In Raj Sharma, a character from the 2008 Bollywood film Bachna Ae Haseeno, we see a (mostly) accurate portrayal of what commitment phobia looks like. We also get to see the intense psychological trauma and emotional damage that it can cause to both partners in a relationship. Played by Ranbir Kapoor, Raj is non-committal and unabashedly so. He exploits women who are head-over-heels in love with him without fully committing to them. How does Raj do it? He throws just enough pity and affection at his partners for them to stay in his life and manages to get all the perks of being a boyfriend without owning up to the responsibilities of being one. Raj gets a rude shock, however, when he falls in love with Gayatri (Deepika Padukone), who is more commitment-phobic than him and rejects his marriage proposal after months of dating.
Rejection cuts deep — Raj comes to terms with his wrongdoings and tries to make amends with his ex-partners. Not every non-committal partner is Raj but we all have someone like Raj in our lives — someone who wouldn’t fully commit to us but wouldn’t let us go either. To someone who hasn’t been in a similar situation, walking away might look easy or even an obvious solution to this problem. However, when someone you’re deeply in love with refuses to commit but continues being in touch with you, it becomes difficult to establish boundaries. Things go for a toss if this partner tries to charm their way back into your life or give you false hope of committing. How does one navigate this situation?
‘Commit now or I’ll walk away’
Some relationship coaches advise giving an ultimatum to the non-committal partner. An ultimatum is essentially a warning asking the partner to commit or else you’ll walk away. However, Dr Rachna Khanna Singh, a relationship and stress management expert at Artemis Hospitals, Gurugram, strongly disagrees with the advice.
“Ultimatums can often feel demeaning and unfair to the person that receives them. It gives the message that there is no room for compromise or discussion, both of which are critical for a successful relationship,” she says. While it is important to convey one’s needs, one must understand their partner’s needs too before giving them ultimatums. Singh emphasises the importance of having a healthy discussion about what both parties want from the relationship and whether a compromise can be worked out.
“There are cases where ultimatums are helpful and effective — these usually include instances where one is physically or emotionally abusive to their partner,” says the relationship coach. It is also important to stick to ultimatums — she adds. “Going back on ultimatums can also often give a signal that the issue at hand was never important enough and that the same mistakes can be repeated.”
Ultimatums might, to an extent, help in establishing boundaries. But what happens when a non-committal partner tries to charm their way back into your life? Should one give in? When that happens you must restate your boundaries to your partner, asks Singh. While it is completely fine to be attracted or charmed by someone you were once in love with, one must try not to act on those instincts and impulses. “It is important to stay cognisant of why one chose to leave in the first place,” she says.
‘I can fix them. They will commit one day’
Spoiler alert: clinical psychologists say they won’t commit. Quite often with non-committal partners, one tries to make their relationship work hoping that their partner will have a change of heart and eventually commit. ‘Staying in such a relationship can be mentally draining. One shouldn’t invest in a partner who doesn’t have the same relationship goals as them,’ says Singh. The needs of a partner will likely be ignored leading to frustration and feelings of neglect. There may be some exceptions to this case though. Your romantic partner might just commit. “But at what cost? “By the time your partner is ready to commit, you might be mentally drained,” notes Singh. One must, therefore, set boundaries and make sure that their partner has the same relationship goals as them.”
‘Still not over my ex’
A lot of advice says that while it is important to draw boundaries with a non-committal partner, one must understand that their fear of commitment might stem from their past trauma. The fear and insecurities might be a result of their past experience(s), many of which likely involve unpleasant memories of their ex-partners. In such situations, one must be empathetic to their partner and give them a safe space to share their feelings, opines Singh. One could also help their partner seek professional help to deal with their past relationship trauma (if any).
“While it’s your partner’s responsibility to manage their trigger, it is also important for you to avoid situations that trigger them.” There is no easy road in a scenario like this. “Some days will be more challenging than others. Sometimes, helping a loved one get over their trauma can take a toll on your mental health too, so it is important to keep boundaries in place,” she concludes.
Deepansh Duggal is an entertainment, pop-culture and trends writer based in New Delhi.