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When & How To Have 'The Talk' About Marriage With Your Boyfriend Or Girlfriend

Photo: Unsplash: Yana Lizunkova
When & How To Have 'The Talk' About Marriage With Your Boyfriend Or Girlfriend
Love

Get it right from the start!

Deciding when to have 'the talk' about marriage in relationships is a big deal. And knowing how to have a conversation about getting engaged and married is something everyone wants to get right.

Once you've progressed through the initial stages of dating and falling in love, and have even had the DTR — i.e., define the relationship —conversation, there are still some important things to talk about with your boyfriend or girlfriend before diving into engagement and wedding plans.

First things first. Before deciding what to talk about with your boyfriend or girlfriend, it's critical that you understand your own core beliefs and feelings about marriage.

In today's culture, people have a lot of ideas and questions about what marriage is and whether it's even necessary. More and more people are living together rather than getting married. Some test the waters by living together with the expectation of marriage down the road, while others believe in an open marriage that allows them to be involved with other people.

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Many people have fears about getting married because they've seen their own parents', friends' or relatives' marriages fail. No one wants to repeat that kind of marital dysfunction.

But if you're like most people, the pull to get married won't go away. For most men and women in our society, marriage is the backbone of how we do life and raise families. It's important that you are on the same page about it with the person you love, as having different feelings about marriage may otherwise cause hurt and confusion in the relationship.

There are no shortcuts here. Do your own work to get crystal clear on your beliefs and feelings about marriage.

Once you've done that and have come to the conclusion that this person is the one for you, it's time to have 'the talk' — or I should say, the first talk, as there are actually two important marriage conversations to be had.

The first conversation is about your feelings regarding marriage in general.

Now that you know how you feel about marriage, it's time to compare notes with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Essentially, you and your partner need to know where you each stand on marriage. You cannot assume that your partner holds the same beliefs and feelings about marriage that you do.

Where you stand on marriage should remain consistent regardless of the relationship you are currently in. The 'what' stays the same, while the 'who' may change.

Talking about marriage doesn't need to be a scary thing. It's not about manipulating your partner into moving the relationship along before they're ready or "locking things down". It's a time to clarify your values about being married.

This conversation should come fairly early in a relationship. Imagine the heartbreak of finding that special someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, only to learn they don't believe in marriage and never intend to get married. When that happens, it's crushing.

Once you're in love it's easy to begin compromising or denying your true feelings or beliefs about marriage in order to stay with that very special someone. You've got to have the first talk before you're too far into the relationship to unwind things if necessary.

The second conversation is about getting married to your current boyfriend or girlfriend in particular.

You've done your own work to understand your beliefs and feelings about marriage. You've had the conversation with your partner about each other's core beliefs and feelings about marriage.

OK, great.

So when's the right time to start talking about getting married to your current boyfriend or girlfriend?

Here are 3 indicators that it's time for 'the talk'.

  • You've put in the time.

It's time to talk about getting married when you've experienced at least four seasons together. I know, when you're in love that may seem like forever, but marriage should be a forever thing.

You want to give the relationship time to settle in. You want to know that your partner is happy being with the friends and family you will be with over the course of a year. You may need more than four seasons for this to happen.

You'll probably be with family during holidays and special events for the rest of your life. You need to meet and spend time with each other's important friends and family and like them.

Remember that when you marry a person, you take on the responsibility of connecting with the same people they connect with.

You'll be spending a lot of years with your spouse, so slow down and get it right from the start.

  • You and your partner can connect emotionally.

It's time to talk about getting married when you know you and your partner connect emotionally.

It is easy to be fooled by the new love's influx of dopamine, which makes you feel the passion of Romeo and Juliet. Remind yourself that this is will wear off after you get married and you're back to your normal, and possibly somewhat boring, selves.

The quality of your emotional connection will make or break your relationship over the long haul. Pay attention to how your partner reacts to you when you are happy or sad. Do they mirror your emotions, or are they as still-faced as Data on Star Trek?

If he or she can’t be emotionally responsive and present to you over the course of your life, you won't feel loved and cared for.

Be especially observant of whether your partner tends to abuse substances or isolate themselves as a way of de-stressing. This is often a sign that they will turn to means other than you when in need of comfort or support.

  • You trust each other

It's time to talk about getting married when you know you can trust your partner completely.

