It's a story that is all too familiar in this day and age: A couple meets, falls in love, dates for a while, starts merging their lives — and then it comes out that one of them doesn’t want to get married. If this is your story, what should you do if you want to get married and your partner doesn’t?
There are lots of different ways this one can play out. For example, some couples might hit this bump in the road and find out that one person doesn’t want to get married ever, while other couples might hit a similar problem but realize that one person is just reluctant to marry, though they are open to it at some time in the future. Or maybe one person has a very specific idea of what marriage — and a wedding — should look like, while the other person sees things totally differently. Whatever the case may be, I spoke with a group of excellent relationship experts about just what to do if the going gets tough — and your partner reveals that he or she doesn’t want to get married, even though you do. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re in that boat.
1. Have An Honest Talk
“Communication can clear up a lot of confusion,” clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, tells Bustle. “Ask your partner if he or she opposes the concept of marriage or the legal act. Certainly, marriage can end up feeling more like a business transaction than a celebration of love. However, there are many ways to formally express your love for one another.” If your partner is open to long-term commitment, but hates the legal part of marriage, discuss rituals with them.
“Rituals are an essential part of human interaction,” she says. “They bring the ephemeral and astral aspects of love down to the physical plane. In effect, they marry the two worlds.” You might be able to share a ritual together that cements your commitment without getting legally married.
“Would a commitment ceremony be more acceptable for your beloved?” she asks. “By sharing both your viewpoints in a supportive and nonjudgmental way, you both may be able to arrive at a compromise that will allow you to honor your relationship in a formal way.” If this is acceptable to both of you, congrats: You’ve found a solution.
2. Trust Your Partner’s Needs
"Partake in the radical idea that your partner is correct: That marriage, now or ever, may not be right for them,” zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. “The radical notion that they know what is best for them, in the moment.” Though it may be painful for you, it’s wise to really let your partner have their own needs, without kicking up a fuss.
If your partner knows he or she isn’t ready to get married, the last thing you want is for them to just go along for the ride without listening to what they really need. Paiva points out that it’s “rare to have someone truthful who does not just go with the flow, sacrificing their self-worth.” If your partner is honoring you by being honest, listen.
“If you feel marriage is what you need, you might need to decipher: Is it marriage, or is it this person that you desire?,” she says. If you absolutely positively must get married, and this person is hell-bent against it, and you’re more about the marriage than the relationship, then you obviously have your answer. “If you could leave for the hope of meeting someone and marrying, own that this person is not worth it to you to wait for or coexist with,” she says. “That is fine, it's honoring authenticity. A good marriage is built with mutual commitment, not obligation or guilt.”
And if you’re fine with just being with your partner, and taking marriage off the table, then do that — but without reservations or back-burner hope that things will change.
3. Figure Out What Marriage Means To You
“Why do you want it? And find out from your partner why he or she doesn’t,” Janet Zinn, a New York City–based couples therapist, tells Bustle. “Often, you want the same things, but in a different package. Sometimes we go into marriage because that’s the social construct, and we never ask ourselves if it’s right for us. Some couples want a long-term committed relationship, but for personal reasons, marriage seems impersonal — something for others rather than for the couple.” Whatever the case may be, start your conversation with your partner by really getting to the bottom of both of your standpoints.
“It’s really important to explore the deeper understanding of what marriage means to both of you,” Zinn says. “At best, it will create a more intimate relationship.” If not, at very least, you’ll come to “know yourself better,” she says. “And if you don’t share the same values, that’s important, so that you can move on.”
4. Ask Yourself Why You Want To Be Married
“I think the first and most important thing to ask yourself is — why do you want to be married? Why is that important to you?” psychologist Nicole Martinez tells Bustle. “Besides the ceremony and piece of paper, are you happy as a couple, do you want to be together, and see no likelihood or reason for breaking up anytime soon? Is this what has been ingrained in you by society or your family, and something that does not actually matter to you that much, if you are being honest?” In other words, if you want marriage and your partner doesn’t, and you’re thinking of throwing out an amazing relationship because of this conflict, be sure that you really want marriage.
“If you have a happy relationship, a loving partner, and someone who says they only see being with you, [you may want to reconsider]. If they are trustworthy, you need to decide if it is worth ending things to conform.” If so, that’s totally legit — but be sure to give it some serious thought first.
5. Explore What Marriage Actually Means
“Talk about what marriage means to both of you,” life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. “Marriage isn't as simple as ‘two people committing to each other’ in a lot of people's eyes.” Your partner might see it one way, and you might see it in some completely different light.
“Some people view marriage as a sign that they have made it financially in life,” Rogers says. “Others view it as a ceremony that prepares you for starting a family. People assign different values and expectations, and it's important to be able to understand where each other are coming from when it comes to views on marriage. Having this conversation could open some doors in the future.” At very least, it’ll elucidate some important things for you — and, perhaps, for your partner.
