“I just can’t give anymore, James,” she told me. “I don’t know what to do.”
Marissa had come to me with a request. She wanted to get married.
She and her guy had been together for eight years. They had two kids together. Marissa was in her forties, and she felt that it was time for her kids to see their mom and dad married.
But the more she tried to push her partner on the subject, the more he pushed back on her.
“It makes things worse if I talk about it,” she told me. “He says that I don’t appreciate what we have together. But I do! I just think it will be better for our kids.”
“And better for you?” I asked.
Marissa had been pouring her energy into making their family life perfect. She believed that if she showed him how devoted she was to him and their life together, he would wake up to the idea that he never wanted to lose her.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t working.
She was giving and giving and giving…
And nothing had changed at all.
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Why It’s So Hard to Talk About Marriage
When women are in this situation, I often find that they don’t really know why their partners don’t want to get married.
He clams up when marriage is mentioned, and their subtle hints don’t work.
In Marissa’s case, the topic of marriage had become a sore spot.
Every time she brought it up, her guy acted like she was saying he wasn’t committed to their family or wasn’t doing enough in the relationship.
His response made her feel even more rejected.
She had a secret fear that he didn’t think she was “good enough” to marry. His refusal to discuss it reinforced that fear.
I sensed that both Marissa and her partner were deeply committed to their relationship.
The question was, what could break through their impasse and get them on the same side?
Where His Views on Marriage Come From
It can help to know that your partner’s desire to marry (or not) has less to do with you than you think.
Men begin developing beliefs about marriage in childhood.
They see how their parents relate to reach other. They see how their friends’ parents act. They see how marriage is featured in popular culture.
By the time they’re young men, they’ve developed a point of view about marriage that’s remarkably enduring.
Young men who believe that marriage is “essential” or “important” to living a fulfilling life are more likely to marry.
But more and more young people don’t include marriage on their adulthood checklist.
Only 16% of men and 17% of women consider marriage essential.
They’re more likely to agree that having a committed, romantic relationship is important.
If you don’t know what your guy thinks about marriage in general, separate from how he feels about you, then you’re missing an important piece of the puzzle.
Put On Your Detective Hat
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get him talking about what he thinks about marriage.
Does he think marriage is a good thing or a bad thing? Does he envy married couples or pity them?
What would be a good reason to get married? What would be a bad reason?
Does he think marriage changes people? Does he think marriage changes a relationship?
What does he believe about the institution of marriage? What does he think about the religious aspect of marriage?
What did he learn from his parents about marriage? What did they do right, and what did they do wrong?
The easiest way to get him talking about these questions is to bring up the topic of a couple you know that’s getting engaged or has just been married.
You can also watch a film that provokes discussion, such as “Marriage Story” (2019), “Blue Valentine” (2010), or “Scenes from a Marriage” (1974).
Marriage As a Goal, Not a Symbol
One of the reasons that conversations about marriage fail is because of differences in what marriage means to us.
You may see marriage as the ultimate proof of his love for you, while he feels that being married has nothing to do with how he feels.
For him, marriage is a practical goal, on par with buying his first house.
Understanding how he sees marriage and talking in “his language” can help you uncover the practical obstacles standing in the way.
Does he feel that he needs to be further ahead in his career first? Is he worried about divorce? Is he worried about the cost? What would need to be in place for marriage to feel like a realistic option for him?
This shift proved to be the key that unlocked Marissa’s impasse with her partner.
Her guy had practical concerns about getting married. He felt that Marissa wasn’t being realistic.
Once Marissa let go of the idea that if he truly loved her he’d marry her, she could discuss the financial and legal concerns he had.
Marriage doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. It pays to find out what it means for your guy.
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