look like in practice in all of its imperfect glory? They can relax. 

In these situations, it can honestly be a little bit hard sometimes to get a partner struggling with commitment, even in the door of like a couples counselor’s office, because part of that core narrative is if we have to talk to, somebody about our relationship, that’s a sign that there’s something wrong with this relationship, which is so not true. But that can be this huge barrier. It’s almost these perfectionistic ideas of what a healthy relationship should be. 

What they don’t know — but what I want you to know — is that the strongest, healthiest relationships are created intentionally by people working on their relationship and doing the things to make it strong, and healthy, and good, like going to couples counseling, going to relationship coaching, reading the books, taking the classes, investing in learning because nobody teaches you how to do this. Couples who have magnificent relationships are actually more likely to go to couples counseling. It’s not a sign that something is wrong with the relationship; it’s a sign of commitment, it’s a sign of, “I care enough about you that I want to work on this.” 

Again, it’s so what happens in the room is a series of conversations. We’re exploring different facets of the relationship, and really helping people understand what is genuinely problematic, and that we do need to work on and improve so that you can have a better experience, also, what is normal. But I think, too, arming people with almost like a toolbox or a roadmap — kind of how we do in premarital counseling, like not if but when you encounter conflict in this area, here’s how to resolve it constructively, or here are common areas of conflict that most couples face sooner or later. Let’s go ahead and talk through those now, and it could be around finances, sexuality, values, hopes, and dreams — all this stuff. 

But I think even just by having a conversation about those, it takes some of the fear out of it and people leave that being like, “Yeah, we either figured this out and came into agreement, and are fundamentally on the same page”, and/or, “I feel confident in what we’re going to do if we do encounter problems in this area.” We just require some work, and people doing some exploring in order to be able to have like a thoughtful experience. In doing so, their anxiety calms way down, and they find that confidence and that sense of security and trust that they’ve been looking for once they learn how to deal with those normal unexpected issues. 

That’s kind of door number one, and what is really at the root of commitment issues for many couples, and this is a very solvable problem — learning what’s going on, beefing up some skills. Also, I will add to this that part of this could be — yes, a lot of what is happening is sort of normal relational issues. It is also true — and I just need to add this — that if one or both partners are coming out of family of origin experiences, whether their parents went through one or multiple divorces, and their parents never really figured out how to have a healthy relationship, they didn’t have good models for how to do it. 

There might be some things that have been happening in the relationship related to constructive communication, constructive problem-solving skills that people do really need to learn how to do in order to begin having more positive experiences with each other in their relationship. Also, exploring that, doing that work, growing in that area can lead to an enormous amount of confidence about the relationship itself once that feels more solid, and perhaps some of the issues that had been happening because those skills weren’t in place have ameliorated through that work. It’s easy, and people can happily skip forward together into a bright future. That is the first situation. 

Now, another situation that is much less common that results in one partner thinking that the other might have commitment issues is, again, left less common, and it’s crappier, to be completely honest with you — it’s simpler. It’s because one person — the person with the a.k.a commitment issues — is actually quite ambivalent about the relationship. This can happen for a couple of reasons, and potentially, in the best-case scenario, their ambivalence is related to things that they have been experiencing in the relationship that they do not like, they do not want to keep doing for the next 40 years of their lives, and they don’t know how to fix it. 

They don’t want to move forward into the relationship with you because there are aspects of the relationship that they are quite concerned about. I say that this is the best-case scenario because this is also potentially a solvable problem. This could be an indication that we need to get into more substantial couples counseling, not — what I talked about previously, it might be sort of premarital counseling, relationship coaching, “Let’s take a look at what’s going on”, “Let’s talk about all the things that are going well”, like almost psychoeducation around normal relational aspects. 

But in the second situation, there are actually problematic things that have been happening that we need to use couples counseling, to see if they can be resolved. Sometimes, it is communication skills — we need a different set of agreements. Sometimes, there are emotional wounds between people that need to be healed, and couples counseling can absolutely help you do that. 

If couples counseling is successful, and these things are improved and mended, on the other side of that, people can say with confidence, “You know what? I feel so much better now, and I feel like we’re so much stronger as a couple, I feel so much more secure with you. Yes, given the work that we did, I’m confident that — again, not that our relationship will be perfect forever, but the stuff that I felt really worried about feels handled enough for me to not feel as worried. And without the presence of that big problem, I feel a lot more comfortable committing to do this with you.” 

Again, it can be relational issues — things that are happening in the space in between you. There can be values discrepancies that can feel kind of bad for people, there can be untreated mental health stuff, substance abuse issues that until that is resolved, it makes it very difficult for a partner to keep doing this. Anyway, solvable problems — and they do require a lot of honesty and open conversations around, “I can’t move forward because of this. Once we have this figured out, then we can work on that.” 

