Getting engaged is an exciting milestone no matter how long you and your partner have been together. But it's important to remember that the engagement is about so much more than a shiny diamond ring, seeing your partner get down on one knee, posting the big news on social media, and planning a wedding. "People think that engagement means marriage, but what it really means is that the person's intentions are to marry you," says Dawn Michael, Ph.D., a certified sexuality counselor, clinical sexologist, and author. "Marriage should be a big step, and only after a commitment to marry that person and live with them can a couple know for sure that they are compatible with the other person." So before you fast-track your wedding planning and hightail it to the altar, read these eight very real reasons to slow your roll.
You've dated for years and want a quick engagement.
Even if you've been together for a few years, your lives are not fully fused until you've moved in together and have truly tested the waters. In fact, Dr. Michael shares that if you don't live together already, moving in together after getting engaged can give a couple the chance to "play house," which can serve as a trial period for what marriage will be like. That means you should throw that "quick engagement" idea out the window. "Once engaged this is the time to see if the two of you will make it as a married couple or not," she says. "If more people spent time engaged for a longer period of time instead of rushing into marriage, there would be less divorce."
You haven't had time to get to know your fiancée's friends and family.
Because the early part of your relationship has been all about you and your significant other, learning about each other, and falling deeper in love, you may have not fully considered that you are marrying into a fully-formed community of family and friends. "For many reasons, some friends don't make the transition from friends you have when you are single to friends you have when you are married," says Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor based in Chicago. "Yet, family is family and, for the most part, they're not going anywhere." Some questions to ask yourself: Do you know them? Get along with them? Do they get along with you? Can you find a way of caring for your S.O.'s family in a loving and supportive way? Can your S.O. do that for you? "These relationships take time to develop and are a very good reason to slow down."
You're afraid of being alone and never meeting anyone.
Fearing that if you don't find someone now, or before a certain age, your luck will run out and you'll end up alone, is a driving force that pushes many individuals to marry. "The resentment and anger starts to build up and the individual realizes he or she may have settled or rushed into marriage too soon," says Lisa Bahar, L.M.F.T. and L.P.C.C., of Marriage and Family Therapy, Inc. "This is a set up for the 'grass is greener' mentality." If you're afraid of being alone, Bahar suggests exploring your history of abandonment, either with a professional counselor or on your own, and discover how to be at peace with yourself.
You don't fully know who you are as individuals.
Especially when you've been together for many years, or even decades, you may have experienced your most important years of personal growth side by side. There's nothing wrong with this if you've been able to grow individually, in addition to growing together as a couple. "Marriage requires one to know him or herself, in order to nurture the relationship," explains Bahar. "Many times, the two soon-to-bes are not clear about who they are and need more time to get to know themselves on an individual level." Take the time to dig a little deeper and gain a better understanding of your wants, desires, values, and what you stand for.
You are in lust versus in healthy, caring love.
Feeling butterflies is beautiful, but it's fleeting. Once you truly get to know another person, you won't always feel over-the-moon, on-cloud-nine happy about spending every waking second with him or her. It's normal and healthy, experts say. It's what real love and marriage is built upon—learning how to live and love someone over time. "Confusing lust with love is a setup for rejection, as when reality sets in, you may realize the individual is not who you thought or, perhaps, expected him or her to be," explains Bahar. "Learn about lust, sex, and love addiction, read and understand, or perhaps even attend a love addiction or sex addiction meeting."
You can't wait to plan your dream wedding
If you and your fiancé(e) check off all the boxes of a good and healthy marriage, plan away, as they say. But if there's any chance that your intense desire to plan for the wedding of your dreams overshadows your true desire to spend the rest of your life with this person, you may want to rethink your priorities. "I've worked with many couples who have spent months planning every detail of their wedding and not more than two minutes discussing and creating a vision for what they would like their marriage to be like," says Derichs. "In the rush, couples can overlook why it is they want to get married and what kind of relationship they'd like to create." She often asks couples, "How would you like your friends to describe your future marital relationship?" "If couples aren't able to describe what they want in fairly good detail, it's time to slow down and do some work on the relationship and not the wedding."
You hope marriage will solve issues in your relationship.
Any therapist or person who's been married before will tell you to stop and slow down, Sally. Few, if any, problems are solved by getting married, just like few, if any, marital problems are solved when a couple has children. Marriage comes with responsibilities and responsibilities come with stress. In other words, marriage will likely make your relationship slightly more challenging if anything—after all, you have a legal document binding you together. "When couples get married, they're creating something larger than themselves as individuals," explains Derichs. "That is the relationship they create together, which requires learning how to negotiate, not demand, and compromise, not give in."
You expect marriage to be like a Hollywood movie.
Marriage is a big commitment, which is easy to get into yet very painful and difficult to get out of, says Derichs. "Couples have such high expectations of what marriage can provide for them: a companion, a passionate lover, a friend, a co-parent, a soul mate, a constant supporter, a therapist, a cook, cleaner, social secretary, a confidant, a listener, a sounding board, financial security." But, are all of those expectations realistic? Sustainable? The short answer is that some are and some are not. "The key here is knowing what is realistic to expect or require out of marriage and this takes time and often the hard work of counseling to figure out."