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.
I hope this episode gives you some actionable advice to escape from commitment gridlock and begin moving forward. Tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.
Dealing with Commitment Issues: Episode Highlights
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
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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