In the hands of really competent couples counseling, or associated treatment if that winds up being required, I would say nine times out of ten, people who are committed to doing this work with each other can come out the other side in a space of deep commitment and alignment, and with a stronger relationship than they had prior to doing that. Again, that is a very positive outcome, in my opinion, and a sign that — air quote, “commitment issues”, are just an opportunity for growth, which is fabulous. 

Now, there is yet another situation that is even crappier, and it happens. This is much more rare, I would say it is the rarest. It is also very real, and you need to know about it — that commitment issues can be present in a relationship because one person is genuinely ambivalent about you. They like you, they care about you, there is nothing dramatically wrong about this relationship, they might like many parts of this relationship — like it so much, they keep doing it, and they aren’t feeling the way they think they should feel about their life partner with you, and they’re probably not going to. 

Again, super crappy. But I have personally talked to so many people who have literally said to me, in words, they have said, “She’s an awesome girl, we have a good relationship, we have so much in common, we have a good time together, my parents like her, she likes my parents — I mean, it’s all lining up or going in the same direction, and she’d be a great mom. But I just feel like I should see who else is out there. She’s not the hottest girl I’ve ever dated, but I don’t want to break up with her because I wouldn’t necessarily want to lose her. What if I don’t find somebody that I like better than her? I want to make sure.” They’re kind of spending time with you while they’re sort of half waiting around to see what else comes along. 

I am probably enraging some of you right now to the point of tears by saying this out loud, but people have said this to me in therapy sessions, and it’s just awful. I mean, because my role, obviously, is to help them to kind of resolve ambivalence. But also my role is to help them come back into a place of integrity, which is, “What do you think it feels like for the person you’re dating to be with you, given the way that you feel?” opening the door to having honest conversations about that. But it’s a hard thing on both sides. 

What is also really hard is that if you are in a relationship with somebody for whom this is true, they’re not going to be saying this out loud to you because if they did, you would say, understandably, “Screw this! Screw you! You go find something better.” It would end the relationship essentially, so people aren’t talking about this. It’s that authentic piece isn’t part of it.

What is happening is that the person on the other side is trying to figure out what the hell is going on. When they ask their partner, it’s like some form of gaslighting, to be honest. It’s like, “Well, I’m just not ready yet”, or, “If we had more money saved”, or, “Maybe after next summer after we go on this vacation”, I mean, it’s just like stuff that doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t make sense. 

This is an incredibly difficult situation to be with. One of the clues that this is going on is that if it’s your partner’s commitment issues aren’t really attached to anything specific, they aren’t expressing concerns about the relationship, they aren’t expressing concerns about kind of long-term like, “How do I know we won’t get divorced?”, like it’s not sort of anxiety-based, and it’s sort of vague, and it’s difficult to talk about. 

If you suspect that this might be going on, that you just have a half-assed partner with a “what’s in it for me” sort of attitude towards this relationship, who you think might be wasting your time, potentially — you’re a placeholder in their life, we have to flush this out into the open sooner rather than later so that you have all the information that you need in order to make informed decisions about what is best for you. 

Knowledge is power, and it’s incredibly important because many times, especially women, can get roped into believing this idea that, even subconsciously like, once their partner chooses them and is committed to them, they will finally become more loving, or caring, or emotionally supported, or aligned with long-term goals, and if this commitment switch gets flipped, and then their partner would magically poof into this loving person they’ve always wanted them to be. They don’t understand that it’s their partner’s ambivalence that what they have been experiencing is kind of a manifestation of self-absorption that even if they do marry you, it probably isn’t going to be that different. 

If you ask a woman in their 40s or 50s coming out of the other side of a 20-year marriage that started this way, she would tell you, “I’ve had these conversations too about some of the early warning signs — there were, looking back.” I have heard, again, so many times that this person really wanted to get married, and kind of forced the issue a little bit, and that this person was always a little bit self-absorbed and never quite sure about her. In retrospect, that was an indication that there were going to be so many problems along the way, and that it was going to end badly. 

With only hindsight is she aware that maybe she was fabricating ideas about what the relationship could be if it was a committed relationship, rather than grappling with the truth and really understanding who and what her eventually ex-husband actually was all along. So cautionary tale — and I would encourage you to spend some time trying to figure out the difference. 

Again, it can be a tough differential like, “How do you know if you’re in a relationship where the “commitment issues” are really due to needing to feel more confident about the relationship, managing family of origin anxiety, building skills in the relationship in addressing issues in the relationship and coming out the other side?” or, “When our commitment issues an indication that you’re partnered with a selfish person who is probably never going to be a good partner for you.” 

