• Published
  • By Jaclyn Urmey, LCSW
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing Director of Psychological Health

Commitment is probably the most feared word when it comes to relationships.  Think about when you were younger, and things started to get serious between you and a special someone.  Did you feel excited and hopeful that this person was “the one”?  Were you prepared to jump right in, feet first?  Did you feel afraid of the uncertainty of what trusting this special person could mean?  Were you afraid of being hurt?  Maybe you felt all of these things.  All of these feelings and fears are 100% normal.  How you allow these feelings and thoughts to dictate your decisions could be healthy or unhealthy.


We’ve all had experiences of finding a really great person, then coming up with reasons why not to pursue them (Some pet peeve they had was something you couldn’t live with… They deserve someone better…).  Or maybe, we knew the person was never the right one in the first place, but by pursuing them, we allowed ourselves an “out” when things didn’t progress.  That’s called self-sabotage, choosing partners who cannot fulfill your needs to avoid commitment.  Examples of this are if you are an emotional person, yet you are in a relationship with someone who cannot connect with you on the same level. Or if you wind up liking your significant other’s friends more than them, but you stay in the relationship for social reasons.  Some people would ask, why bother dating someone if you’re just looking for an out?  This goes back to fundamental human needs – most people want to be wanted.  But we don’t want to get hurt.


So what’s all the fuss about commitment anyway?  What does this word even mean?  For some, commitment means loyalty, belonging to someone, sacrifice, love, friendship, admiration, excitement… Sure, these all sound great, but depending on what you’ve learned about relationships, whether from personal experience or observation, none of those words may apply. 


Let’s take a fresh look at commitment.


Commitment can be viewed as a level of belonging in a relationship.  The deeper the commitment, the deeper the level of belonging.  The less belonging, the smaller the commitment.  Couples who commit to one another usually wait a while before they tell each other “I love you.”  That’s because “I love you” is the greatest verbal commitment of all (maybe even more so than “I do”) – the giving of one’s heart and love to another person.  This makes people vulnerable to each other, and being vulnerable around your partner suggests a very deep level of commitment.


There are six traits that capture strong interest and loyalty to a partner.  They can be summed up in the acronym DESIRE. They can also help you realize where you stand on how you feel about your level of commitment, or your ability to commit to someone special.  The following is taken from How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk (or Jerkette), by John Van Epp.


D – Duo M.O. – Someone with a good commitment potential will have a method of operation (M.O.) of partnership, togetherness, and companionship.  They like being with you and feel a drive to be back with you when separated.


E – Examples of Commitment – What examples of commitment does this person have in other areas of their life and in other relationships?  Is there a pattern?  Does this person have a good reputation?  Does this person show self-discipline and loyalty to other people?


S – Sacrificial Spirit – A person that has good commitment potential seems to be able to make sacrifices with little effort, or at least they are known for making sacrifices to elevate the one to whom they feel committed.


I – Importance of Partner – A person who has good commitment potential is able to prioritize and put their partner on a high level of importance.  The importance of a partner should stand out over activities and other friends.  This doesn’t mean that everything should be dropped, but that the person has a higher priority of you than other things.


R – Resist Temptations – Loyalty to a partner requires that you turn away from the attraction of another.  Make sure you pay attention to the track record of faithfulness as you get to know someone you’re dating.


E – Everlasting Decision – The final trait of a person who has good commitment potential is that they have a value of making that decision that lasts a lifetime.  There seems to be an epidemic of commitment phobic singles.  The dominating fear is this final step of “forever.” They are everlastingly hesitant to take the step of pledging their life to another in marriage.  As the relationship becomes more serious and open to topics like this, address values and whether or not the partner holds this trait of commitment.


If you’re plagued by fear of commitment, don’t force yourself into something you aren’t comfortable with or you don’t want.  You simply may not be in a place where you’re ready to commit.  Or maybe you’re totally satisfied not committing.   Whether being single, married or long-term dating is your goal, explore the dynamics that shape your view of commitment.  Review the previously written and posted articles on Sources of a Successful Relationship, How Family Influences Your Relationships, Ingredients of a Lasting Relationship, and A Trustworthy Partner.  Seek out a counselor through Military OneSource or contact me through the below information if you’d like to change how you make decisions in and/or about relationships.  Relationships don’t have to be stressful.  They are meant to be the opposite – helpful.  Otherwise, people wouldn’t bother.  Change begins with you.  Why wait?


For more information on this topic, contact me at 609-754-2542 or