6. Reassess Your Needs
“When you and your partner don’t have the same relationship goals anymore, it’s an opportunity to reassess,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “Sometimes you hold a goal from childhood and forget to analyze it over the years. It may not work for you anymore. Life is fluid and it’s great to give yourself a guiding plan, but it should not be etched in stone.” If you have always dreamed of a fairytale wedding, but your partner vows to never get married, ask yourself how important it is at this point in your life.
“Life happens, whether it’s a change or heart, a death, a job loss, an accident — there are so many ways our plans get thrown off course,” Masini says. “If your partner doesn’t want to get married and you do, you have the opportunity to pause and reconsider your own wants and needs.” If you reassess and find that you’re just as committed to such a commitment as ever, feel free to move on. But you don’t have to.
“You can go and try to find someone more compatible with what you want in life — or, you can decide that this person and the relationship you have is more important than your goal, and readjust it,” she says. Win-win, sort of.
7. Get Thee To Couple’s Therapy
“Go to couple’s therapy to discuss whether the relationship is worth saving,” psychologist, image consultant and dating expert Dr. Jennifer Rhodes tells Bustle. “Marriage means different things to different people, and in today’s world too many of us assume that everyone has the same definition of marriage.” Though it is best to look at these types of issues at the beginning of your relationship, it’s never too late to talk things through.
“It is wise to explore this topic early on, but if you end up in a real point of conflict, exploring every option with a professional will help both parties make good decisions,” she says. From there, you can figure out which option works best for you both.
8. Understand Where Your Partner Is Coming From — And Move On
“Fear of commitment is actually fear of loss,” Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. “Making a commitment means taking the risk that it won't work out. Some people, who may have been hurt or rejected before, ‘protect’ themselves by hanging back and not committing. It doesn't really shield them from anything but being satisfied in a relationship. Others don't commit because this relationship isn't ‘perfect’ enough — another excuse to avoid taking on the responsibility of commitment.”
As Tessina puts it, “The only way to get a commitment-phobic partner to commit is to leave.” Though it’s never good to leave in hopes of getting someone to commit, “As long as he or she gets to be with you, there's no reason to commit,” she says. “If you don't leave, you're making it easy for your partner to stay uncommitted. You will run a risk, because even after you leave, your ex may not come asking for a commitment. In that case, you'll find out what you probably should already know: There's not enough love there for him or her to commit to you.” You’ll be better off alone or with someone else if this is the case.
9. Weigh Your Happiness
“It all comes down to happiness: Will you be happy not being married, or do you want the whole wedding day and happily ever after?” relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. “If you cannot imagine not having your fairytale wedding with all of the trimmings —big dress, cake, honeymoon — and you cannot give up a future of growing old together, then it is time to have one last conversation with your partner. Explain your thoughts on the importance of making your relationship legal and permanent. If your partner does not budge and still refuses to consider the idea of marriage, you have to decide on what you will do: Stay and grow in resentment, or leave to find another.”
Well, when you put it that way, it sounds pretty clear. “If you decide that your partner is the only one to make you happy, and you cannot live without them, then you probably will stay with them regardless of marrying or not,” Carver adds. “It is important to accept that you will not be marrying, and ensure your level of comfort in that relationship.” Ask yourself certain questions about this, such as, “Does your partner make you feel secure without that legal certificate? Would your happiness continue to grow with this person?” If these are answered in the affirmative, and you want to stay together, and you’re OK with giving up your dream of marriage, fine.
10. Wait It Out
“If your partner doesn't want to get married and you do, you should not necessarily leave,” Shlomo Slatkin, who founded the Marriage Restoration Project with his wife, Rivka, tells Bustle. “Sometimes one partner feels pressured and is reluctant to commit.” Time can change this, he says, though it’s not wise to hold out too long. “While you probably don't want to wait around forever, if you get help on your relationship and work to create a safer and deeper connection, as well as become more conscious,” he says. “You may be able to bridge the gap and actually see things shift.” If not, at least you know you tried.
11. Be Blunt
“If your partner doesn’t want to get married and you do, you need to have a very direct conversation with him or her to figure out if he or she doesn’t want to get married right now — or ever,” Samantha Daniels, professional matchmaker and founder of The Dating Lounge dating app, tells Bustle. “If it’s ‘right now,’ you need to decide how long you are willing to wait — and if it’s ‘never,’ you need to decide if you can truly be happy in a long-term relationship that doesn’t result in the marriage.” It’s all on you, in other words.
“The key thing here is to be true to yourself and what you can truly be happy with,” she says. The rest will fall into place.
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