Commitment vs. Containment: An Important Distinction

I came across a great meme the other day. It was a picture of multi-colored lock boxes and in overlay it said, “I don’t fear commitment, I fear containment.” As a poly person, I feel this deeply.

When someone accuses me of being a commitment-phobe because I have more than one partner, I argue that polyamorous relationships require a great deal of commitment, not only to each other but to the relationship model. I try to explain that it’s not commitment that I have issues with, but the oppressive restrictions associated with it in the context of monogamy.

The Difference between Commitment and Containment

Commitment Is…


It’s born of a desire to stick things out because you genuinely care for each other. Even if your partner (or partners) drive you crazy sometimes, it hurts to imagine life without them. Sure, staying the course isn’t always easy, but ultimately you know it’s worth it because it’s all about the love.


Kindness and compassion are hallmarks of commitment. If you stay together long enough, mistakes will be made, and support will be needed, both of which require a good amount of patience and understanding. Even when tempers fly, there’s an underlying desire to honor one another.

Read: 4 Expressions of Commitment in Poly Relationships

Beneficial to All Involved

True commitment is multi-directional. It’s not one-sided or selfish, but good for everybody. This is where a lot of poly skeptics get hung up. They think that when more than two people are involved in a committed relationship, one person naturally gets shafted. We know that’s not true because love and commitment are not limited resources.

Containment Is…


You can have commitment without ownership. Poly people know this, but it sure seems to upset some staunch monogamy defenders when you point it out to them. Maybe they feel that without legal or psychological obligations, people wouldn’t stay together for the long haul, but who wants to feel forced into maintaining a relationship?


Monogamous people like knowing they have only one option when it comes to who they engage with romantically. I don’t. As a poly person I know my heart will expand to include new loves as they come along. Why would I deny myself (or future partners) that joy? Why would I allow someone else to dictate the kind of love I am or am not allowed to express?

Read: Struggling with Monogamy in a Poly Relationship


In the end, containment equals control. It’s a fear-based approach to love, and not at all conducive to maintaining healthy, long-term bonds. I blame insecurity and dysfunctional attachment styles for the majority of controlling behaviors, and while they do pop up in poly relationships from time to time, they most often spend their days in the tight, unaired quarters of monogamy.

What do you think? Are commitment and containment two separate things? Can we really have one without the other?

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