It’s a story that’s all too familiar these days: a couple meets, fall in love, the date for a while, start to blend their lives together – and then it turns out that one of them doesn’t want to get married.
If that’s your story, what should you do if you want to get married and your partner doesn’t want to get married?
There are many different ways to reach this impasse.
For example, some couples might encounter this roadblock and find that one person never wants to get married, while other couples might encounter a similar problem, but realize that a person is just reluctant to get married, even though they are open to doing so in some time in the future.
Or maybe one person has a very specific idea of what marriage should be like, while the other person sees things entirely differently.
Whatever the case, I spoke with a group of excellent relationship experts about what to do if the going gets tough.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re on that boat.
1. Have an honest conversation
“Communication can clear up a lot of confusion,” says clinical hypnotherapist, author, and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational training for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York.
“Ask your partner if he is opposed to the concept of marriage or legal act.
Certainly, marriage can end up looking more like a business transaction than a celebration of love.
However, there are many ways to formally express your love for each other.”
If your partner is open to long-term commitments but hates the legal part of marriage, discuss rituals with him.
“Rituals are an essential part of human interaction,” she says.
“They bring the ephemeral and astral aspects of love into the physical plane.
In effect, they marry both worlds.”
You will be able to share a ritual that cements your commitment without legally marrying.
“By sharing both of your views in a supportive and non-judgmental way, the two of you can reach a compromise that will allow you to honor your relationship in a formal way.”
If this is acceptable to both of you, congratulations: You’ve found a solution.
2. Trust your partner’s needs
“Participate in the radical idea that your partner is right: that marriage, now or forever, may not be ideal for both of you,” says Michele Paiva, psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist.
“The radical notion that they know what’s best for them at the moment.” While it may be painful for you, it is wise to let your partner have their own needs without worrying.
Paiva points out that “it’s rare to have someone sincere who doesn’t just go with the flow, sacrificing their own self-esteem”.
If your partner is honoring you for being honest, listen.
“If you feel like marriage is what you need, you may need to decipher: is it marriage or is this the person you want?” she says.
If you absolutely need to get married, and this person is very biased against it, and you’re more about the marriage than the relationship, then obviously you have your answer.
“If you could break up with that person in hopes of meeting someone else and getting married, then know that it’s not worth waiting for that person or coexisting with that person,” she says.
“Alright, you’re honoring authenticity. A good marriage is built on mutual commitment, not obligation or guilt.”
And if you’re okay with just being with your partner and taking the wedding off the table, do that – but without reservations or in the background expect things to change.
3. Find out what marriage means to you
“Why do you want that?
And find out from your partner why he doesn’t want to,” says Janet Zinn, a couples therapist.
“Often, you want the same things but in a different package. Sometimes we marry 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 feels impersonal – something for others and not for the couple.”
Whatever the case, start your conversation with your partner by really understanding both points of view.
“It’s really important to explore a deeper understanding of what marriage means to the two of you,” says Zinn.
“At best, it will create a more intimate relationship.”
If not, at least you’ll come to “get to know yourself better,” she says.
“And if you don’t share the same values, that’s important, so you can move on .”
4. Ask yourself why you want to get married
“I think the first and most important question for yourself is: why do you want to get married?
Why is this important to you?” Says psychologist Nicole Martinez.
“Besides the ceremony and the piece of paper, are you happy as a couple, want to be together, and don’t see any likelihood or reason to break up anytime soon?
Is that what’s ingrained in you by society or your family and something that doesn’t really matter that much to you, if you’re being honest?”
In other words, if you want marriage and your partner doesn’t, and you’re thinking about throwing away an amazing relationship because of this conflict, make sure you really want marriage.
“If you have a happy relationship, a loving partner, and someone who says he only sees being with you, you might want to reconsider.
If he’s trustworthy, you need to decide if it’s worth ending things to adapt.”
In this case, this is entirely legit – but remember to think seriously first.
5. Explore what marriage really means
“Talk about what marriage means to the two of you,” says relationship coach Kali Rogers.
“Marriage is not as simple as ‘two people committing’ in many people’s eyes.”
Your partner may see marriage one way and you may see marriage in a completely different light.
“Some people see marriage as a sign that they have achieved financial success in life,” says Rogers.
“Others see it as a ceremony that prepares you to start a family.
People place different values and expectations, and it’s important to understand each other’s perspectives when it comes to opinions about marriage.
Having that conversation could open some doors in the future.”
At the very least, it will clarify some important things for you – and, perhaps, for your partner.
