Commitment issues, or a fear of commitment, involves an unwillingness to commit to a relationship. This term usually refers to romantic relationships, but can become a problem in any setting. Disagreements, arguments, and break-ups can plague relationships for those with commitment issues, so people hoping for satisfactory relationships should take steps to identify commitment issues and learn ways to overcome.
What Are Commitment Issues?
“Commitment issues” is a general term used when someone struggles to appropriately commit to a person, situation, or goal in life. The commitment issue could be an over-commitment or an under-commitment. Someone could become inappropriately committed to an undeserving person or situation, while another could fail to commit even in the best of circumstances. A commitment issue could be confined to one aspect of life, like work or romantic relationships, or spread to affect all areas of their life.
10 Common Commitment Issue Signs
The most straightforward sign of commitment issues is when a person has a string of unsatisfactory relationships or an aversion to entering any secure relationship. Commitment issues can negatively impact any type of relationship, whether it is family, professional, or a friendship, but for the majority of this piece, the term will focus on romantic relationships.
Here are ten potential signs of commitment issues:1
- Failure to deepen an emotional connection: They might change the subject or become emotionally unavailable when you share intimate details with them
- Ending the relationship when commitment is requested: They may or may not give a reason for ending things, but it happens directly after you ask them to be exclusive or to take a “next step”
- Deepening the emotional connection too quickly: They may trauma dump or overshare, even on the first date
- Behaviorally speeding up the commitment: This might involve actions like moving in together, proposing, getting married, or having kids
- Communicating and behaving inconsistently: The purpose of this tactic is to send mixed messages to the partner
- Being emotionally and physically unfaithful: Any form of infidelity is a clear sign that they are not interested in committing to you
- Poor boundaries: Poor boundaries in relationships happen when the people in the relationship cannot meet each other’s needs in appropriate and comfortable ways
- Dysfunctional communication: With problematic forms and types of speech where you do not feel heard, safe, and free to express feelings
- Trust and mistrust: When there are trust issues, one or both partners cannot feel safe in the relationship and fully rely on the other. Here, a person may constantly suspect cheating and infidelity from their partner
- A lack of consent: one or more people in the relationship not agreeing with the events or situations that are occurring. A lack of consent in relationships can result in sexual, emotional, mental, and physical discomfort and frustration
It is also important to note that commitment issues do not only impact people in heterosexual, monogamous, romantic relationships. People of all sexual orientations and relationship preferences can face problems linked to commitment issues. All commitment issues eventually result in uncomfortable and unhappy relationships. Although they may feel intense, exciting, and healthy at the beginning, these relationships end poorly.
Causes of Commitment Issues
So often, people ask themselves, “Why do I have commitment issues?” Sometimes the answers are as simple as poor childhood examples. Other times, the causes may be related to complex mental health conditions known to create problems with relationships, like personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, or attachment disorder.2
Not all commitment issues are linked to mental health conditions, as many are associated with typical views or life experiences. Common causes of commitment issues include:3,4
Once a person engages in a relationship, they begin establishing expectations about the future with their partner. If the expectations involve never having a disagreement, always seeing eye-to-eye, and an amazing sexual connection, the person will be disappointed in time, resulting in a desire to leave the relationship.
Perception of Superior Alternatives
Some people are comfortable and content with what they have in a relationship, while others constantly seek a partner who is more attractive, has more money, or comes from a better family. Committing is impossible when always looking for the next best option.
Hurt From Past Relationships
Serious relationships unlock opportunities for tremendous benefits, but they also require vulnerability. People who have been hurt in relationships themselves or have seen others become hurt may shy away from commitment as a form of protection.
Unresolved Emotional Attachment
Each person carries strong connections to their family members that determine how new relationships form and continue. With high levels of unresolved attachment, a person may feel guilty about beginning new relationships because it will hinder their ability to maintain the desired family relationships.
Imbalance of Individuality & Togetherness
All people must find a balance between individuality and togetherness. Ideally, a person can spend their time and emotional energy evenly divided while comfortably being alone and being with others. When these factors are out of balance, a person could never want to be alone or never what to be with someone else. Either way, commitment issues will emerge.
What Can Trigger a Fear of Commitment?
For commitment issues, the causes may lay dormant for weeks or months before being triggered, or they could be present from the relationship’s beginning. Each person will carry a unique set of triggers that affect their commitment issues, but some common ones include getting into a new relationship, progressing in a relationship, or breaking up.