This is the bottom line. Don't compromise here. Trust is everything in a long-term relationship.

If you have any doubt about the capacity your boyfriend or girlfriend has to be faithful to you, stop in your tracks. Couples who get married without a firm foundation of trust often struggle for years after getting married.

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It is best at this point to put any cards on the table that could cause your partner to mistrust you. Disclose whether you've had past sexual indiscretions, made irresponsible money decisions or have struggled with addiction.

You should also let your partner know if you have been abused in the past. Talk about what triggers you, as well as what you require in order to not be triggered, and share whatever it is you are doing or have done to heal from the trauma you experienced.

All of the above will help your partner know who you really are and help prevent the relationship from being rocked by nasty surprises in the future.

Once you've crossed the benchmarks above and feel the time is right to talk about marriage, here's how to have a conversation with your boyfriend or girlfriend about getting engaged.

1. Take the risk of initiating the conversation

If you love the person you're with enough to want to get married, the best things to do is openly state your feelings. It's better to know sooner than later whether or not your partner feels the same way.

Please note that this is not a proposal.

Telling the person you love that you want to marry them simply opens up a new, important discussion. State your desire and qualify it by saying that you are not asking for an immediate answer, but opening a conversation about what you would like the future to hold.

2. Talk about what you each think it would be like when you're married

Let your partner know all the reasons you think being married to you will be wonderful, as well as the reasons you think it will be a challenge.

Of course, if you've been in this relationship for some time, many such challenges may be obvious by now, but it's a good time for a review of sorts.

Get rid of the idealism. This is the time to be brutally honest.

How are you difficult or complicated to live with? What are your sensitivities? What challenges will be involved in living with you? If you really want your partner to love you through better or worse, it’s good to let him or her know what the worst is in advance.

3. Talk about each other's values

Ask each other the following types of questions:

  • What are your spiritual values?
  • Are you frugal or extravagant when it comes to money?
  • Are you an entrepreneur who wants to take the risk of starting a business?
  • Or are you a 9-to-5 person who wants to live on a predictable paycheck?
  • Do you want kids? If so, what is your preferred time frame for starting a family?
  • Do you want one of you to stay home to raise the kids when they are young, or are you committed to a dual career household no matter what?

4. Clarify your relationship boundaries and expectations

Ask each other how each of you feel about having friendships with the opposite sex, as well as about either of you getting involved with a consuming activity, like golf, that will take a great deal of time away from your relationship. What about a consuming career or education path that you both will need to make sacrifices for? What are your views about alcohol use and how much is too much?

You should also be on the same page about how you want to set boundaries with dysfunctional family members as a couple. And, if you are creating a blended family, it is critical to talk about your views on parenting each other's children and co-parenting with each other's ex.

5. Talk about what you each know and believe regarding making love last

There is now a vast trove of scientific research on the science of relationships and lasting love. There are some great resources and books out there from widely respected therapists, such as Dr. Sue Johnson, Dr. Stan Tatkin, Dr. John Gottman, and more.

Starting a marriage without a solid understanding about what makes love last is like deciding to circle the globe with a sailboat with no navigation. You both need to know how to move your relationship in a direction that you want it to go, as well as how to navigate stormy seas when times get tough.

Talk about the resources you each find compelling, or dive into some research on the topic together.

6. Talk openly and honestly about your needs for physical intimacy

It’s easy to be physically intimate before you get married, as our neurochemistry creates a temporary surge of passion. After you get married, however, you are more likely than not to feel less passionate over time.

Talk with your partner about how much you like to be held, and what you think you will or won't need sexually as your relationship matures. How much together time do you think that you'll need? How do you need to be encouraged and made to feel special?

Above all else, marriage is a huge commitment.

So knowing when and how to have a comprehensive talk about marriage with your boyfriend or girlfriend is critically important.

Get clear on your core beliefs and feelings about marriage. Openly and honestly share your beliefs and feelings with each other. Understand the three major indicators that it's time to have "the talk", and don't bypass it. Include all six of the key ingredients explained above in your conversation.

And then go forth and have a great time.

RELATED: The 50 Best Marriage Tips Of All Time (From 50 Marriage Experts)

Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Central California who works with individuals and couples to find and maintain healthy relationship. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love, and together they developed an online learning course based on the science of attachment and healthy relationship.