Relationships can be complicated, and there are plenty of things that can affect how we behave in a relationship too, from our attachment style, to having a fear of abandonment, to having trouble committing to another person - aka commitment issues. If you find yourself constantly afraid of making things serious with partners, or you're dating someone who's distant and refusing to label things, it could be that commitment issues are at play.
Here's what you need to know about the signs of commitment issues, what causes them, and how to deal with it if you (or someone you're dating) has issues with commitment.
What are commitment issues?
Commitment issues generally refer to people who have difficulty or a fear of committing to a relationship. It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want to be in the relationship at all, but that they have trouble fully committing to it.
BACP counsellor and psychotherapist Katerina Georgiou explains this, saying, "Another word that could describe commitment issues is 'ambivalence'. It can feel like there's a part of you that wants to be in the situation, and another part that also wants to flee."
Having commitment issues can mean different things for different people. Some people might be afraid of the idea of being in a relationship forever, while others might have a fear that they'll be abandoned, hurt, cheated on, or that they might cheat, Katerina explains.
Plus, "There can sometimes be a sense of the grass being greener," she adds. "You might think, 'Is this it? Is this the best/happiest I'm going to feel? What if there's something better?'"
Commitment issues can also be linked to your attachment style in a relationship. People with an avoidant attachment style might like their own space and want to make sure it's not going to be invaded, explains COSRT-accredited sex and relationships therapist Cate Mackenzie.
Meanwhile, if someone has a disorganised attachment style part of them might want to be involved, while another part of them doesn't, she adds, which can result in mixed messages.
The signs that someone has commitment issues
How to tell if someone you're dating has commitment issues
Early on in a relationship, someone regularly cancelling, continually saying they'll do something and then backing out, or not seeming fully present with you might all be signs that they're someone who struggles to commit, says Cate.
Katerina adds that 'breadcrumbing' (sending you flirty but ultimately non-committal messages) can also be a sign, as can hesitation around labelling the relationship.
We're all familiar with people who refuse labels, but if you're unsure whether you're dating or if you're just friends with benefits or fuck buddies, then it's time to open up the conversation. It's fine if you're both on the same page, but if they're not being clear with you about what they want, it might be that they struggle to commit.
How to tell if you yourself have commitment issues
While you might be able to see the signs in a partner, it can sometimes be harder to recognise commitment issues in yourself.
Katerina suggests looking for patterns in who you date. "If you find yourself perpetually in a pattern of not committing, or finding fault with partners or reasons not to date them, or you're perpetually being drawn to people who are no good for you, consider whether this is a pattern or common denominator."
Are commitment issues caused by anything?
There are a range of different reasons why you or someone you're dating might have commitment issues, whether it's experiences in past relationships, deeper issues in childhood, or even films and TV.
Katerina says that you might be scarred from a previous relationship which has left you fearful of being hurt again (or "once bitten, twice shy") - and it's totally understandable to want to protect yourself from being heartbroken again.
Struggling to commit might also be a result of having too high expectations when it comes to love, she adds. "We can be influenced by romantic narratives in film and media that show us an all-consuming love, so we hold out for that experience. Or we might see friends in the kinds of relationships we'd like to be in and wonder if we should hold out for that too," says Katerina.
On a deeper level, sometimes commitment issues can be traced back to experiences in childhood, which is also when our attachment styles are usually formed.
"If you witnessed your own caregivers arguing a lot when you were growing up, or your parents divorced or a parent died or left, you might grow to feel despondent and sceptical about committing to anybody," Katerina explains.
However, seeing healthy relationships growing up can also contribute to having issues with commitment. "Having parents who are still together and seemingly happily married can create pressure for us to re-create the same," Katerina adds, "or it can trigger despair that this is at good as it gets."
Plus, more serious childhood and adulthood experiences like unprocessed trauma and anxiety can also play a part, as well as a fear of being overwhelmed in relationships, says Cate.
How to deal with commitment issues
How to deal with your own commitment issues
Katerina says that the first step to dealing with your commitment issues is to notice the common patterns you're getting into, and to try to pinpoint what it is that's holding you back, whether it's from your past or from your current fears.
If having commitment issues has become a bit of a habit, it can be helpful to try to unlock it, and Katerina suggests almost debating your beliefs with yourself, either inside your head or out loud, or with a friend or a therapist.
"Get a trusted friend to play devil's advocate to any of your arguments and counter arguments," she suggests. "Sometimes thrashing things out like this can give clarity to what's going on. If things feel really difficult, seeking a therapist to support you to unpick some of this stuff can be helpful."
Cate also recommends sharing your worries about commitment with the person you're dating. "Instead of acting out your fear by being late, for example, you can say, 'I like you so much but it's making me feel a bit scared and I end up cancelling/being late' etc," she explains.
"Learn how to set boundaries, so you feel clear on what you realistically can and can't give or receive," she adds, and communicate this with the other person.
What to do if you're dating someone with commitment issues
Dating someone who struggles to commit can be difficult, but Katerina suggests having the conversation about commitment and what you want from the relationship and from your own future earlier on, so you know whether you're on the same page.
"Often what happens is we remain hesitant about asking those sorts of questions early on because we're vulnerable, but then we can find ourselves several months or even years in, and breaking up at that stage is so much harder because we've invested so much," she explains.
Cate suggests setting boundaries about the kind of commitment you want, and what you can and can't accept. However, doing this means you also need to be prepared to walk away if your expectations aren't met.
Where to find support
Talking to friends and family about how you're feeling can always be useful, says Katerina. But you might also choose to seek support from professionals, either through relationship therapy if you're in an established relationship with a partner, or therapy by yourself.
You can find a BACP therapist using the directory on the BACP website. Find a COSRT-accredited sex and relationships therapist here.
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