While it's nice to be on the exact same page as your partner regarding marriage, it doesn't always happen this way. In fact, most couples are at different degrees of readiness when faced with the decision to make this long-term commitment, explains to Julienne Derichs, L.C.P.C., a licensed clinical professional counselor. "There are many contributing factors when it comes to an individual's 'readiness,'" the pro says. "For instance, a person's age (men and women are marrying later than ever, an average of 27 years old for women and 29 years old for men), whether or not they come from a divorced family, how long they've been dating, whether or not they live together, or potential trauma in their past."
If your partner's on the fence about making it legal, it can feel hurtful, but the pros recommend considering it a good thing at first as this is a sign that he or she is taking the decision seriously. Here's how you should handle this difficult situation, according to relationship experts.
Make sure you're ready for the right reasons.
While you might think you're ready to take the plunge yourself, it's worth digging deeper into your heart to ensure you are entirely sure. Derichs recommends taking some time alone to breathe and write down all the reasons you are ready to marry your boyfriend or girlfriend. "Take a cold hard look. What is on your list? Do you want to get married because you love each other, to solve your problems in the relationship, for security purposes, because everyone else is getting married right now, or because you're tired of being single?" she asks. "Knowing your 'why' will help determine whether or not you're truly ready."
Find out how he or she feels.
Most couples have some kind of conversation about their future within the first year of dating. If you haven't yet, Derichs recommends broaching the subject instead of waiting for your partner to do so. "If your significant other shuts you down, then think about entering into couples counseling or individual counseling to address this decision," she says. "Try not to be discouraged if the first conversations about commitment doesn't go as well as planned, as often multiple conversations on the subject need to be had."
Establish a timeline.
If your partner says he or she is ready to take the next step, come to a compromise about when you plan to make this commitment—in the next year or in the next five years? "The point is not to pressure him into doing something he doesn't want and you should make that clear," says Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., relationship expert and author of Dating from the Inside Out. "But if you're older, it could make you really worried and uncomfortable to wait four years, so you should work together to create a life vision that works for you both."
Be patient, but aware.
If you really want to be married and have been patient throughout your established timeline, but now your partner is still being indecisive, Dr. Sherman says this is the time to consider separating. "It's possible to love someone, but to want different things and not to be able to be great life partners," she says. "It takes inner strength for her to choose to follow her life vision and to be true to herself and to love him but agree that they both need to be on their own path and work in their own development and goals right now."
If you can't seem to come to a healthy conclusion about your future, couple's counseling may help you communicate more effectively. "This can help your partner gain clarity, work through his or her fears, and come to his or her own decision rather than feeling pushed or resenting later on," says Dr. Sherman.