Having ‘commitment issues’, ‘fear of commitment’ or being a ‘commitment-phobe’
Having ‘commitment issues’, ‘fear of commitment’ or being a ‘commitment-phobe’ are terms most people recognise these days.
We tend to use these terms when
describing who seems unable to maintain long-term relationships – even when they would like to. Feeling like your partner has commitment issues can be a stressful and isolating experience, and it can leave you seriously doubting the future of your relationship.
While the hope is often that these issues will be addressed, and that eventually, your partner will come round to the idea of a long-term relationship, the truth is often a little more complicated than this.
How do commitment issues develop?
Sometimes, early life experiences can have a bearing on how much someone wants to share themselves and their lives with an adult partner. Feeling rejected as a child might encourage someone to feel they’re not worthwhile and that if they commit to a relationship, eventually, their partner might see this and reject them. So, its ‘easier to have short-term relationships where no one gets the chance to see the ’truth’.
Equally, feeling unable to provide the emotional support that a partner would like is another reason why shying away from commitment might seem like a good idea. Again, low self-esteem and feeling you don’t have much to offer can be real reasons why someone might be reluctant to stay with the same person long-term.
Very often though, things like having been dumped by a previous partner or having been betrayed, can make it very difficult to trust that a new relationship could work out differently. In circumstances like these, often it can feel like the best way to protect yourself is to avoid getting into a position where such a painful thing can happen again. So, making sure that future relationships never get past the starting post can seem a sensible thing to do.
But, it’s also important to consider a few significant, alternative perspectives on this problem. Commitment issues are a real thing and affect many couples. However, because of its prevalence in popular culture, the term ‘commitment issues’ can also be misapplied – sometimes as a way of avoiding more difficult or complicated truths.
You may also need to ask yourself: is commitment actually what they want? For some people, that’s simply not the end goal – or it may not be something they want at this stage in their life. It can be tempting to label this preference as ‘commitment issues’, but it may simply be that you and your partner have different ideas and priorities. It can be really difficult coming to realise this – and even more difficult to accept it – but it’s important to be able to have this kind of conversation if you’re going to make decisions based on what’s best for both of you.
You may also want to consider whether you and your partner have got different ideas on when commitment should be expressed. For some people, the feeling of being ‘committed’ is something that emerges slowly, over a long period of time, and may be something they’re only able to express after they’ve become well and truly settled in the relationship. If you’re after an expression of commitment quite early on, you may need to talk about your different expectations and see if there’s a way to meet in the middle – or at least to better understand where each other is coming from. This might mean sitting down to have an honest conversation.
And thirdly, there’s the possibility that their reluctance to pursue a relationship might mean that they simply aren’t as keen on you as you are on them. This may sound harsh – and we know it’s not something that anyone wants to hear – but, again, if you feel that you aren’t pushing in the same direction and that this isn’t likely to change any time soon, it’s important that you’re able to be honest with each other so that no more unnecessary pain is caused.
While it can be frustrating feeling like your partner has commitment issues, it’s important to remember a couple of things. People with commitment issues usually aren’t acting malevolently or trying to hurt their partner – often, they’re just looking to avoid something that makes them feel scared or uncomfortable.
And secondly, they may not be aware that they’re doing it. Many of these behaviours are based in subconscious thoughts or emotions – and have roots in experiences that occurred a long time ago. It can be difficult and complicated for someone with commitment issues to figure out why they might be feeling this way.
How do you address commitment issues?
Often, people may have to spend a long time thinking about and trying to understand the impulses that make it hard for them to be in a committed relationship. As their partner, you may wish they could address the problem quickly so your relationship can get back on track, but things are unlikely to be this simple. They may need space, time and some form of external support before they’re able to think about how to address the situation. Some form of therapy is usually a good idea, as they may need someone to talk to about their feelings who is able to offer a neutral perspective.
There can be a temptation to profess total commitment to a partner as a way of trying to convince them to do the same. Sometimes, it feels like if you’re able to show them how committed you are, you’ll finally get through to them and they’ll finally understand why they should be with you. But this can be a painful and disappointing path.
What’s important – and often forgotten – is that you try to consider your own wellbeing and what being in this relationship might be doing to you. It can be really hard trying to develop a long-term partnership with someone who isn’t willing to do this. It can be frustrating, tiring and very upsetting. When it comes to finding a way forward, it’s crucial you take into account what’s best for you.
It’s possible that you and your partner may be able to weather what’s happening and emerge on the
other side even stronger – many couples have done this. But it may also be very hard – to the point where it becomes impossible to continue as you are. Sometimes, what can help is taking a break from the relationship. That can give both of you the chance to think about what you want to do next. That might be about looking at what’s possible together or it might be simply acknowledging that the relationship is not doing what either of you wants – so although finding the courage to acknowledge this can feel challenging, ultimately it might be the be the most positive way forward.
Do they really have commitment issues?
Finally, it’s also important to consider one significant, alternative perspective on this topic.
Commitment issues are a real thing and affect many couples. However, the term ‘commitment issues’ can also be used as a way of trying to explain what is, ultimately, a lack of true interest in pursuing a long-term relationship. Sometimes, we might think of someone as having ‘commitment issues’ – in fact, they themselves may agree and use the term too – because it’s less painful than accepting the idea that they simply don’t want to be with you.
This may or may not be the case in your situation, but it’s important to take into consideration. After all, while it’s difficult to accept a relationship has no future, it’s also important that you’re able to see the truth of what’s going on, and not put yourself through any more unnecessary pain.
How we can help
If you’re finding it really difficult to navigate a situation like this, then Relate can help:
Relationship Counselling gives you a chance to talk about any difficult issues in a safe and confidential environment. Your counsellor will help you to a have a productive and calm co
nversation, and make it so you (both) get a chance to make your perspective known.
Try a free Live Chat session with a trained Relate Counsellor.