Rajesh had been with his girlfriend for 2 years and loved her very much. Every time she brought up their future, he would try to change the topic. She believed every one of his excuses. “I want to talk about his but let’s save it for when we have more time” or “I want to think about exactly what I want to say before we talk about it.” Days would turn into weeks and she would become frustrated that once again the conversation had been avoided. She also noticed that the longer they were together, Rajesh would spend more time with his friends and would become agitated if she asked him to change his plans to spend time with her or her friends. “Why do you have to pressure me so much? Can’t we spend 2 seconds apart?” he would say with frustration. It reminded him of his previous relationships and how suffocated he used to feel.
Swati and her boyfriend had been dating for 5 years. He had known from their first date that they were meant to be together and had been planning the proposal ever since. While he felt confident that getting married was the right decision, he never got that same feeling from Swati. When he’d suggest things like taking a trip together or spending the holidays with each other’s families they always ended up in an argument about something entirely unrelated. She would criticize him about something, he would become defensive and they would argue until they both needed space from each other, leaving his ideas in the dust. What he didn’t know is that while he was still hoping they would get married some day, Swati was telling her friends that she loved him with all her heart but she wished he was a little taller and was a lawyer not an engineer. She was worried that because of these discrepancies in what she wanted and what he was like they might not be best suited for each other.
Even though stereotypically commitment issues are assumed to be a male-only problem, women are also just as likely to feel anxiety about making a long term commitment to a partner. Both Swati and Rajesh were exhibiting clear signs of not wanting to commit, signs that their partners were choosing not to see and pay importance to. Fear of commitment presents itself in a variety of forms depending on the person and their past experiences.
Here are some common expressions of commitment issues:
1. You are very critical of your partner. The timing of Swati's arguments were no coincidence. Being critical is a great way to push your partner away so that the blame is no longer on themselves for the relationship not progressing forward and also pushing the partner away. This was safer and more comfortable for her than to talk about doing more things together and taking one more step towards commitment.
2. You sabotage your relationship. Most of the times this happens unknowingly but in response to feeling pressure to commit. This can include not doing things that you know will make your partner upset or will hurt them, such as showing up late to an important event, not calling when you say you will or promising something you know you cannot deliver on. If asked why you did all these things, you always have an excuse or something else to blame such as work ran late, there was traffic or you forgot because you were tired.
3. You have unrealistic ideals. Swati’s complaints to her friends about her boyfriend not being tall enough or being in the wrong profession are two things that she knows he can do nothing about. For people who are afraid of committing, any steps toward a closer relationship feels like a situation they want to escape from. The best way to do that sometimes is to identify that the relationship overall is great and that you love the person but you’re unsure of commitment because of a few standards that the person doesn’t match up to. Blaming something he can’t do anything about is the perfect excuse to never commit since that ideal will never be met.
4. You have a specific dating pattern. Your dating history can be a clue into how you conceptualize relationships. If you feel suffocated often like Rajesh does, you may find reasons to break up instead of work through the problems and commit. Similarly, if you have a tendency to be attracted to people who are not available, such as those who have commitment issues themselves or a person with whom you would need to have a long term relationship , you may be exhibiting signs of commitment issues yourself.
5. You require lots of breaks during the relationship. This yo-yo effect of being intensely involved in the relationship and then taking a break repeatedly is a way to remove yourself from the relationship that might be causing you to feel trapped. Spending extended time alone with your friends or at work is a mild version of this as it requires a physical distance from your partner who you feel is pressuring you to do something that feels very anxiety provoking.
6. You flirt with other people. Flirting is a great way to keep the door open and make you feel as if you are not tied down to one person. It also is a reminder that you are attractive to other people and you could find someone else if you were to leave your current partner. In addition, this is the perfect way to sabotage your relationship especially if your partner finds out about your behavior. It essentially creates a distance between you and your partner which is necessary to calm the anxiety about commitment.
7. You avoid talking about commitment. One of the simplest signs of commitment anxiety is delaying conversations. Rajesh very adeptly answers his girlfriend's questions by acknowledging that he wants to discuss the topics but comes up with very believable excuses why to postpone the conversation. Since it seems to work and his girlfriend does not insist on talking, this is a pattern of communication that gives Rajesh the space he needs from the topic that brings him significant anxiety.
8. You have trouble committing to other things besides an intimate partner. Most people with commitment issues are unable to commit to things in other parts of their life. For example, you may move jobs often being afraid of beginning a career that you may feel “stuck” in later. In another example, you may have enough money to buy a house but choose to rent because you don’t want to get tied down in one location for fear that you made the wrong decision.
What signs of commitment anxiety have you seen in yourself or others?