Ready For The Long Haul? Commitment In Relationships

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated June 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In our modern society, the concept of commitment can be hard to define. Many of us even face a fear of commitment. Such challenges can be so widespread that we often see them as themes in television shows and movies. When marriage and dating statistics show disheartening results, such as the fact that over half of marriages typically end in divorce, it can seem safe to say that society at large experiences challenges with commitment in relationships. 

A healthy and committed relationship usually requires each partner to be on the same page and in it for the long haul. It can be a lifetime investment that requires give and take. Long-term relationships may only be possible when both partners have an equal level of commitment, as well as when they are motivated by devotion rather than constraint. If you struggle with commitment in romantic relationships, working with a licensed therapist in your local area or through an online therapy platform may be beneficial.

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Experiencing trouble with committed relationships?
The evolving concept of readiness

In the past, there wasn’t necessarily much focus on being “ready for a relationship.” In general, relationships were a social expectation. It was once common for people to move out of their family home, get married, and have children shortly after graduating high school. 

Today’s world tends to be a far different environment for dating and relationships. Social and economic constructs have changed over time, affecting how individuals approach commitment in long-term relationships. A person entering the dating world in 2024 usually has options like online dating and social media at their disposal, which can give them the option to perpetually avoid commitment in a relationship if they so choose. 

This, along with other factors, has likely made it increasingly difficult for people to believe they are ready for the commitment a relationship requires. With a multitude of factors to consider, how can you be sure the timing is right for long-term commitment? 

Commitment

To first know if you are ready for commitment, you may need to understand what it truly means, especially in a relationship. Commitments can apply to various aspects of life and usually vary in levels of importance. Perhaps you are committed to a weekly game night with friends. However, if your boss called you to come into work that same night, your loyalty would likely lie with your job, even if you would prefer to attend the game night.

Committed relationship responsibilities

Committed relationships can be similar in the sense that there tends to be a huge difference in “wanting to” do something and “having to” do something. Although updated research may be beneficial, it can be said that all commitments usually have two key aspects: dedication, or “wanting to,” and constraint, or “having to.”

The scientific perspective

Though the nature of committed relationships may continue to evolve, the following quote from the study linked above may remain relevant to the topic:

“Personal dedication refers to the desire of an individual to maintain or improve the quality of his or her relationship for the joint benefit of the participants. It is evidenced by a desire (and associated behaviors) not only to continue in the relationship but also to improve it, to sacrifice for it, to invest in it, to link personal goals to it, and to seek the partner's welfare, not simply one's own. In contrast, constraint refers to forces that constrain individuals to maintain relationships regardless of their personal dedication to them. Constraints may arise from either external or internal pressures, and they favor relationship stability by making termination of a relationship more economically, socially, personally, or psychologically costly.”

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What is the difference between dedication and constraint?

Commitments in relationships are typically less stressful and promote greater general health when they are born from the “dedication” end of the spectrum. This type of commitment might make us want to improve ourselves, show greater support for our partners, or strive to be better parents to our children. It arises out of a fundamental desire to connect in a relationship rather than pressure. 

Commitments that arise from “constraint” are often sources of stress and can have a negative impact on mental health. For example, someone who maintains an unhealthy relationship out of the fear of leaving or someone who feels trapped in a relationship due to financial ties or societal pressure may experience adverse mental health effects. These feelings of constraint typically arise from the belief that staying in the relationship would be more beneficial than leaving the relationship. 

Are you ready to commit to a relationship?

Committing to a long-term healthy relationship can be a serious matter. Supporting each other through challenges and successes is key to maintaining a healthy relationship. However, it's not just about avoiding actions that could hurt the relationship; instead, it’s about actively talking and participating in each other's interests and endeavors. This mutual support can help promote a deep sense of well-being and satisfaction among partners in a relationship.

Still, there may be many factors to weigh, the most important perhaps being whether you are emotionally healthy and mature enough to fully commit to a relationship. Some signs that you are ready to commit to a relationship can include the following:

  • You don’t feel the need to question or push away the relationship. It can be easy to sabotage a relationship with feelings of doubt. “Why is my partner staying with me?” or “Is this too good to be true?” are questions that can hold you back in your relationship.
  • You are happy with yourself and your place in life. People who are emotionally mature usually do not commit to fill an emotional void in their lives. They tend to be interested in a genuine relationship. Notably, if you have trouble with independence, you might not be ready for a committed relationship.
  • You possess and display healthy and effective methods of communication. You can handle conflicts through compromise and healthy discussion, and you have the capacity for forgiveness, empathy, humility, and understanding. In general, communication is crucial to all relationships, and healthy communication, in particular, may be a sign that you are ready to commit.
  • You are getting over your desire to “play the field” when it comes to dating. You may believe you’ve reached a place in life where you’re ready to “settle down.” You may have found someone you have  similar passions and interests with
  • You’re able to discuss future plans without hesitation. The ability to talk about future plans may be a clear indicator of readiness for commitment. Whether it's talking about buying a house, having children, or career plans, being able to have these conversations openly is essential, as these decisions can have a significant impact on your life.

It can be essential to remember that there is generally no official checklist or “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to knowing whether you’re ready for a commitment in a relationship. One of the prevailing relationship myths often repeated today is that we must focus on loving ourselves before we can commit to a relationship, but self-love and emotional and mental growth are usually lifelong processes.

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Experiencing trouble with committed relationships?

How therapy can help commitment in relationships

Working with a licensed professional counselor or therapist may be helpful for working through trust issues or any barriers affecting your commitment to a relationship. You might try individual or couples therapy, depending on the challenges you’re experiencing. With a therapist, you can talk about what a happy relationship means to you and explore how engagement in a relationship is a conscious decision.

For example, a therapist might help you balance personal and career plans for the well-being of both you and your partner. Finding the right balance often requires giving each other undivided attention, showing respect, and putting in the effort to make the relationship work. As communication is an important part of any relationship, therapy may help improve your ability to communicate effectively and maintain a healthy connection in your relationship.

Online therapy for committed relationships

Whether you’d like to determine if you’re ready to enter a relationship or need help navigating your current relationship dynamics, online therapy can be a great resource that empowers you to take charge of your mental health from the comfort and convenience of your home or another preferred location. Along with providing help for those looking for commitment, therapy with a licensed mental health professional can assist those hoping to overcome a fear of commitment. 

According to recent studies, online therapy tends to produce the same client outcomes as traditional in-office therapy. It can be a suitable form of treatment for a variety of mental health disorders and concerns, including a fear of getting close to people and relationship challenges.

Takeaway

Healthy commitment generally arises from dedication. Our relationships may be the most successful when we commit because we want to help our partners grow as people, as opposed to choosing to stay in unhealthy or unsatisfying relationships due to financial constraints or fears. Commitment typically requires emotional maturity, and therapy, whether in-person or online, can serve as an excellent resource for navigating the concept of commitment in today’s world.

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