For a couple relationship to work, love is not enough. We know – or at least we should know. There is a huge list of qualities to add that can vary according to the personality, needs and expectations of each person.
However, there is an essential quality in which the vast majority of people and psychologists agree: commitment. Committing to someone is one of the essential pillars of a relationship, but like everything in life, when commitment is excessive it also has its dark side and can even be surprisingly toxic.
The risks of committing to someone excessively
Being committed to someone, especially in a relationship, is generally seen as a positive thing. However, an excessive level of commitment can be quite detrimental, according to research conducted at the University of Houston.
Being excessively committed to someone can lead us to overestimate the small disagreements, problems and conflicts of the day to day to the point that they get out of our control, even leading to depression and anxiety.
But what does it mean to commit to someone excessively? How much is too much commitment in a relationship?
These psychologists indicate that overcommitment occurs when a person invests too much self-esteem in the relationship. What does that mean? That the image he has of himself and the value he attributes to himself depends fundamentally on how well the relationship is going. In other words, when the relationship is going well, their self-esteem increases artificially and when it goes badly, it falls to the ground. Obviously, that’s not good – neither for the person nor for the relationship.
In psychology, this phenomenon is called “relationship contingent self-esteem,” and according to these researchers, people who decide to commit to someone to such an extent also risk being devastated when something goes wrong, even a small conflict or a perfectly normal disagreement between two people who, although they love each other, are still two different individuals.
This means that the wrong type of commitment, especially taken to the extreme of subordinating our value to it, can end up undermining the bond of a couple, in addition to shattering the self-esteem of the person who has tied their self-esteem to that relationship.
When self-esteem depends on the relationship
The problem with this type of commitment is that the person defines his self-image according to how his partner values or treats him, in such a way that his self-esteem fluctuates according to the love, approval or affection he receives. Obviously, committing to someone to that extent ends up getting us into some very dangerous territory emotionally.
When our worth and self-esteem depend almost exclusively on what our partner thinks or how well the relationship is going, we become extremely vulnerable and more prone to emotional instability. As a result, a no-offend criticism, minor argument, or divergence of opinion can plunge us into utter despair, causing great emotional distress.
In fact, these researchers found that overcommitted people with contingent self-esteem felt worse about themselves during negative times in their relationships. It’s like they don’t care what caused the problem or who was responsible, they just feel extremely bad about themselves and blame themselves for what happened. This pattern of reaction makes them very vulnerable to any negative circumstance in the relationship, which increases the risk of suffering from anxiety and depression or reacting with hostility, making the conflict even worse.
Linking self-esteem to the relationship of a couple can also end up generating an emotional dependency. That person is likely to be willing to sacrifice his own identity and well-being just to maintain the affective bond. Overcommitment can lead him to lose sight of his authentic needs and desires, which can cause frustration and resentment. In addition, in the long term, this excess of commitment is likely to end up damaging the relationship itself, since the other person will feel suffocated by the affective responsibility that the other transfers to him.
Yes to commitment, but good and in its fair measure
It should be noted that this study does not advocate a lack of commitment. When there is no commitment in a relationship, it will be unstable. When uncertainty appears, security fails and there is no trust, the relationship generates discomfort and dissatisfaction. A relationship without commitment will hardly be able to overcome the challenges that life will throw at it. However, when committing to someone, you have to do it in a healthy way.
Commitment implies taking care of the other, respecting him and showing a willingness to support and take care of him, but it also implies renegotiating the needs of both so that the relationship really allows us to develop and be better every day. We must avoid the mistake of identifying with the couple relationship because we are much more than that. Therefore, our worth does not depend on the other, but on ourselves. When we bring self-esteem to the relationship, it flourishes. When we feed our self-esteem of the relationship, it withers.
Knee, C. R. et. Al. (2008) Relationship-contingent self-esteem and the ups and downs of romantic relationships. J Pers Soc Psychol; 95(3):608-27.