6. Reassess your needs
“When you and your partner no longer have the same relationship goals, it’s an opportunity to reevaluate,” says April Masini, relationship expert, and author.
“Sometimes you keep a goal from childhood and forget to analyze it over the years.
It may no longer work for you.
Life is fluid and it’s great to give yourself a blueprint for you to steer towards, but it shouldn’t be set in stone.”
If you’ve always dreamed of a fairytale wedding, but your partner promises never to marry, ask yourself how important it is at this point in your life.
“Life happens, whether it’s a change or a broken heart, a death, a job loss, an accident – there are many ways our plans are veered off course,” says Masini.
“If your partner doesn’t want to get married and you do, you have the opportunity to take a break and reconsider your own wants and needs.”
If you reevaluate and find that you are still as committed to your wants and needs as you ever were, feel free to move on.
But you don’t have to.
“You can try to find someone more compatible with what you want in life — or you can decide that that person and the relationship you have is more important than your goal and readjust it,” she says.
Advantageous for both parties, more or less.
7. Do couples therapy
“Go to couples therapy to discuss whether the relationship is worth saving,” says psychologist, image consultant, and dating expert Dr. Jennifer Rhodes.
“Marriage means different things to different people, and in today’s world many of us assume that everyone has the same definition of marriage.”
While it’s best to look at these types of issues early in your relationship, it’s never too late to talk.
“It’s wise to explore this topic early on, but if you end up at a real point of conflict, exploring all options with a professional will help both parties make good decisions,” she says.
From there, you can figure out which option works best for both of you.
8. Understand your partner’s origin – and move on
“The fear of commitment is really the fear of loss,” says Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Together.
“Making a commitment means taking the risk of not working out.
Some people, who may have been hurt or rejected before, “protect themselves” by walking away and not making a serious commitment.
It doesn’t really protect them from anything, it just avoids being satisfied in a relationship.
Others don’t commit because that relationship isn’t ‘perfect’ enough – another excuse to avoid taking responsibility for the commitment.”
As Tessina puts it, “the only way to get a phobic commitment partner to commit is to leave.”
While it’s never good to leave the relationship in hopes of getting someone to want to marry you, “if he or she already has you, there’s no reason to want to marry,” she says.
“If you don’t go out, you’re making it easier for your partner to stay.
You take a risk because even after you leave, your ex may not come to ask for a commitment.
In that case, you’ll discover what you probably should already know: there’s not enough love for him to commit to you.”
You’ll be better off alone or with someone else if that’s the case.
9. Weigh your happiness
“It all comes down to happiness: will you be happy not to get married or do you want your wedding day and happily ever after?” says relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver.
“If you can’t imagine not having your fairytale wedding with all the trimmings – big dress, cake, honeymoon – and can’t give up on a future growing old along with your love, it’s time to have one last conversation with your partner.
Explain your views on the importance of making your relationship legal and permanent.
If your partner won’t budge and still refuses to consider the idea of marriage, you must decide what you will do: stay and let the resentment grow, or go find someone else.”
Well, when you put it that way, it seems pretty clear.
“If you decide that your partner is the only one making you happy and you can’t live without them, you’re likely to stay with them, regardless of whether you get married or not,” adds Carver.
“It’s important to accept that you’re not getting married and ensure your comfort level in that relationship.”
Ask yourself a few questions about this, such as: “Does your partner make you feel safe without this legal certificate?
Would your happiness continue to grow with this person?
If this is answered in the affirmative, and you want to be with him and are willing to give up your dream of marriage, that’s fine.
“If your partner doesn’t want to get married and you do, you shouldn’t necessarily leave,” says Shlomo Slatkin, who founded the Marriage Restoration Project with his wife, Rivka.
“Sometimes a partner feels pressured and is reluctant to commit.”
Time can change that, he says, although it is unwise to hold out for long.
“While you probably don’t want to wait forever, if you get help in your relationship and work on creating a safer, deeper connection, as well as becoming more mindful, you might be able to bridge the gap and really see things change.”
If not, at least you know you tried.
11. Be honest
“If your partner doesn’t want to get married and you do, you need to have a very direct conversation with him to find out if he doesn’t want to get married now – or ever,” says Samantha Daniels, a professional matchmaker and founder of dating app The Dating Lounge.
“If it’s ‘now’, you need to decide how long you’re willing to wait – and if it’s ‘never’, you need to decide if you can actually be happy in a long-term relationship that doesn’t result in marriage.”
It’s all about you, in other words.
“The main thing here is being true to yourself and what you can be truly happy with,” she says.
The rest will fall into place.