Dear Wendy: “I’m Ready For Marriage, My Boyfriend’s Not”

My boyfriend and I have been together for a couple of years now, and have lived together for a year and a half. We have a very solid and fulfilling relationship. We also bought a house together a little while ago. Everything is great except for one issue: marriage. I feel as if I have given everything I can into our relationship, mentally, physically and emotionally. And now I feel as though I need a commitment to go further. He says that he knows he wants to marry me, has promised, but is not ready. We live as if we are married so I don’t know how he can’t be ready. He says he doesn’t feel an urgency to get married, but I do. I worry that “not ready” means “not with you” although he swears it doesn’t. We’re at a stand-still with this issue and I’m not really sure where to go from here. — Ready For Marriage

This — or some variation of it — is one of the most common issues that floods my in-box. It’s right up there with, “My boyfriend’s a giant a**hole, but I don’t want to lose him!” Fortunately for you, your issue leads to far more positive answers and outcomes. First, you need to ask yourself why you want to get married. Sure, it’s the next logical step after living together (or, some might argue before living together). But beyond that, beyond any desire you might have to label yourselves in a way that makes sense to other people, to society, why do you want to get married? How do you think it will change or enhance your relationship? What benefits do you think it will allow you that you don’t enjoy now? Finally, when you imagine yourself married to your boyfriend, what does that marriage look like? In 10 years? In 15 years? In 20?

Once you’re able to articulate for yourself why marriage is so important, and where you see it leading you in the future, share your thoughts with your boyfriend. He may be afraid of marriage because it’s a vast unknown to him. Perhaps he has parents who divorced or live an unhappy marriage. Maybe he’s seen friends end up in bad marriages and he doesn’t want to risk a similar fate for himself. But if he can get some idea from you that you share the same vision, that you want the same things — if, in fact, you do — and that your desire for marriage isn’t to change what you have but to enhance it, the concept of marriage may become less abstract for him, and, therefore, less scary.

Once you’ve given your reasons for wanting marriage, ask what his are for delaying it. “I’m not ready” isn’t an answer. Find out what it actually is he thinks he’s not ready for. He was ready to move in with you; he was ready to buy a house with you. What is it about the next step that scares him so much? What is it that he thinks is going to happen once you tie the knot? Maybe it’s as simple as him not having enough money saved to buy an engagement ring. Perhaps he’s afraid your sex life will change. Maybe he isn’t ready for kids yet and he’s afraid you’ll want them as soon as you’re married. Who knows! The important thing is that you open the lines of communication and find out what the other is thinking and feeling. Honestly, these are conversations you should have had before moving in together, and certainly before buying a house together, but having them now is better than never having them.

Given that you do own a place together and have a “solid and fulfilling relationship,” I think it’s safe to assume that if your boyfriend imagines a future with anyone, it’s with you. You’ve got to get it out of your head that “not ready” means “not with you.” This may be a case of him already having everything he wants and needs, so why rock the boat? Why change what’s working? If that’s the deal, and even after talking to him about how important marriage is to you, he’s still giving you the run-around, you’re going to have to decide if: A) you’re willing to put off marriage indefinitely, or B) you’re willing to walk away from this relationship if it doesn’t result in marriage by a certain date.

Depending on how you answer those questions, an ultimatum may be in order. Before you issue one, though, I’d recommend relaxing for a while and enjoying where the relationship is right now. You’ve only been together two years anyway. What’s the rush? Give yourself six months before you bring up the topic again. Sometimes guys just need a chance to come up with the idea themselves. Marriage isn’t something one should be pressured into. But it’s also not something you should give up indefinitely if it’s what you really want.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]