We can’t date forever. At least that’s what I told my now husband on year five of our dating relationship. I was sure he was the one, I felt ready, and I knew he loved me back, so why not move ahead?
Meanwhile, my husband was enjoying our dating relationship, felt no urge to get married right then, and only looked at me blankly when I tried to describe my feelings about the situation.
So, I did the thing that I never should have done.
Without even really realizing it, I responded with pressure. I felt that I wasn’t being understood and that it was my job to convince him that it was important to get married right now. I said things like, “Don’t you love me?” and “Look at Tom and Susie’s wedding pictures; don’t they look so happy?” and “I’m not going to stick around in limbo, you know.” Eventually, our conversations became completely consumed by the marriage question.
I knew I had made a big mistake when one day he turned to me and said, “I’m not sure you would even care who you were going to marry as long as you were getting married.”
My pressure project had backfired. Instead of convincing him to get married, I had only convinced him that I cared more about marriage than about him. And by doing so, I made him into an object of judgment and comparison.
We did get married eventually. But it didn’t happen as a result of pressure. It took a long time to arrive at a happy conclusion. But here are some things that I learned through my experience and through many friends who have shared this struggle.
01. Forget about how it is ‘supposed to be.’
If you’re like me, you always imagined being chased to the altar and someone having to convince you to get married. After all, if a guy’s in love, he should stop at nothing, right? When our relationship hit a plateau and my husband seemed to be perfectly content with the status quo, I became discouraged, thinking, “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” Then, when my husband started feeling the pressure I put on him, he began to get discouraged for the same reason. He thought something was wrong because he should have felt as ready as I did if we were really meant to be.
Looking back, I realize that the way it was “supposed to feel” was just coming from watching movies and other couples. In reality, marriage is a huge decision. Huge. And like all huge decisions, it should be made with thorough deliberation and sound judgment. So be thankful for your disagreement, it means both of you are taking the question seriously.
02. It’s important to understand his perspective.
There are many reasons why your man might be dragging his feet, but often it just comes down to the fact that women typically feel ready for marriage before most men. “Historically men have been more eager to marry when they’re financially secure, and women have wanted to marry when they wanted children,” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and renowned love researcher, tells Forbes.
As John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus, explains it, “He first needs to feel like he knows what he’s doing in the world and where he’s going; women are more concerned about who they’re going with.” Men typically like to feel financially secure and feel as though they have a firm footing on a career path before they take the plunge. Women, on the other hand, typically don’t care as much about the circumstances as they do about spending their lives with the other person.
Understanding that he’s coming from a different place will help you have a conversation that brings you closer to a compromise.
03. Your hints may not be so harmless.
It might seem innocent and harmless to leave a wedding magazine open on the counter or gush over your sister’s engagement ring or send your man articles showing the benefits of marriage. After all, you want to make sure he’s thinking about it, right?
What you don’t realize is that it’s far from innocent and harmless. In his book, Gray explains that one of the best ways to build up resistance in a guy is to continually give him indirect requests through seemingly off-hand but intentional comments. "Indirect requests make a man feel taken for granted and unappreciated," he writes.
Every time I would drop a hint or make a comparison, my husband read it as me telling him that he wasn’t good enough because he couldn’t give me what I wanted. You only have to take a quick look at these marriage ultimatum horror stories to know that the last thing you want to do for your relationship is to make your man feel trapped. If you have something to say, be direct. He’s no dummy and your subtle pressure isn’t so subtle. Think about it, would you rather have a guy marry you because he thinks he feels backed into a corner or because he’s convinced that you’re the best choice?
04. Affirmation is the best kind of encouragement.
My marriage conversations with my now-husband started taking a turn for the better when I became brave enough to give him the space to come to a decision on his own.
In Gray’s book, he explains that, “When a man doesn't feel he is making a positive difference in someone else's life, it is hard for him to continue caring about his life and relationships. It is difficult to be motivated when he is not needed.”
The truth is, by pressuring my husband while we were dating, I was essentially telling him that he was the roadblock preventing me from finding happiness. I was demanding something that he felt unable to give and that crushed his motivation in our relationship. When I started accepting him for who he was, appreciating his contribution to our relationship, and not demanding that he change, he started to feel motivated to build a plan and a path for our lives together.
05. Your feelings are valid, too.
Finally, just because you aren’t resorting to pressure, doesn’t mean you need to stifle your desire for marriage or settle for years of waiting. Wanting to get married is a good thing; it’s a natural consequence of mature love and self-giving. So in the same way that it’s important for you to try to understand your boyfriend’s desires, it’s also important that he understands your desires and does his best to help you feel confident that he is taking your relationship seriously. Gray says that listening to understand is one of the best ways a guy can make a women feel emotionally fulfilled, even if no immediate solution is offered.
Don’t be afraid of bringing marriage into your conversation and be as direct as possible. Tell him, “I don’t want to pressure you, but marriage is important to me and I want to know that you’re thinking about it too.” When I stopped pressuring my husband, I didn’t start ignoring my feelings. I didn’t give him an ultimatum, or a deadline or try to force him into action. I did tell him that I was counting on him and trusting him to take this decision seriously.
It was scary to let go and let my husband discern marriage on his own, because it meant that he could choose something else and I would have no firm deadline in sight. But it was also liberating because I knew that everything he did was because he wanted to. And when he finally did propose, I never doubted his sincerity for a second because pressure had nothing to do with it.
Photo Credit: Jordan Voth