How to Recognize and Deal With Commitment Issues

How to Recognize and Deal With Commitment Issues

Let’s look at the science behind commitment issues.

To define commitment issues, we first need to define commitment. Commitment is “a sustained intent to remain in a relationship” (Arriaga et al., 2007, p. 389). Knowing this, we can then define commitment issues as difficulties in choosing to commit to another person, or difficulties in staying committed to another person. Those difficulties might take the form of planning to leave the relationship, not seeing the relationship as long-term, or not feeling especially attached to one’s partner (Le & Agnew, 2003).

A way to think about commitment issues is to break down commitment into two separate components: dedication and constraints (Stanley & Markman, 1992).

● Dedication is our genuine desire to freely choose to spend time with a person and invest in the relationship.

● By contrast, constraints are the characteristics of the relationship that compel us to stay together, such as being on the same lease, sharing a pet, or having lots of mutual friends. These things go together to determine how committed we are to our partners.

What Causes Commitment Issues?

Commitment issues can be caused by characteristics of the relationship or the individuals involved.

Many psychologists look at commitment issues through the lens of the Investment Model (Rusbult, 1980), which was developed by psychologist Caryl Rusbult. Rusbult said that commitment could be predicted by how satisfied a person was by the relationship, how likely they were to get their needs met by somebody else, and how much they would lose if the relationship ended. This model has been shown to explain a lot of people’s thinking and decision-making around their relationships (Le & Agnew, 2003).

Types of Commitment Issues

We can break down commitment issues into three types: being under-committed, being over-committed, or having a mismatch in how committed the partners are (Brault-Labbe et al., 2017; Stanley et al., 2017).

Undercommitment

Undercommitted people put less energy into the relationship, show less interest in the relationship, or may be so challenged by negative interactions in the relationship that they avoid getting more committed (Labonte et al., 2023). For example, a dating app user may see so many potential partners out there that it is difficult to commit to any particular person (D’Angelo & Toma, 2017). They may get stuck in a pattern of what some researchers call relationshopping, almost like relationships are happening in a marketplace where it is hard to pick just one item out of hundreds of options (Heino, 2010). It seems that relationships appear less valuable and more disposable when we think there are many options (Finkel & Eastwick, 2009).

“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”
― Che Guevara

Overcommitment

By contrast, over-committed people put more time and energy into the relationship than is healthy, often sacrificing in other areas of their lives to an unhealthy extent. They may not be getting their needs met in other relationships, think that there will never be a partner as good as this one, or think they stand to lose a great deal if the relationship ends (Rusbult, 1980). As a result, they may try to build the commitment in the relationship beyond the point that it is ready for. Somebody in this situation might ask their relatively new partner to go on a long vacation with them, or ask their partner to move in together before the partner is ready. They may also feel trapped in the relationship, if for example they are financially dependent on the partner (Stanley & Markman, 1992).

Differences in Commitment

Finally, differences in commitment levels between two partners may generate commitment issues. There is an imbalance in commitment across partners in a large percentage of romantic relationships (Stanley et al., 2017), and this may lead to relationship conflict as the couple tries to establish how committed their relationship will be.

How to Fix Commitment Issues

To fix commitment issues in a relationship, one needs to know where the relationship is lacking for the person with the commitment issues (Rusbult, 1980). For example, a person who sees lots of possible alternative partners around them may need to get more in touch with what makes their current partner uniquely suited to them, or make a concerted effort to avoid paying attention to those possible alternatives.

A person who is not satisfied with the relationship may need to advocate for more of what they want in the relationship. And a person who is not investing much time or energy in the relationship may want to examine their own fears or concerns about getting close to another person. Or, the couple may need to address conflicts that have gone unresolved and diminished trust in the relationship (Wieselquist et al., 1999).

In Sum

A lot of people face commitment issues at some point or another. Relationships can be our greatest source of fulfillment, but also fear. Have patience with yourself and others as you navigate the challenges that come with committing to relationships.

References

● Arriaga, X. B., Slaughterbeck, E. S., Capezza, N. M., & Hmurovic, J. L. (2007). From bad to worse: Relationship commitment and vulnerability to partner imperfections. Personal Relationships, 14(3), 389–409.

● Brault-Labbe, A., Brassard, A., & Gasparetto, C. A. (2017). Un nouveau modele d’engagement conjugal: Validation du Questionnaire multimodal d’engagement conjugal [A new model of conjugal commitment: Validation of the multimodal couple commitment questionnaire]. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 49, 231–242.

● D’Angelo, J. D., & Toma, C. L. (2017). There are plenty of fish in the sea: the effects of choice overload and reversibility on online daters’ satisfaction with selected partners. Media Psychology 20(1), 1–27.

● Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2009). Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity. Psychological Science 20(10), 1290–1295.

● Heino, R. D., Ellison, N. B., & Gibbs, J. L. (2010). Relationshopping: investigating the market metaphor in online dating. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 27(4): 427–447.

● Labonté, T., Beaulieu, N., Brassard, A., Gauthier, N., Gagnon‐Tremblay, J., & Péloquin, K. (2023). Attachment insecurities and under‐commitment in distressed couples: The role of positive and negative partner behaviors. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 49(1), 18-35.

● Le, B., & Agnew, C. R. (2003). Commitment and its theorized determinants: A meta-analysis of the investment model. Personal Relationships, 10, 37–57.

● Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172–186.

● Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (1992). Assessing commitment in personal relationships. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54(3), 595-608.

● Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Scott, S. B., Kelmer, G., Markman, H. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2017). Asymmetrically committed relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(8), 1241-1259.

● Wieselquist, J., Rusbult, C. E., Foster, C. A., & Agnew, C. R. (1999). Commitment, pro-relationship behavior, and trust in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 942–966