Too much commitment to a relationship can be surprisingly toxic, research shows.
While relationship commitment is usually thought of as a good thing, excessive commitment can be damaging
The reason is that being too committed can lead to small things getting blown out of proportion — it can even lead to depression and anxiety.
It comes about when a person invests too much of their self-esteem in their relationship.
In other words, they believe their own self-worth is controlled by how well their relationship is going.
This is bad for the person and the relationship.
Psychologists term this high ‘relationship-contingent self-esteem’ (RCSE)
Professor Raymond Knee, the study’s first author, said:
“Individuals with high levels of RCSE are very committed to their relationships, but they also find themselves at risk to become devastated when something goes wrong — even a relatively minor event.
An overwhelming amount of the wrong kind of commitment can actually undermine a relationship.”
In the key study, 198 people recorded the ups and downs of their romantic relationships in a diary for two weeks.
Professor Knee explained the results:
“What we found with this particular study was that people with higher levels of RCSE felt worse about themselves during negative moments in their relationships.
It’s as if it doesn’t matter why the negative occurrence happens or who was at fault.
The partners with stronger RCSE still feel badly about themselves.”
People whose self-esteem is invested too much in the relationship react very emotionally to problems.
Professor Knee said:
“When something happens in a relationship, these individuals don’t separate themselves from it.
They immediately feel personally connected to any negative circumstance in a relationship and become anxious, more depressed and hostile.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Knee et al., 2008).