Maybe they are fundamentally not a selfish person, maybe they just aren’t completely sold on the idea of being with you specifically — and you deserve to be committed to somebody who is just as excited about you as you are about them. If they’re not feeling that way about you, I would advise that you not try to build a life with that person because what if it doesn’t change? So how to figure this out? 

Step one, I would strongly encourage a professional assessment — sitting down with a good, experienced marriage counselor and not a therapist who offers couples counseling. 95% of therapists who offer couples counseling do not have specialized education and training in marriage and family therapy, and they will not be prepared to help you. Choose an MFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist, who has an evidence-based approach to couples counseling. They will be able to sit down with you and do a relationship assessment to figure out what is going on. 

A competent marriage counselor, through a variety of assessments and having the opportunity to kind of talk with each of you about your family history, maybe do some breakout sessions with each of you — something that I commonly do — and really coming in with an investigative curious spirit, will ask you a zillion questions and will be able to fairly quickly map out what the “problem” is. With that insight, will then be able to help you chart a path forward — maybe talking about what you both learned about committed relationships growing up, how are you currently communicating, how are you solving problems, what are the unresolved issues in your relationship that need to be fixed. If your partner has a drinking problem, this would be a good time to talk about how you feel about that. 

Also, they’ll be cracking into some of the harder stuff. For people on each side, what’s the inner narrative that takes hold when you do have an issue? Does it go into, “Yeah, we’ll work through it”, or does it go into a catastrophe kind of language? Because that’s, again, a solvable problem of talking about what your expectations about relationships should be, what might need to be different in this relationship in order for you to feel more confident about it, and really getting very clear about what is holding you back from moving forward together. 

Over a number of sessions with a really good couples therapist, again, with specialized training and experience, they’ll be able to map out what’s going on, and then be having open conversations about that with you because it turns into a roadmap for, “Okay, now we know what is creating the disconnect that’s contributing to these commitment issues. Here’s how we can fix this”, and giving you the opportunity to do that work together, or at least presenting to you, “Here’s what needs to happen in order to get to the other side of this.” Then, giving you the option, “Do you want to do that work together?” 

If the answer is “yes”, that’s a sign that the commitment issues you’ve been dealing with are in fact solvable. If you do the work and make the changes, it’s highly likely that you’re going to have a fully committed relationship that you’ve been wanting where your partner is just as excited about you as you are to them, or where you are feeling this genuine certainty for yourself that makes it easy to move forward — it’s a healthy, happy relationship, which is awesome. 

Now, if, on the other hand, you are unknowingly currently partnered with somebody who has these avoidant tendencies, who is fundamentally ambivalent about you, and who’s probably not going to ever be a good partner for you whether or not you are married to them, whether or not you’re living with them. It’s probably always going to feel kind of the way that it feels now. That person will either really not want to do couples counseling with you, or if they do, they are going to feel super annoyed — they’re going to reject the couples therapist, they would give

me a hard time with all my darn questions if I start trying to do this assessment with them because their truth is quite uncomfortable to have dragged out into the light. 

They would strongly prefer to have their true feelings and motivations remain hidden and have you dangling on the end of that string for as long as they wish you to remain there. They don’t want to end the relationship with you because it’s good enough — not good enough to move forward, but good enough for now. If they talk about how they really felt, you would break up with them. When somebody like me glides in, and starts asking hard questions and shining a flashlight into their nooks and crannies — bones and bats flying out of the closet — they don’t want to do that. 

But occasionally, they will have a “come to Jesus” moment where they will have the opportunity to do some very important personal growth work. But more often, they will just not want to go to couples counseling with you or they will get really annoyed and angry, and withdraw from me if I was a couples counselor, possibly from you because they need to keep you at arm’s length emotionally in order to maintain the relationship. Again, this is a good thing when you see this happening because then you have the information you need. 

It’s so good for you to know this because you can understand what’s going on, and then you can make informed decisions when you see it for what it is. Again, if somebody is working hard to gaslight you, you can’t see it, particularly if you are a kind and empathetic person who believes the stories they’re telling you. Years can go by in that space — and it’s a stereotype, I know. I’ve also seen it so many times, women in their 20s and early 30s in these weird purgatory situationships for years to the point where it does actually begin to impact their fertility. 

Unless you are freezing eggs now and it’s alright either way, you’re going to want to figure this out sooner rather than later because it can have long-term consequences for your life. I say that as a woman who has struggled with infertility — the struggle is real. Anyway, those are the different aspects of this commitment issue. 