Outside of significant relationship change, some other issues could trigger commitment issues when the partner:
- Engages in suspicious behavior
- Lies or is being deceptive
- Is unfaithful
- Pushes for increased commitment
- Devotes too much or too little energy to the relationship
The complete set of causes and triggers of a person’s commitment issues will be unique to the individual with some people being impacted by something that is insignificant to others.
How a Fear of Commitment Can Hold You Back
Commitment issues will lead to a total absence of relationships or a lack of healthy, rewarding, stable relationships. Even though they may seem balanced and beneficial initially, relationships involving people with commitment issues always lead to dysfunction in the long term without treatment.
Not only will relationships suffer, but without the strong and balanced connections to others, other aspects of a person’s health and well-being will suffer. In terms of mental health, the increased stress stemming from commitment issues could feed new or worsening conditions like depression and anxiety.
People who struggle with commitment will miss out on a host of proven benefits that come with healthy relationships like:5
- Increased longevity: people in long-term relationships tend to live longer
- Quicker healing: people in relationships recovery quicker from surgeries
- Lower blood pressure and better heart health: being more relaxed in relationships reduces cardiovascular symptoms
- Better immune systems: with higher happiness and lower stress, people have less sickness
- Improved physical health: new and lasting relationships help people get more exercise
- Higher pain tolerance: having a partner and thinking about that person can decrease a person’s perception of pain
Without the fulfillment and attachment of a relationship, people do not reap these benefits. Instead, they are forced to manage the unwanted physical and mental health effects of commitment issues.
How to Get Over Commitment Issues
In many situations, a combination of professional therapy and at-home follow-up can significantly lower the impact of commitment issues and drastically improve the likelihood of happy, mutually beneficial relationships that are made to last. With openness and honesty with the therapist, as well as hard work and consistency, better relationships are possible.
Here are ten ways to deal with commitment issues:6,7
1. Understand Your Issues
As mentioned, relationship and commitment issues have numerous sources, so understanding the root cause is essential. Some commitment issues will have glaring sources, while others will be more obscure. Because of this, people should always consult with friends, family, or mental health professionals to understand their issues.
Knowing your issues also provides the ability to establish clear and reasonable goals for yourself. For example, someone with an antisocial personality disorder will face a tough challenge if the goal is to experience a typical romantic relationship, but someone with limited examples of healthy relationships may accomplish this more readily.
2. Know & Reverse Your Trends
What are your trends? What do you tend to do in relationships? At the beginning of the relationship, do you jump in headfirst, or do you wade in so slowly that it drives your partner towards frustration?
Once the relationship is established, do you get cold feet and prematurely end the relationship, or do you stay in it long after the happiness has left? Do you cheat on your partners, or do they frequently cheat on you?
Answering these questions will be uncomfortable, but the process is so important. Once you know your trends, you can begin working against them. If you tend to move too quickly, force yourself to slow down. If you stay in relationships too long, find ways to leave before the relationship becomes too negative.
3. Practice Transparent Communication
When people have commitment issues, they spend a lot of time, energy, and effort working to conceal the truth and manipulate the relationship. At the same time, they do not practice active listening skills, so their partner’s messages are not heard. This process always hurts the relationship, regardless of the intention.
To reverse course, practice being open, direct, and honest communication with your partner. Be sure to listen intently and admit what you did not hear. In the short-term, effective communication is difficult, but in the long-term, people who use communication full of “I statements” and feeling words will improve their commitment issues.
4. Change the Things in Your Control
Of course, the relationship would be better if your partner simply fulfilled every request and agreed with every opinion, but would your partner be happy with this? Would you really desire a person who was that easily influenced? Shift away from the idea of changing your partner and take a deeper look at changing yourself.
Stop pointing the finger at your partner and use introspection to ask yourself:
- How can I make my partner feel heard, understood, and loved?
- How can I express my thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs more effectively?
- How can I break my old patterns?
- What am I willing to sacrifice to make this relationship healthy?
- What am I willing to compromise on, and what is not open for negotiation?
You cannot control your partner and trying to will only damage the relationship. Control yourself and change the changeable by finding how you can improve yourself.
5. Extend Your Support Network
Well-rounded people tend to be happier and report higher satisfaction with all types of relationships. By diverting some of your time and attention towards friends or family, you could be improving your romantic relationship.
Placing too much emphasis on one relationship increases the level of pressure. Too much pressure commonly leads to unwanted consequences, so diversify your support system and stretch your social network.
Being with friends can provide the much-needed separation from stress and tension within a relationship and can offer a fresh perspective. All relationships need an appropriate balance of individuality and togetherness.
