When you’re at a point in life where you’re ready to take the next step with your significant other, and that may mean you’re ready to get married, it’s a hard hit to hear that your partner isn’t equally ready. But despite the fact that it might feel like the ultimate rejection from someone you love dearly, relationship experts agree that it’s not always a bad sign. “There is no perfect trajectory for a relationship,” explains Ili Rivera Walter, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of CityCouples online therapy. In fact, she says that this difference in readiness can actually be a good thing—even an invitation to explore each other’s goals, relationship vision and apprehensions.
There are several reasons for why one partner might be ready to get married and the other is still lagging behind. It may be that your partner is committed to you and your relationship, however he or she is simply not ready to get engaged due to the meaning that they attach to this type of commitment, Walter explains. “It’s also possible that your partner is not as committed as you and may need more time to think through things.” If this is the case, she warns that the differences in your relationship desires may lead to conflict for a time while you sort through what it means for each of you, and what it means for the relationship.
If you find yourself in this position, where you’re ready to get married but your partner is not—be it yet, or potentially ever—here’s what to do.
Take a step back.
First thing first: Try not to jump to conclusions. It’s natural to feel rejected at learning your partner doesn’t feel the same as you do about getting engaged. “Rejection often causes anxiety, and anxiety can lead to a need to hold on too tight to your partner,” explains Walter. She suggests using this time to think through your feelings rather than try to convince your partner to get engaged. While you’re at it, be honest with yourself. “Self-reflect about your reasons for wanting to get engaged, as well as your reasons for wanting to get engaged (and married) to this person,” she says. “Oftentimes, pursuing engagement, and marriage, can be influenced more by social pressure than by love for a partner.” Make sure that your desire for an engagement is truly coming from the right place — and a place where you’ll be happy in the long term.
Communicate with your partner.
Once you’ve had some time to think things through and self-reflect, have a heart-to-heart with your partner. Walter recommends being purposeful and specific in your conversation about why you want to get engaged. “The more personal and intimate your reasons, the clearer your communication will be, and the more your partner will understand your intentions,” she says.
Also, discuss any fears either of you may have, such as no longer seeing friends, losing one’s sense of identity, being trapped in an unhappy marriage, etc. “Make sure you empathize with your partner's concerns and if necessary, can start putting into place some behaviors that can decrease their fears,” says Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love. “For example, maybe they haven't seen their friends in a while, so you can encourage them to see their friends more regularly.”
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner to open up on specific detail about their reasoning as to why they’re not ready to get married. “Perhaps the two of you have different ideas about what engagement means, what you should accomplish before marriage, or about marriage itself,” says Walter. “These differences are common, but, regardless, it’s essential for you to understand their reasons for wanting to wait.”
Seek outside help from a couples' therapist.
Sometimes the conflict over this topic is too complicated and emotions are too high for a couple to navigate in a healthy manner alone, warns Juliana Hauser, Psy.D., marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor based in Lexington, Kentucky. “Hiring a therapist or coach can provide you with an objective opinion and help you navigate the emotional waters while preserving the relationship,” she says. You might also consider using a counseling app like Lasting to create a guided program to help improve your communication and relationship.