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Commitment Issues in Relationships: Causes, Effects, & Solutions
Relationship Advice

Commitment Issues in Relationships: Causes, Effects, & Solutions

What are common signs of commitment issues in relationships? Understand the causes and effects of commitment issues, and how to best move forward.

Together Team
May 12, 2022

When you fall in love, a natural progression of your relationship involves wanting to commit to your partner. Commitment takes on different meanings, but for many couples in a romantic relationship, commitment can mean calling one another boyfriend/girlfriend, agreeing to monogamy, moving in/buying a house together, making specific sacrifices designed to strengthen the relationship, or getting married.

Complications in a relationship may arise when you notice one or more signs indicating that your partner has a commitment issue. In this post, we’ll help you gain a better understanding of commitment issues in relationships, how it affects relationships, and how to fix them.

What Is Commitment Phobia?

If your partner shows signs of reluctance to make decisions — particularly decisions with long-term effects — your partner may have commitment phobia.

Commitment phobia stems from a genuine fear of what could happen if the person makes a commitment. This phobia can be present within friendships or even within that person’s professional life. For example, a person with commitment phobia may forgo a job offer because a fear of the unknown seems too overwhelming. Another example involves a person declining to plan a week-long trip with a friend because they cannot commit to the idea of a vacation. 

As with other phobias, the fear that leads to phobias can be the result of a childhood fear or a fear that has resulted from a previous traumatic experience. In some instances, there may be no origin, meaning that the fear has come about without a larger influence at work. Some people with commitment phobias may deny having them. If they admit that they do, it might be difficult to discuss it due to feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

While it’s normal to fear the future and what it brings, a person with commitment phobia views future plans as an overwhelming subject. That’s where the inability to make decisions comes into play, and commitment issues ensue. 

While it can be difficult to date someone with commitment phobia, try to be empathetic. A person struggling with commitment phobia has likely denied themselves other positive experiences, opportunities, and relationships.

Causes of Commitment Issues

A person dealing with commitment issues may be able to pinpoint the origin—or not. This is because the causes of commitment issues are unique to each person. 

Past relationships that call to mind bad memories and experiences can result in a person being leery of committing again in the future. In this case, your partner may say something to the effect of, “I got burned” to indicate that a past relationship ended poorly. This could be on account of infidelity, abuse, manipulation, or another distressing issue. A particularly painful relationship could even have caused your partner to develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

Observing an unhealthy relationship for an extended period of time can also be a cause of a commitment issue. If a person grew up in a household in which their parents were constantly fighting, for example, it’s possible that what that child witnessed and overheard has been carried with him/her into adulthood, making it hard to trust and communicate with a romantic partner. 

Childhood abuse can also be a cause of a commitment issue. A person who was abused — physically, mentally, and/or emotionally — as a child may still be dealing with all the effects of that abuse. The abuse may have happened years ago, but the trauma that it inflicted can make the person fearful of trusting others, even if their partner has the best of intentions as well as unconditional love to share. 

Another cause of commitment issues involves the partner knowing — yet not admitting — that the person they are dating is not the person they intend to spend the rest of their life with. The person could be waiting for a “better” partner to come around. In the meantime, they are allowing their current relationship to suffice because of the companionship it offers.   

No matter what the cause, commitment issues make people fearful of the future — they’re unable to talk about the future in a productive way, and they move toward the future in ways that involve them avoiding making promises big and small. 

Where Do Commitment Issues Come From?

Commitment issues have a variety of origins. As addressed above, commitment issues can come from childhood abuse/trauma; bearing witness to poorly managed relationships; or personal experience. 

No matter the origin, a mental health evaluation and/or couples therapy can be helpful in terms of addressing how to move forward. It’s also important to recognize that sometimes moving forward may not be the best option. Everyone deserves to be in a happy, healthy relationship. 

Signs of Commitment Issues (With Examples)

Commitment issues can range from simple to complex. Here are some common commitment issues that you may notice in a partner. If you notice any of these signs in your relationship, we suggest addressing them rather than ignoring them. 

Keep in mind that signs of commitment issues may become noticeable at any point in the relationship. It’s possible for issues to reveal themselves in time—which could be days, months, or even years. 

Avoids using labels or the word “love”

Your partner refuses the idea of labeling each other boyfriend/girlfriend. You ask your partner to become your boyfriend/girlfriend, but your partner answers “no” and/or expresses a need to “wait.” 

Your partner avoids using the word “love.” Instead of saying, “I love you,” your partner might say they “like” you or come up with a related phrase void of the word “love.”

