By Liz Higgins, LMFTA
The word “marriage” has a negative connotation for many people. One contributing factor to this is the high divorce rate among baby boomers, impacting the way millennials view the institution of marriage as a whole. There’s also the movement away from the more traditional practice of marrying for religious reasons, financial concerns with the cost of getting married, and simply not wanting to give up an independent, single lifestyle.
The average age for first marriages is now 27 for women and 29 for men, compared to 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960. Interestingly, more couples than ever are moving in together before (or in lieu of) getting married.
As a result, many couples now find themselves in a sea of uncertainty when it comes to tying the knot. Should we wait? If so, for how long? Should we even get married?
If you find yourself sitting on the other side of the fence than your partner, know that you’re not alone. Here are a few things to consider to help you navigate the situation when you’re ready to tie the knot and your partner isn’t.
Define what marriage means to you
The definition of marriage is changing in our world today. In earlier generations, couples married for logistical reasons such as property ownership or social status and hoped love was somewhere in the mix. Couples today are looking for their soul mate. They seek marriage for lifelong friendship, pleasure, and connection.
What does marriage mean to you? What does it mean to your partner? Do you know?
The key here is not to let your anxieties about what your partner may say deter you from having a conversation that could allow both of you to understand each other better. Turning towards your partner in this conversation will help to strengthen your relationship as a couple whether you decide to get married or not.
Define why marriage is important to you
Why is marriage important to you? You can focus on why your partner might not be ready, but I’ve found it incredibly helpful to get clear first on my own dreams and goals.
If you want to get married because you’re afraid of being alone for the rest of your life, you may want to reconsider if you are taking this big step for the right reasons.
If you want to get married because you’re worried your partner isn’t fully invested and marriage would prove their commitment to you, you may want to reconsider your motives.
The goal of marriage shouldn’t be to change your partner, but rather to deepen your relationship by acknowledging your commitment. If you can articulate openly the reasons why marriage feels like the right next step to you, your partner will be much more likely to listen.
Ask open-ended questions
The conversation about marriage is one worth having, especially if you have different views. Don’t let your assumptions get in the way of hindering a talk that could bring both of you closer, or give you critical information you need to know to determine the next steps together.
“I’m just not ready” is a start, but seek to understand the real reasons behind your partner’s hesitancy. Why are they not ready? Is it because of finances? Is it because their parent’s marriage failed and there are some underlying hurts there? Is it because you haven’t been together long enough?
The 52 Questions for Marriage or Moving In Card Deck can help you get the conversation started. If you can ask open-ended questions and put your defensiveness and criticism aside, your partner will feel safe in having a space to explore these questions openly and honestly with you.
Don’t compromise your values
I don’t mean break up with your partner if they aren’t ready to get married right now. There is a growing mentality in today’s culture to leave if something isn’t working, including a relationship.
Flexibility can go a long way in a partnership. Identify what you are willing to be flexible on, and what feels like a non-negotiable.
In my work with couples, I’ve seen partners make compromises without betraying their values. For example, committing to wait six months to revisit the idea of marriage does not mean you are giving up your dream to be married.