It’s not uncommon for people who avoid long-term relationships to hear they have commitment issues or a fear of commitment. Many people use these phrases casually, but in reality, commitment (and the fear of it) is often quite complex.
Commitment is a broad term, but it generally comes down to dedicating yourself to something for a long time, whether that’s a job, a goal, a city, or a relationship.
The concept of commitment issues, however, tends to come up most often in the context of romantic relationships.
Think you or your partner might have a fear of commitment? Here are some things to watch for:
The internet is full of compatibility quizzes, lists of relationship red flags, and so on. These can be fun — and they might even help you notice some things about yourself or your relationship.
But remember that your unique situation is just that: unique.
Lists can’t identify or take into account everything going on in your relationship, so take them (including this one) with a grain of salt.
If you do recognize some of the following in yourself or your partner, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.
Plus, commitment issues don’t always arise out of fear.
Someone’s upbringing, family history, or other factors can influence how someone behaves in a committed relationship. This can make it difficult to tell the difference between someone who just really doesn’t want to commit and someone who’s dealing with other issues.
Finally, keep in mind that commitment isn’t the same as love. It’s entirely possible to love your romantic partner and still have trouble with commitment.
It’s not always easy to recognize when a pattern of short-lived relationships represents bad dating luck or when it indicates something more significant.
Here are some signs that may offer some clarity:
You don’t want to date seriously
Wanting to date casually and avoid serious relationships doesn’t automatically mean you’re afraid of commitment. You might have one reason for this, or you might have several.
But if you consistently feel the need to end things when relationships start moving past the casual stage, even though you like the person you’re seeing, you may have some unresolved commitment fears.
You don’t think about the future of the relationship
At some point in a relationship, most people spend at least a little time thinking about whether the person they’re dating would make a good long-term match.
If they can’t see a future, they might end the relationship and move on. But some people don’t give the future any thought at all — and they don’t want to.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy what you have now with a partner. But a true inability or unwillingness to think about the next stage of a relationship could suggest a fear of commitment, especially if this is a pattern in your relationships.
You spend a lot of time questioning the relationship
Maybe you do think about the future of your relationship. You have strong feelings for your partner, feel connected and attached, and enjoy spending time together. Even so, you can’t stop asking yourself things like:
- “Do they really love me?”
- “What happens next?”
- “Am I ready for this?”
- “Do I want this to work?”
It’s pretty normal to ask yourself questions like these from time to time, especially if you really care about someone and don’t want to lose them.
Questioning the relationship constantly, however, to the point where it interferes with the relationship or causes you emotional distress, could suggest commitment fears.
You don’t want to make plans
Do you avoid making plans for a Friday night date until Friday morning?
Do you give vague replies like, “Maybe! I’ll let you know” or “Let me see how the week goes” when the person you’re dating tries to make plans?
Does thinking about plans you’ve already made stress you out so much you end up wanting to cancel them?
Not wanting to make plans sometimes suggests you aren’t really interested in the person you’re dating, especially if you’re holding out for the possibility of better plans.
But when you do like that person and enjoy their company, but still feel anxious, the issue may be commitment.
You don’t feel emotionally attached
If you feel securely attached and want the relationship to continue, you’re more likely to do the work required to make it last.
This effort shows your commitment and can help relieve feelings of anxiety about the relationship’s future, especially if your partner shows a similar interest in long-term involvement.
But if you don’t feel any emotional attachment to your partner, you may not care or even think much about losing them. Sure, you have a great time together, but you shrug off the thought of never seeing them again. You’re perfectly content to keep doing your own thing.
Sometimes, not connecting emotionally just means the person you’re dating isn’t the best match for you. However, if you know you want a relationship and never feel emotionally invested in your partners, consider whether commitment fears could be holding you back.
You feel uneasy or trapped when your partner shows signs of investment
These feelings may come up without you fully understanding them.
For example, when your partner says “I love you” for the first time, you might feel happy. But later, when you think about it, you begin to feel anxious and wonder what that means or what comes next.
You might also feel an urge to get away, whether you truly want to end the relationship or not.
When you’re ready for a serious relationship but your partner seems content with things staying the same, you might begin to wonder if they want the same things you do.
The following signs could suggest you’re dating someone who has some commitment fears. But it’s hard to know if these are really signs of commitment issues unless you talk to them about the reasons behind their behavior.
If you’re concerned about your partner’s commitment, an open, honest conversation is a good first step.
In the meantime, here are some signs of commitment fears in a partner:
They don’t seem invested in the relationship or you
This can show up in a lot of ways. They might know all of your friends but never introduce you to any of theirs. Maybe they tell great stories but seem less interested in talking about their emotions or daily life (or yours).
You might also notice a lack of interest in making any plans that aren’t in the immediate future.
This disinterest isn’t always obvious. For example, they might sound enthusiastic if you suggest a trip or vacation but have an excuse or schedule conflict when you try to narrow down a specific date.
It’s possible your partner does want to spend that time with you. They might just struggle with the commitment involved.
They don’t want to talk about the future of the relationship
If you’ve been seeing someone you like for several months, you might start thinking about the possibility of a relationship developing. After all, you’re compatible, you enjoy each other’s company — so why not date more seriously?
A partner who has commitment fears may have a hard time with this conversation. They might change the subject or give vague replies when you ask how they feel.