It’s difficult for you to make plans

When you suggest going on a date, your partner responds with a “maybe” or “I’ll think about it.” Partners with commitment issues often tend to avoid making plans or answering in a straightforward manner. 

Perhaps you bring up a topic such as getting engaged, getting married, or even shopping for/buying a home together, but your partner expresses irritation, tries to change the subject, or says it’s not the right time.  

Has a negative outlook on your relationship

Your partner might make off-handed statements that indicate that he/she has entered the relationship with low expectations or that they “feel trapped.” During a fight, your partner might say that the relationship was “never going to work out anyway.” or they spend a lot of time questioning the relationship.

When talking about your relationship, they might compare it to other relationships he/she looks down upon. Possibly criticizing other couples, saying that the individuals in the relationship are “lost” or “trapped.” 

Constantly pulls away

The more affection you show your partner, the more they show signs of being uncomfortable. Let’s say you make an effort to hold your partner’s hand, but they immediately pull away. The next time you make an effort to show your affection, your partner appears anxious or uncomfortable.

Your partner may suggest the need to “take a break” or break up altogether. They seem emotionally detached and admit to not being “as invested” in the relationship in the same way you are. You may even get the feeling that if you broke up with your partner today, he/she would be fine.

Avoids sharing about your relationship

Your partner seems to hide the fact that the two of you are currently in a relationship, including on social media platforms. Your partner may decide not to introduce you to his/her circle of friends or keeps pushing it off. They might explicitly ask that you don’t tag them in any photos you post of the two of you on social media.

Rarely talks about the future

When you and your partner have a heart-to-heart conversation about the future, your partner answers your questions with responses such as, “I’ve never thought about it” or “That thought never occurred to me.” 

Or, perhaps when your partner talks about the future that they imagine, you realize there’s no mention of you or any indication that you are part of their future plan.

Effects of Commitment Issues

If you or your partner have commitment issues, you may consider your relationship rather fragile. You may also feel constantly on-edge or find yourself questioning if the relationship will be able to survive. You may also feel worried about getting your heart broken. 

Acknowledging that commitment issues could prevent you from staying with the person you have grown to care about serves as a first step toward making progress within the relationship. Are you/your partner able to overcome the issues, or would it be best and healthiest to go your separate ways? 

When commitment issues reveal themselves, you’ll likely experience a range of emotions including sadness, anger and frustration. Some people who have invested years into a relationship may feel betrayed. It’s normal to experience these and other strong emotions.

How To Fix Commitment Issues in a Relationship

If you or your partner has commitment issues, there are ways to move forward. Fixing commitment issues will take time and patience.

One approach to try is to identify you and your partner’s attachment style. Attachment styles are said to convey a lot of information about how you act in a relationship, and how you respond to your partner. Identifying this style can provide a lot of valuable insights into why you or your partner might struggle with commitment issues. This can also help you understand the underlying reasons why you or your partner is afraid of commitment in order to work on overcoming them.

Commitment issues can also be fixed by focusing on other areas that require either short or long-term commitments. If you struggle with commitment issues, for instance, it might be helpful to sign up for a six-week yoga class. If you can complete this class, it may empower you to take up more commitment. 

Another way to practice “committing” is by making plans with friends and/or family members—and sticking to them. These and other exercises can help you prove to yourself that you can commit. It just takes practice. 

For couples with a partner that has been experiencing commitment issues for a while, long-term couples and individual therapy sessions may be very beneficial. 

Therapy can be helpful because a licensed therapist knows the questions to ask, the exercises to assign, and the advice to offer. Plus, opening up to a therapist in a judgement-free environment can help you and/or your partner better understand why the commitment issues exist and how these issues can be remedied.

Dating Someone With Commitment Issues

Dating someone with commitment issues may make you feel emotionally exhausted. You may even begin to wonder if the commitment issues are your fault. If you are dating someone with commitment issues and you are struggling to feel confident about the future of your relationship, it may be time for a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner. 

Will your partner go to therapy? Is he/she willing to undergo a mental health evaluation? There are myriad questions that you and your partner will need to ask each other so you can gain clarity.

If you feel a commitment issue is preventing you from having a happy, healthy relationship, know that it’s also okay to break up with your partner and find someone else who is able to meet your definition(s) of commitment.

A Final Note

The complexity of commitment issues cannot be understated. If you are in a relationship with a partner who has commitment issues, or if you are the one with commitment issues, you are not alone. Commitment issues tend to be more common than we realize, but it is possible to overcome a commitment issue and nurture a strong, healthy relationship with your partner for years to come. Remember to be kind to yourself during this trying time in your relationship.

Together Team

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