Commitment in intimate relationships can be defined as the long-term dedication that binds two people together. People commit to others in different ways, and commitment affects them differently, too. Commitment issues, also called lack of commitment, is what many couples experience when one or both partners are afraid to fully dedicate themselves to each other.
In romantic relationships, people who lack commitment may engage in a long-term relationship at first, then, after some time, they withdraw. Some of them do it consciously, while others don’t understand what went wrong in the relationship. Others simply don’t want the emotional commitment that comes with an intimate relationship. There are couples who are already in a committed relationship and experience commitment issues. First, let’s look at the most common types of commitment.
The most common type of commitment is personal commitment. Personal commitment is when a person dedicates themselves to a relationship because they genuinely want to. Moral commitment, on the other hand, is when individuals dedicate themselves to a relationship even if they want to leave because of their values and beliefs that this it the right thing to do. For example, an unhappy wife may stay committed to her husband because she believes that her child or children need both parents. Finally, we have structural commitment, which takes place when partners stay dedicated to their relationship because of outside pressures or other barriers.
Commitment and attachment theory.
Attachment theory explains underlying issues with commitment. According to attachment theory, starting from birth, human beings seek a secure emotional attachment with at least one caregiver. This relationship influences the person’s behavior and affects the way they develop relationships in the future. For example, children who had parents who were emotionally unavailable and unresponsive to their needs often grow up to develop avoidant behavior because they were forced to learn how to take care of themselves. Thus, in intimate relationships, they may view others as unreliable in terms of commitment.
Making a commitment.
Committed relationships are usually described by the seriousness and exclusivity factor of the partnership. Whether two people are exclusively dating, living with each other, or they are engaged or married, commitment can be characterized by their dedication to each other. Two people may show their commitment to each other in many ways, including exclusively dating, becoming domestic partnerswho live together and share a common lifestyle, getting engaged, and getting married.
Possible causes for a lack of commitment.
A lack of commitment can be due to a single traumatic event or a series of recurrent traumas. The most common causes include
- Fear of attachment due to low self-esteem and self-confidence.
Committing to your partner means you get closer together emotionally and open up ourselves for our partner to see our needs, desires, and internal truths. People who suffer from low self-esteem and self-confidence tend to develop a fear of attachment because they are afraid that their partner will see them as they really are and will not accept them. Sometimes, people avoid this fear until they engage in a long-term relationship. When something challenges their confidence or self-esteem, their fear of commitment comes to surface. They start to retract within themselves, resulting in the lack of commitment to their relationship.
- Trauma from previous relationships that included infidelity, abandonment, or abuse.
Past trauma can lead to the development of maladaptive beliefs and fears about commitment. For example, someone who has been abandoned by a previous partner may develop the belief that there are unworthy of love. Such beliefs will shape their behavior in future relationships, where they will try to avoid commitment as an effort to spare themselves the heartache of abandonment again.
- Childhood issues (abandonment from parents, sexual abuse).
Like other trauma, childhood issues will lead to the development of beliefs that will then shape behaviors in adult life and may result in a lack of commitment in intimate relationships.
- Fear of not having the “perfect” relationship.
Sometimes, expectations can ruin everything. People who enter an intimate relationship with unrealistic expectations will not commit themselves 100% to their partner.
Lack of commitment and its effects.
The lack of commitment to stay dedicated to your relationship or work to make it better may lead to a breakup or divorce. All intimate relationships and marriages require both partners to put in effort. A lack of commitment also may lead to infidelity because one partner is not taking responsibility and committing to their vows. Furthermore, people who lack commitment may display maladaptive behaviors within their relationships, resulting in less satisfying and highly conflicted relationships. This may have an impact on the couple’s overall well-being, with individuals ending up with depression and other health issues, as research has shown. Some of these maladaptive behaviors include self-sabotaging, infidelity or cheating, aggressive behavior, and so on.
Sometimes, people are not aware when they self-sabotage and definitely are not aware when they unconsciously avoid their partners. This can raise issues with both partners, as the situation can become very confusing.
Lack of commitment and relationship coaching.
A lack of commitment in intimate relationships can be discussed and treated in relationship coaching. A relationship coach can help partners uncover potential causes that are causing this lack of commitment and help them develop new, healthy ways to work through these issues. When a lack of commitment leads to loneliness, depression, or other concerns, a relationship coach may be able to help address these issues as well. Any person in a relationship who finds a lack of commitment to be a problem can seek relationship coaching with their partner, especially when other psychological conditions develop, such as anxiety and stress.
Furthermore, relationship coaching can also deal with problems that arise in an intimate relationship when commitment goes from lacking to zero. Relationship coaches offer support that can be beneficial to both partners as they work on deciding their course of action to fix the problems that are negatively impacting their relationship. Mental health professionals specialize in treating a variety of issues, so each couple should find the appropriate relationship coach who can help them with their commitment issues. Some coaches are especially skilled at helping a couple recognize and understand their lack of commitment, while others are more inclined to help individuals recognize their own beliefs and behavioral patterns that may affect their commitment to their relationship. Relationship coaching can also be used individually to help each partner learn to better communicate their problems when they go to relationship coaching together.
For example, some individuals may mislead others, consciously or unconsciously, leading them to believe in the possibility of a long-term relationship. Relationship coaching can help in this case, as your coach may be able to help individuals understand the reasons behind this type of behavior and help them become more truthful about their needs and wants.
Tips to fix the lack of commitment in your relationship.
If you have realized that a lack of commitment in your relationship is causing you both distress, then it is time to change. Without the need and desire to change, your relationship won’t improve. It is important not to rush to emotionally share everything as soon as you realize you want to change things.
First, give yourselves time to discuss things with each other before you both share emotions that can quickly turn to anxieties. Take it slow and remind yourselves how you were at the beginning of the relationship when you were building trust. At this point, rebuilding trust is the most important thing. Next, both of you need to be open to discussion. If you find yourselves interrupting each other, take the time to write down everything that scares you about the relationship, or that keeps you from fully committing to each other. Quite often, this task will reveal the real problems you are facing. Once you have written everything down, ask yourself whether things are really as they seem or if it’s an exaggeration due to your emotional state. Often, you will discover that some fears or concerns are just your imagination exaggerating your problems.
Have an honest dialogue with your partner. Ask each other what is really bothering you. Is it your partner and the things they do, or is it about your and your own concerns? Use this conversation to remind yourselves that you both carry maladaptive beliefs from the past that should no longer be a part of your life. Tell yourselves that this behavior prevents you from building the intimacy needed to grow a healthy relationship. At this point, if you find it difficult to agree on something, then it could be a sign that both of you should seek the help of a relationship coach.
Cassidy J (1999). “The Nature of a Child’s Ties”. In Cassidy J, Shaver PR (eds.). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications. New York: Guilford Press. pp. 3–20. ISBN 1572300876.
Ho, M.Y., Chen, S.X., Bond, M.H. et al. Linking Adult Attachment Styles to Relationship Satisfaction in Hong Kong and the United States: The Mediating Role of Personal and Structural Commitment. J Happiness Stud 13, 565–578 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-011-9279-1.