Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Why Men Struggle With Commitment

February 25, 2008

Your boyfriend can't seem to make up his mind. He seems to want the relationship and depends on it. Your backgrounds, goals and attitudes are similar. He goes out of his way to show care and concern for your interests. He is empathic and accepting. He expresses his ideas and feelings freely. He is attracted to you and willing to draw close, both physically and emotionally. He admires your positive qualities.

You have demonstrated the ability to resolve conflict between you. You are satisfied that his childhood background and relationship history is reasonably solid and shouldn't offer obstacles to trust and to place faith in married life. Despite his lack of a verbal commitment, he has been loyal and faithful to you.

So why can't he bite the bullet and make a commitment to marriage?

1. Some men attach too much importance to physical appearance and beauty. They have bought into the cultural ideal that a woman should look a certain way. Television, movies, magazines, and advertising have saturated our culture with sexually attractive female visual images. Research shows that when men view images of highly attractive females, it lowers their commitment and satisfaction with their existing romantic partners.

Beauty is more than skin deep. Nobody is perfect, even him. If he can't get past the ideal of marrying the most beautiful woman in the world and doesn't recognize your other qualities, then maybe he isn’t who you need.

2. Men living in locations where there are many potential partners become paralyzed with an overload of choice. An unbalanced male/female ratio adds to the problem. It is tough to choose when you are confronted with too many alternatives. A male with a healthy dose of narcissistic male entitlement will entertain the notion that he deserves the best, whatever that is.

3. Men don't know what love is. They think it is "falling in love." They, like women, think love is feeling all the powerful emotions: magnetic sexual attraction, romantic absorption with a partner, an obsession, a euphoric high when they are with their "soulmate." Wrong!

Love is a choice. Love is as love does. Love is giving, not feeling. We love with the head as well as the heart.

Love is a pledge of behavior. We choose to love by putting the well-being and happiness of our partner first. When we act this way, we have good feelings toward the one we serve. Love creates love. If a couple works at giving love to each other, they will have feelings of contentment, satisfaction and happiness - and hopefully a dose of passion as a bonus.

We are capable of loving more than one person. Instead of looking for a "one and only," men and women need to think, "Is this a ‘one’ I could love and cherish." Instead of asking himself, "Am I in love?" he can ask, "Can I make her happy and help her grow?"

If your boyfriend is doing all the things described above, he is in a loving relationship and loving you without understanding he already has what he is looking for. He has everything but the bells, whistles, violins and violent emotions. He just needs to change his definition of love.

This also goes for his ideal love story. Stories have unusual power over how we perceive things. Your ideal romance may be a little different from what his "supposed" ideal romance should be. His hangup is not with you but with his fantasy. He needs to write a different plot or ending to his love story - with you as the leading lady.

Unfortunately this advice is not just for men. In the March 2008 issue of Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb also counsels women to settle for Mr. Good Enough instead of Mr. Perfect.

4. The person with the least interest in commitment has the most power in a relationship. Maybe you have been too clear to him that you are committed. He doesn't have to work hard to win you or keep you. Isn't that what the chase of courtship is all about - figuring out who is chasing who and controlling the pace of the relationship so that your commitment levels match?

You also have choices. There is more than one person you can meet and love. He can afford to look around and "dilly dally" because he is too confident of your love and loyalty. Be sufficiently "hard to get" and make him work for the relationship. Then he will value you more.

Get your edge back. Be willing to dump him. Maybe he'll figure out who you really are and what you mean to him. Take a stand or your relationship will suffer.

5. Having sex during courtship takes away from the male incentive toward marriage. The old bromide is probably true - men give intimacy to get sex, while women give sex to get intimacy. Don't give away your power. You don't have to give sex to get intimacy.

In a good courtship, emotional intimacy should happen first and provide the impetus toward physical intimacy. Sexual intimacy is the culmination of intimacy. It is most meaningfully and joyfully expressed under conditions of total commitment - marriage.

Men with a history of engaging in casual sex without commitment impair their ability to make commitments. As promiscuous as they are, they still respect sexual restraint in a potential wife. By having sex with your boyfriend, you may be subtly putting yourself in a less desirable and less marriageable category. I’m not saying a double standard is right, but that’s how some men think.