6. Look for the Red Flags
Red flags are characteristics, qualities, and situations that signal to you that the relationship should end. Some examples of red flags include:
- Physical or sexual abuse or violence
- Emotional abuse
- Consistent patterns of disrespect
- Lying and suspicious behavior
- Problematic substance use
Some people with commitment issues will tolerate the red flags because they think the other person will change, or they feel this is the type of treatment they deserve. Typically, these types of red flag behaviors only increase in intensity over time. In reality, no one deserves to endure the pain and hardships connected to these red flags.
7. Balance Fun With Serious
When relationships are too serious and feel like too much work, they are less likely to succeed. Certainly, relationships are not all fun and games, but if the happiness, joy, and excitement has drained from your connection, it may be time to leave.
Plan interesting activities and strive for new ways to build and maintain the relationship. Consistency is a positive trait, but too much of the same can feel monotonous.
Balance here is so important. If one person in the relationship is always making light of the situation, it can feel like they are not taking the commitment seriously. Like so many aspects of relationships, finding the appropriate balance in this area is challenging, but so necessary.
8. Redefine Commitment
It could be a faulty definition of commitment that is keeping you stuck. Perhaps, you feel commitment is a scary or paralyzing force. Inspecting and redefining your views of commitment can make the idea less intimidating. Rather than seeing commitment as a never-ending devotion to something, find ways to have a more balanced and healthy perspective.
9. Find Commitment in Other Areas
If your issues with commitment are only linked to one facet, like romantic relationships, find ways to explore commitment in other areas of your life. Compare and contrast how you commit to friends versus romantic partners and hobbies versus work.
You could find that increasing your commitment in other areas helps increase your understanding of commitment issues. With luck, you can apply the successful principles from one area to another.
10. Be Still
People with commitment issues tend to have a fight or flight reaction when commitment naturally increases. They can begin arguments or they can simply run away from the relationship. Either action only adds to the problems. Instead, be still. Resist the urge to react impulsively, and choose to do nothing. Sometimes, nothing is the best thing.
Seeking Treatment for Commitment Issues
Seeking therapy for commitment issues is an important step in the process of identifying the causes and working towards creative solutions to the problem of poor relationships. Professional treatment for commitment issues comes in many forms, but with an experienced therapist and a sound treatment plan, commitment issues can be improved to completely resolved quickly.
Whether a person is in or out of a relationship, individual therapy for commitment issues is an effective option. For treatment specifically tailored to a person’s unique characteristics and needs, people should consider meeting with an individual therapist.
With individual therapy, a client meets one-on-one with the therapist to assess and treat problems associated with the commitment issues. Along the way, the therapist may work to help the person understand the underlying factors that cause the issues and which triggers bring about the complications.
Couples therapy is an important way to address commitment issues, either as a complement to individual sessions or as the only treatment. Couples therapy involves the partners meeting with a therapist jointly to explore issues affecting their relationship.
Couples therapy will cover many topics and will often focus on:
- Improving the level of communication within the relationship
- Managing disagreements and finding more effective ways to resolve the tension
- Establishing boundaries around sex and intimacy
- Identifying ways past relationships have influenced the current one
Couples therapy is not only for relationships with commitment issues, though. Even healthy, well-functioning relationships can benefit from sessions.
At times, the best way to address one’s commitment issues is to learn from others with similar experiences. Group therapy for commitment issues could involve a therapist facilitating sessions with many clients connected by similar relationship problems.
In-person or online support groups can also offer useful information about relationships while building a sense of community with others who struggle with commitment. Although helpful to many, people should practice some caution as support groups generally lack the presence of a professional therapist.
What to Do If You’re Dating Someone With Commitment Issues
If you’re dating someone with commitment issues, you’ll first have to ask if you think this relationship is worth the work that undoubtedly lies ahead. If you choose to proceed, do so with open communication. Let the other person know what you notice about their commitment style with a supportive, nonjudgmental approach. Ask them about their experiences and how you can work to improve the situation.
Old patterns are challenging to break, but going to therapy together, processing the concerns, and moving through the discomfort can minimize the issues. Adopting a team approach will be key.
For Further Reading
Plenty of helpful and effective organizations are committed to helping people have better relationships. Some top organizations include:
- CDC Dating Matters: preventing relationship violence and promoting healthy relationships
- One Love Foundation: educating and empowering people about healthy relationships
- The Relationship Foundation: teaching healthy relationships in school and organization
- Best Books for Self Improvement
- Book Promoting Self-Love