Commitment is a tricky concept. It seems simple enough, you choose to be committed to someone, to marry them, and spend the rest of your lives together, but it’s much more nuanced than that.
My divorced parents are both in long-term committed relationships, but neither is married to their partner. Some people look at their situations and think “if they were truly committed they’d be married by now.” This setup, however, works for them. I’ve seen them weather plenty of storms, cohabitate, and share every piece of their lives with one another, and marriage doesn’t seem to be at the center of commitment for them. But that’s my parents, that’s their idea of commitment.
What’s important to keep in mind about commitment is that every person does it their own way. This is probably the first hurdle the get past when it comes to understanding someone’s commitment to a relationship, or lack thereof. If you aren’t aligned with your partner on what commitment looks like for your relationship than this could definitely lead to a commitment-related breakup. If you want marriage and they want long-term cohabitation, you may butt heads often about each other’s commitment to the relationship.
According to the Interdependence Theory, no matter which way it’s displayed, commitment boils down to three major factors: satisfaction, alternatives, and investment. Satisfaction means there are benefits and low costs to the partner. Alternatives means that there isn’t a better option for getting needs met. And lastly, investment, well that’s exactly what it sounds like, how much you have invested in the partner. So, a decline in satisfaction and an increase in alternatives could affect someone’s desire to commit. It kind of makes sense then that in the age of dating apps commitment feels hard to come by.
Another research study found that “expected satisfaction was a stronger predictor of relationship commitment, maintenance behaviors, and/or divorce than was current satisfaction.” Sometimes even though the current situation isn’t rosy, we hold onto an imagined brighter future together and that’s what keeps us committed to the relationship.
Now that we understand some of the factors at play for commitment, the most important to consider is that commitment is a choice. It’s not something that happens to you, it’s something you choose to do. While this research can definitely shed a light on what drives someone’s decision to commit, ultimately it’s their choice to do so or not.
You might not get clear answers from your ex as to whether their lack of commitment was due to the factors outlined in the Interdependence Theory or maybe it was that their definition of commitment wasn’t aligned with yours. Either way, what you can hold onto for closure is that commitment is an action and your ex didn’t choose it. And now that you have a clearer idea of what leads people to commit, you can start defining what your ideal commitment looks like. Having that very clear in your mind will definitely help you when you’re ready to get back out there and find a new partner.