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Commitment in Relationships

Commitment is often heralded as the cornerstone of meaningful relationships, symbolizing dedication, loyalty, and an unwavering resolve to face challenges together. However, an underlying truth persists: human beings are fundamentally committed to one thing above all else — themselves and their own emotional, psychological, and physical safety. Considering this perspective potentially reshapes our understanding of commitment, suggesting that individuals are not truly committed to others but to their personal security.


The word "commitment" stems from the Latin "committere," meaning to connect, entrust, or join. This origin underscores the conventional view of commitment as a binding promise to a course of action or to another person. Yet, when viewed through the lens of self-interest, "commitment" becomes less about mutual binding and more about self-preservation and personal security.


Attachment theory describes how early interactions with caregivers shape an individual's expectations and behaviors in adult relationships. When viewed through the lens of commitment to self-preservation,

attachment styles reveal the strategies individuals use to secure their own well-being:


Secure Attachment: Securely attached individuals commit easily because they trust that their needs for security and support will be met. Their comfort with intimacy and independence stems from a belief that relationships will enhance their personal security.


Anxious Attachment: Those with an anxious attachment style may appear overly committed, stemming from a deep-seated need for reassurance and fear of abandonment. Their apparent "commitment" may actually be more of a strategy to mitigate their own insecurities and ensure emotional safety than an actual expression of connectedness.


Avoidant Attachment: Avoidantly attached individuals value independence and are more likely to view commitment as a potential threat to their autonomy. Their reluctance to commit is more a protective mechanism, demonstrating a commitment to maintaining their personal freedom and avoiding emotional vulnerability.


Disorganized Attachment: Individuals with disorganized attachment exhibit fluctuating behaviors because they struggle to balance their need for connection with their fear of rejection. Their inconsistent commitment is a reflection of their internal conflict and self-protection strategies. This may result in an "on again - off again" relationship pattern.


"Commitment" Strategies and Manipulations

The traditional view of commitment to others involves dedication to nurturing the relationship, supporting the partner, and working through challenges together. However, from a self-interest perspective, this commitment is conditional upon the relationship meeting personal needs for security and well-being. People employ various tactics to either avoid or ensure scenarios that bolster their sense of security:


  • Avoidance Tactics: Those who may not possess a clear, secure sense of self, whose commitment may be to protection from external psychological, social or emotional forces, might keep relationships casual, evade future-oriented discussions, or create emotional distance to avoid feeling trapped or vulnerable to losing themselves in another's needs or feelings. There is likely sincere interest in relationships with others, but the commitment is to self-preservation through separation or isolation.


  • Manipulative Behaviors: Other individuals with a similar lack of self security might seek to bolster their sense of self through guilt-tripping, dependency creation, or rushing the relationship’s progression to ensure their partner’s devotion. The commitment in this case is not primarily to the partner but to securing their own emotional safety and sense of value or worth.


When viewed through the lens of self-interest, commitment in relationships can be seen as a strategy for personal security rather than a pure dedication to another person. In a very real sense, couples tend to use each other to resource themselves, to establish and sustain a sense of security they are unable to generate or maintain on their own.


Awareness that individuals are fundamentally committed to their own security has the potential to dramatically shift the dynamics in intimate relationships:


  • Communication: Open discussions about the personal insecurities and needs catalyzed by a relationship frame such as this can foster mutual understanding and realistic expectations. "I am afraid of rejection . . . I am emotionally insecure . . . I need help," are very pro-personal security communications that can create empathy and bonding. "You aren't committed to me . . . You're pulling away . . . You're too emotional," are shaming and blaming communications that project the responsibilty for personal security onto the partner. Never goes well!


  • Expectations: Partners engaging through this frame will likely need to acknowledge that attempts to alter or change themselves in an attempt to induce conventional bonds of dependency, may not effectively influence their partner’s primary commitment to self-preservation. In other words, sacrificing your own integrity or sense of security, victimizing yourself to get your partner to demonstrate their devotion, is likely not going to work. Connecting with your own vulnerability and need and committing to healing yourself can create an opportunity for authentic, empathic bonding.


  • Responsibility and Choice: While most people aren't viewing relationships this way, each person in the couple is actually entirely in choice about the experience they are having. It is each person’s commitment to their emotional and physical security that determines their participation and longevity in the partnership. Each memeber of the partnership is responsibile for their tender, relational limitations and fears, for how they communicate about their insecurities, how they project their unconscious needs onto the other, and how they repair the damage that is done when their disowned hurt and fear is projected onto the partner.


  • Autonomy and Interdependence: Discovering and developing the balance between personal autonomy and interdependence can lead to healthier, loving, empathetic relationships where both partners feel truly secure about being authentically themselves within the context of a relationship.


Orienting to commitment through the lens of self-interest can help individuals navigate their own commitment fears and foster more mature relationships. Ultimately, recognizing the primacy of self-commitment allows for a balanced, responsible, kind and loving approach to personal and relational well-being.




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