There’s romance, chemistry, love, lust. And then there is commitment.
Commitment sits out on the relationship ledge, almost like an outcast. It isn’t the most fun part of dating and easily the scariest relationship concept. It seems to be a constant point of contention. Do you commit or not? Are you committed? What does commitment mean? The questions are endless.
What most people don’t realise is that commitment isn’t a feeling, it’s what you do. While you may feel committed to something, the action of commitment is far more tangible, definite, and easier to quantify. You either commit with your behaviour or you don’t.
Everyone’s understanding of commitment shifts from relationship to relationship. From my own experience, what commitment meant in my teens is different in my thirties.
Regardless, what constitutes a lack of commitment in a relationship seems to remain the same throughout the years.
In my experience, commitment is a metaphorical ‘wall’. You build your commitment brick by brick, cementing your pledge with each brick. But as easy as you can add bricks, it’s even easier to avoid adding to the wall. Or smash away bricks with the romantic sledgehammer.
True commitment is a completed brick wall. Every couple needs one to survive, to hold up the relationship house. But as an experienced dater, I can spot commitment phobia a mile away. I can see when people stop layering the bricks.
You don’t share finances, nor do you have any intention to
One of the biggest areas of the wall where people reserve their bricks is their finances. The sharing of finances with anyone implies you have complicit trust with that person, trust that they won’t use and abuse your hard-earned money.
When discussing ‘sharing finances’, I’m not talking about blindly handing over your bank account details. Or even opening a shared account. It’s about the concept of you and your partner’s money as being two completely separate entities. They have their money and you have yours. And there are no plans for the two to ever entwine.
Commitment and trust go hand in hand. When you conceal your finances from your partner, you’re implying they haven’t earned that trust with you. What is a relationship if there is no trust?
Trust takes time to build. It’s unrealistic to think new relationships are ready for this commitment.
But what about the relationships where two people have made legal decisions? What about marriages, or common law marriages, or parenting? Most of these situations force people to entwine their finances, regardless if they want to. Regardless of trust.
So if you’re willing to enter life long commitments with someone, why not your finances?
Financially, it’s as if you always have your foot out the door. Or, you keep one brick off the wall.
What yours is yours, so to speak.
You don’t share your friends
It’s normal to have friends separate from your partner. We all have our lives before our relationship and that shouldn’t change once you’re together. But avoiding mixing your partner with your friends is a part of building a dividing wall.
It’s a separation wall. It’s the antithesis of building a commitment wall.
What avoiding mixing your friends does is keeping your separate lives separate. It draws a line between you and your partner’s social lives.
This divide only widens over time, making it easier to break up. People who want to be together, who make a full commitment, don’t worry about the mixing of friends. They want to share their life together. They want their friends to befriend their partner.
They want a life together.
You’re planning for the escape
We all have thoughts about what we would do if we were in this position. It’s hard not to imagine when watching or reading about someone else in that scenario. Answering what would happen if our partner dumped us, or if we wanted out.
But this type of planning I’m referring to is far more intense, detailed, and finite. It’s about the precise execution of what you would do, say, and behave. This type of escape planning is a written plan, inked somewhere, if not engrained in memory.
What you’re doing with the escape plan is sewing the seeds of doubt in your own mind. Doubt and commitment rarely co-exist harmoniously. Some say it’s protection for the future. Yet, this is often an excuse for not giving everything to the relationship.
Your escape plan prevents you from finishing the wall. If you can always see what’s on the other side of the wall, the ‘greener grass’, it stops you from committing.
You test your partner
How much do they love me? Let’s find out.
Those in committed relationships don’t test their partners. They don’t put their partner through relationships tests because they understand risk. When you test someone, it’s likely to backfire on you. There is a greater chance of losing your partner by testing them than not.
Testing of any partner means you’re challenging the relationship’s values. Challenging the survival of a relationship after cheating. Challenging your partner’s loyalty by being disloyal. Challenging your partner’s trust by breaking it. It is a destructive behaviour.
If you’re willing to take the risk, you’re not committed. If you’re willing to gamble with that possibility, you’re comfortable with the idea of the relationship ending. You’re comfortable taking down the bricks.
You don’t make decisions together
If you make a decision that affects both of you, without consultation of your partner, you aren’t completely in the relationship. It’s a sign that you don’t value the other person’s opinion, nor do you care if they don’t like the decision you’ve made. Making decisions independently of each other shows selfish relationship behaviour.
Commitment involves altering your mindset. You’re no longer a complete singular, there are two of you to consider. When you’re committed, you think about the other person. You have the desire to include them in the decisions, and you want to figure things out as a team.
You build the wall together.
You talk about ‘what if’
Sometimes you can be a couple of non-committers. You both talk about the relationship’s expiry date.
Though it may not be in so many words, you openly talk about what life would look like if you weren’t together. Or how you would handle breaking up. You are both imagining your life apart. And you’re not fearing these thoughts entering your relationship conversation.
Together, you’re stopping the wall building. Together you hold back the bricks. It plants the idea that separation is possible, nay likely. Much like your escape plan, once this idea is on the table, it’s impossible to ignore it.
The Link Between The Warning Signs
What all these warning signs share is hesitation. In some part of your life, you’re hesitating to share all yourself. You’re hesitating to put yourself in a vulnerable position in the fear it will end. You’re hesitant to finish a relationship wall.
And I know this feeling of hesitation. It eats away at you. It makes you second guess every part of your life with your partner.
This hesitation, this instinctual feeling, isn’t positive for a relationship you want to be in. It’s not healthy to feel so hesitant that you need to keep parts of yourself away from your partner.
Or you need to plan a life without them.
Just in case hesitation might be half the fun when you’re first getting to know someone. But in so-called ‘committed relationships’, hesitation means you’re not building a commitment wall.
It’s Not Impossible To Build A Commitment Wall
If you’re reading this and identifying with these signs, all is not lost. It’s possible to build whenever you want to. But you have to rid yourself of hesitation.
You need to relinquish the idea of disaster. Let go of your reservations. Deal with the reasons why you can’t trust your partner enough to commit. Understand why commitment is hard for you to embrace.
This isn’t easy to do. If you want to, you can. But part of committing in a relationship is commitment to commitment. That you want to lean into trusting without hesitation. Once you know you want to, the building is easy.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships by analysing my experiences. Some of the stories are altered to protect the people in my life. But my feelings are never compromised.