Commitment: what’s so scary about it?

Why do we find it so hard these days to keep up a steady relationship with a partner? It’s not so hard to find couples who fell in love at a very young age and have grown old together. But times have changed and so have people.

Young people have more trouble finding a permanent partner than their parents did. And more and more young couples are turning to therapy to keep their sinking relationship afloat, according to Dr Claudia Messing, director of the Graduate School of Counselling and Family Therapy, Buenos Aires.

So what are the causes? There are changes in society and in people’s psychology that have happened all over the world, but each culture copes with it differently, says Dr Messing. The main reasons are that people are worried about losing their individuality - getting trapped by their ties to the other person - and scared of needing another person to make them feel complete.


It can be hard to settle down into the routine of work and family, says Dr Messing. And as the years go by couples often start feeling of bored, anxious and suffocated in their relationship. Their motivation drops and they long for other people in their lives to make them feel less trapped.

Young people today don’t want to lose their single life, even when they’re living with a partner, Dr Messing says. It’s increasingly common to find couples who keep up their individual lives and make plans separately.

Separate lives

This is because in many parts of the world couples have democratised, she points out. The roles men and women used to take have changed a lot. Nowadays women have jobs and they’re economically independent. And although women still spend more time with their children than men, fathers are much more involved in upbringing than they used to be.

But if a couple lead totally separate lives, the family can end up suffering if they have children – the parents can have trouble integrating the kids into their lives. And though roles might have changed, fathers’ attitudes haven’t shifted so far. They tend to expect their partners to be on full-time Mum duty, so Dad can go off and do his own thing, the doctor observes.

Maturity and effort

This individualistic parenting style is storing up trouble for the future, she warns. As adults we unconsciously copy the way our parents behaved. As they grow up, the individualists’ kids are also likely to have trouble dedicating themselves to a partner emotionally, and they may develop the same fear of committing to another person forever and losing their individuality and freedom.

So is there a middle ground between individual freedom and commitment to your partner? “Of course, but it requires maturity from the couple, and effort,” says Dr Messing. “An effort to grow as a couple and keep evaluating your relationship.”

Feel valuable

So what’s the secret to finding a partner you feel happy to settle down and grow old with?

“A couple can settle when they’re happy with themselves,” Dr Messing says. “And it takes work to feel good. People feel good when they feel recognized in what they do, when they have a job, a profession or a trade that gives them identity.

"In other words, people need to feel useful, to feel valuable. And then it's much easier to get a steady partner than when they’re in a state of uncertainty and still don’t know who they are and what they want in life."

Are you scared of commitment? Or do you long to settle down with a partner? Leave a comment here or join the discussion on Facebook.

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