They might say something like, “Let’s just have fun without trying to define things.” They might flat-out say they aren’t looking for a commitment.
If you’re looking for commitment, these responses often indicate the person you’re seeing may not be able to offer what you want and need.
They have a hard time opening up or sharing deep thoughts
Emotional vulnerability typically helps people become closer.
In strong relationships, partners usually learn about each other in fairly equal amounts as time passes. You might talk about your pasts, childhood experiences, goals for the future, life philosophy, and emotions, including feelings for each other or feelings toward other people or situations.
Someone who has a hard time with commitment may not readily open up, even after months go by. Your conversations may remain casual and lighthearted, never becoming more intimate or touching on any deeper feelings or experiences.
Difficulty becoming vulnerable might mean your partner just needs time. But it could also relate to commitment fears.
They talk about the future, but their plans don’t involve you
Some people who avoid commitment in romantic relationships have a hard time making commitments in other areas of life. They might dislike the idea of feeling trapped or tied down to any one future or outcome. But this isn’t always the case.
It’s easy to feel hurt if someone you’re dating talks about a future that doesn’t seem to include you, especially if things seem to be getting more serious from your perspective.
Maybe they continue to plan trips and vacations for themselves or their friends without inviting you. Or maybe they talk excitedly and in great detail about the dream studio apartment they can’t wait to put down a deposit on.
It’s possible they just don’t want to assume you’ll continue dating. Maybe they just haven’t given a long-term relationship much thought.
But these signs could also indicate this partner isn’t ready to commit.
They don’t reply to your messages, calls, or texts for days
If you’ve been dating someone for a while, you might start to notice a pattern in their responses. They might go silent after 8 p.m. when unwinding before bed or not reply to you at all during their working hours.
In general, it’s pretty reasonable to expect a partner to reply within a day most of the time, unless you know they won’t be available for some reason.
If you consistently don’t get replies, especially when you’re trying to make plans, or you get half-replies that don’t fully answer your question, you might want to bring this up in person.
It’s possible your partner just doesn’t love texting. But this can also suggest emotional unavailability.
Regardless of the reason, they may not be able commit to anything more.
Issues with commitment in a relationship aren’t always a problem.
Long-term, monogamous relationships aren’t for everyone. Plenty of people live their lives, happy to stay single or date different partners, without ever getting married or settling down.
Other people are fully ready to commit to long-term involvement, just not with one person only.
Still, if you want to deepen your commitment or feel like there’s an element of fear that’s holding you back, consider these approaches:
Therapy is a great place to start examining possible reasons why commitment might pose a challenge for you.
These reasons could be grounded in past relationships, childhood experiences, or your personal attachment style.
It can help to talk to a therapist if any of the above signs resonate with you. They can help you address commitment fears in an empathetic, judgment-free way.
If your fear of commitment causes anxiety or other emotional distress, therapy can help there, too.
A therapist can also offer support in one-on-one therapy if your partner’s behavior is affecting your emotional health, but couples’ therapy could be another place to work on this.
If you truly love your partner and want to make the relationship work, but something is holding you back and preventing you from taking steps toward commitment, couples therapy can help.
Intimacy and commitment aren’t the same, but they often relate to each other. People who have trouble with one might also have a hard time with the other.
A skilled couples’ therapist can help you and your partner navigate these challenges and begin working through them to develop a stronger partnership.
Couples therapy works well when you and your partner share similar goals for the relationship. But even if one of you wants something else, or one or both of you aren’t sure exactly what you want, couples therapy can help you explore this, too.
Talk about it
Sometimes, just putting a name to your fear can help you feel better about it. If you care about your partner but know you have issues with commitment, try talking to them.
Let them know how you feel about them and the relationship and try to tell them exactly what it is you’re afraid of, if possible.
You might say something like, “I went through a bad breakup a few years ago, and it took me a long time to recover. I’m afraid of going through that again. I care about you, and I like where this is going, but I need more time to get used to the idea of being in a relationship.”
If you and your partner both want your relationship to succeed but one or both of you have commitment fears, it can help to develop committed habits together.
Make it a habit
Try these baby steps toward commitment:
- Spend the night together.
- Spend a weekend together a few miles out of town.
- Hold hands in public or around people you know.
- Talk about things you’d like to do together in a different season and see how that feels. For example, maybe you both want to think about making some camping plans next summer.
- Make plans together a week, 2 weeks, then a month in advance. Challenge yourself to keep those plans.
- Look at apartments or houses together, if that’s where your relationship is headed. This can be as simple as taking a walk in a neighborhood you like and thinking about what it would be like to share that space with your partner.
If feelings of fear or anxiety come up for you as you do these, talk about them with your partner.
Look for a partner who respects your needs
If you know you need time to feel secure in a relationship, it can help to date someone who doesn’t need to spend every free evening together and who won’t press you to commit right away.
This can depend on what exactly you need from a partner, of course. But someone who leads a busy lifestyle might be a good fit if you know you need a lot of space and alone time.
If you don’t enjoy being touched constantly, a partner who’s more hands-off may be a better fit than someone who needs a lot of physical affection.
Fear of commitment is a tricky topic. A range of factors can contribute to it, and those factors can vary from person to person.
While commitment issues might make dating more difficult, they don’t make intimate, long-term relationships impossible. Things just might take a bit of extra work and honest communication.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.