As you’re probably intuiting now, this is why I didn’t even want to start this conversation with one of you, my listeners, in the podcast episode because in any direction, no matter what it is, it is a long-term process to find the real answer and to arrive at the authentic solution. But, as promised, I will read you one of the questions that came up. So one question — and we had a number of these that were similar that came through on Instagram. But this, I thought, was a wonderful representation: 

“I need advice about how to have a successful relationship after witnessing divorce as a child. So many of my problems in my relationship, go back to this, I believe. I have done so much — deal with my childhood trauma caused by my parents, multiple divorces, but the trust issues and commitment issues follow me around. I constantly find myself wondering why I create problems that are nonexistent within my relationship. I feel like it’s because I truly believe long-term commitments never work.” 

Obviously, just hearing this question, this is somebody who has a phenomenal insight into themselves, who has clearly done a lot of work on themselves individually, and who’s now ready to think, “Okay, I think this is happening in my relationships. How do I deal with it?” If you think back to our different reasons why people can have commitment issues in relationships, this is a very clear example of that first one, that it goes back to old family of origin stuff and just sort of this deep underlying fear that, “All marriages end and I don’t want to do that to myself.”

This can be the answer, can be a combination of individual personal growth work and also relational work. If you resonated with this question personally, I would advise you to go back and listen to a past podcast episode that I created about trust issues, and also another recent one about healing relationships because it can kind of just crack into the experience of what it feels like. This is also one of the reasons why I feel uncomfortable. Sometimes when I get questions like these — they’re fantastic questions, but the answer is not like a chip, like, “Here’s advice. Here’s the three things that you do”, that could be summarized in a list or a podcast that are going to change this for you. 

If you have these kinds of commitment issues, and you’re aware that they’re caused by your family of origin experiences, the path of healing is going to be an experiential process to get very familiar with this anxiety, and also be able to understand what triggers it to do what you can to minimize some of these triggers in your relationship, but also understanding and accepting the fact that you are always going to feel this way to a degree. 

It sort of moves into this “acceptance and commitment” model like, “This is who I am because of the things that I have lived through, and I am deeply committed to having a healthy, happy, high-quality relationship with a fantastic person. What do I need to be doing to manage these feelings in a constructive way so that I can not have them damage my relationship, so I can not sabotage my relationships?” That’s a lot of personal growth work, which is not following your feelings — figuring out what feelings are helpful for you and which aren’t, and figuring out how to do a manual override so that you can stay in the relational ring with someone even if you’re feeling anxious, and having that be okay. That’s the individual space of this. 

But also relationally, if this is true, it’s often not just helpful but vital for a couple to be having very open and authentic conversations about the presence of this historical anxiety and what they can do together as a couple to manage it that doesn’t turn into the anxious partner essentially controlling the other person in efforts to make themselves feel better because that’s not fair either. So talking as a couple, really externalizing the presence of this anxiety, and figuring out how the two of you can be aligned against it, and what the two of you can do together to have a magnificent and committed relationship in spite of this historical artifact of anxiety. 

See, this is why I don’t like to give three, three simple steps kind of advice because it’s not true, it’s not helpful. The actual path of growth and creating change is a long-term process — and it also doesn’t end. Like the person who wrote in with this question, they are going to feel that way to some degree for the rest of their lives — thanks, mom and dad. It sucks, but it’s true. 

The path of healing isn’t making it all go away; it’s learning how to be happy and healthy in having enduring relationships in spite of it, and how can our relationships even be better because of the gift of empathy, and insight, and intuition, and the need for more open and transparent communication because of these, it can actually turn into a real strength for a relationship. 

I would also guess that when this person who wrote in does figure that out, and is able to create a relationship that is based on this kind of health and authenticity because of her or their historical life experiences, that person is going to be incredibly committed to doing everything that their parents didn’t do in order to prevent having a similar outcome for themselves or for their children. 

It turns into a ton of motivation — like it can get channeled into really, really positive and helpful activities that are just wonderful, and that people who had an easier time of it, their parents didn’t get divorced, they come out of like, “Oh, it’s fine. We don’t have to do anything. Relationships just work if you’re with the right person.” It crashes to smithereens on the rocks because they didn’t see it coming the way that another person would have. 

There can be a lot of strength in adversity, and I just wanted to say that too. Okay, I don’t know if this was what you were expecting, but I hope it was helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this, and to think about how to apply it in your life. Send it to your partner, send it to a family member or a friend who might be struggling with this and who might need some honest advice that steers them on the right path. 

Of course, if you would like to do this kind of personal growth work or relational work with somebody at my organization, Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, the door’s always open. You can schedule a free consultation to meet with a counselor in our team just to talk about what’s going on, and see if we might be the right fit for you. 

Or if you choose to work with somebody in your community, please look for a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, ideally one that has an attachment lens. I think that they will be particularly helpful for you in unpeeling this onion and really getting to the meaningful and true bottom of this because you deserve that. 

Alright, thanks for spending this time with me today and I will see you next time on another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

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