I see a lot of people in early adulthood and one topic that frequently comes up is about moving forward in relationships. In these times of living together and long-term dating, the idea of marriage can seem outdated, scary or unnecessary to some people and they put off making any permanent plans for the future of the relationship. This is fine if both partners agree but often one partner wants to get married while the other does not. When that occurs, one partner usually believes the other (the one who doesn’t want to get married) holds all the cards and, as such, feels powerless in the relationship.
While that may seem true initially, that does not need to be the case forever. In these situations the first thing I recommend is to talk with each other. Both people need to engage in a calm, serious discussion about the reasons behind the fear or dislike of marriage. Oftentimes people who have a fear of marriage have poor marital role models or have had negative experiences with marriage. People who grew up in a divorced family may not want to repeat that dynamic. Similarly, kids whose parents were very unhappily married may not know that a strong, satisfying marriage is possible.
Other reasons for anxiety about marriage could be the fear of additional life transitions, like having children, or not knowing what to expect from the daily reality of marriage. There may be the concern that the blending of the lives, money and future of two people seems overwhelming or there could be anxiety about the effect moving or your new careers will have on the relationship. Whatever the reasons for the marital hesitancy, it is important that the couple gets to the root of them and discuss specifics. That is the only way to address them.
However, many people struggle with such difficult conversations. When this is the case, I always suggest finding a good couples counselor. Couples counselors are trained to lower the emotionality on a topic and assist in brainstorming possible solutions. If nothing else, couples counseling may help uncover whether or not they are on the same page.
Once the conversation has occurred, then whether the desires of the partners are reasonable should be evaluated. If they have been dating only a few months, then marriage seems a bit premature. However, if the two have been together for several years, then getting engaged sounds practical. If so, then the partner who wants to get married should give the other a realistic deadline and say that a marriage needs to occur by a specific date or s/he will be forced to move on without the other. That way they can take back some control over this process. Of course, the partner needs to be prepared to follow through with the break up if the other is still unwilling to move forward. If that does occur, you’ll know that you made the right decision because, as painful as it may be to live without your current partner, the two of you didn’t want the same things.