What to Do If Your Partner Doesn't Want to Get Married

Upset depressed young woman holding wedding ring indoors

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When it comes to relationships, not everyone is the same. Some people want to take things slow and see where they go, while others jump into a relationship with marriage on their minds.

When you are ready to settle down, it is important to have an open and honest conversation with your partner with caring, curiosity, calmness, and respect.

It's natural to feel an intense desire for commitment in your relationship, especially if it involves starting a family path together. However, before taking this step forward towards marriage, take some time to reflect upon what both of you expect out of your partnership.

What Are You Looking For?

Although it might feel like you inherently know that you want to be married, it's important to take a step back and ask yourself what exactly you are looking for. Are you hoping for more security, recognition, acknowledgment of your relationship's importance, or simply the ability to call your partner "my husband" or "my wife"?

Additional questions to consider: What does marriage mean to you? Where did you learn this, and is it a belief that is yours or your family's or societal or religious teachings? What will marriage give to you that you don't already have, and are these things only possible with marriage?

If you're already in a committed relationship and marriage is simply a formality, then your answer could be that you want more security or the traditions that marriage brings (like a wedding, anniversaries, etc.).

Other benefits that marriage brings include:

  • Legal and government benefits, rights, and responsibilities
  • A change in tax status
  • A sense of relationship permanence
  • Enhanced feelings of meaning and purpose, improved sense of self, and a heightened sense of mastery for some

However, it's also important to ask yourself what you are looking for if you are in a less stable relationship. Are you trying to fix the relationship through marriage? Are you trying to please someone else? Do you want to have children and feel that you have to be married to do so?

If you aren't sure exactly what you want, pull out a journal and start writing down your feelings. You might be surprised to learn more about what it is that you want out of marriage. At the very least, this exercise will allow you to communicate your wants more clearly when it comes time to talk to your spouse.

Balance Your Needs

Neither partner should feel obligated to give up their needs to be in the relationship. Figure out what compromises you're willing to make on certain issues.

For example, if marriage isn't something that's a high priority for your partner, but they are still committed to you, they might be willing to compromise and move forward with the marriage. On the other hand, if they are steadfastly opposed to marriage, you may need to consider that the relationship isn't going to work out.

The best part about balancing your needs is the chance to have real conversations about what you each want out of the relationship. Whether or not you resolve the issue of marriage, it should become clear how well suited you are to one another and whether your values and goals align.

If you see yourself heading in different directions at this step, that could be a sign that marriage is not in your future regardless of whether you can agree on what to do.

Process Your Feelings

Use this time to process your feelings rather than try to change or influence your partner. Reflect on what you want in a partner and whether your current partner is the right person for you. Your relationship may not be as strong as it seemed when it began simply because you want different things out of life.

While love and attraction are key ingredients for a good relationship, compatibility in long-term goals is what makes for a long-term relationship that works.

Hear Their Perspective

A marriage is made up of two individuals with different perspectives. If you don't have a conversation about those unique views, they could get in the way when it's time to decide about the big stuff in life.

It may seem like trying to get an answer from someone who isn't ready will only frustrate you both; however, patience could help improve communication to gain more insight into why your partner feels hesitant.

If you can, set your defensiveness aside and listen with an open mind (empathetically without judgment), then your partner will feel like they have space to explore their deepest thoughts safely with you.

Have respect for your partner's freedom of choice and individualism. You may disagree or wish your partner felt differently, but trust that they know what's best for them. If you know that your partner isn't interested in saying, "I do," the last thing you want to do is make them feel like they have to come along for the ride.

Understand Their Fear

Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and co-author of "How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together," advises that fear is often underlying these types of conflicts. She argues that understanding where your partner is coming from is key.

If you decide to commit yourself to one person for life, then that means taking on all risks, including not getting what you want or need at any given time. Commitment helps bridge gaps between differences; it provides safety nets against loneliness and can help grow connections as partners work together towards common goals.

Some people are so afraid of getting hurt again that they put up a barrier to commitment in their lives. They're terrified and reject the idea because it's too hard for them right now, or perhaps ever. Meanwhile, others may find themselves tempted but also fearful about committing. This might be due to past experiences that made them wary of trusting other people with all aspects of who they are.

Consider Couples Counseling

If your partner is not interested in marrying, you don't have to break up right away. There are some things you can both do to work towards a more harmonious relationship. Waiting around forever isn't advisable; rather, talking with someone who has experience on the topic may help bridge the gap.

Attending couples counseling could be an option in this situation to help get you both on a better path, either toward a breakup or toward a marriage.

If your partner will not attend counseling with you, consider going to individual therapy to talk about your feelings in a safe space. This could be particularly helpful if you have issues you don't feel comfortable discussing in front of your partner. For example, you may be concerned about timelines for starting a family. Through individual therapy, you can work through these issues and find the best solutions for your long-term happiness.

Steps You Can Take

  • Get curious. Think about what marriage means to yourself and your partner and why it means what it does to each of you.
  • Get creative. Come up with creative and collaborative ideas and possibilities where each of your needs can be met and where both of your paces can be heard and honored, if there is a desire to continue committing together without a hard ultimatum either way.
  • Learn about yourself. Explore your own needs and goals in therapy to learn more about why you might have an urgency to get married (or why you might not be ready yet).
  • Work together. Working collaboratively, compassionately, and creatively as a couple can help you find common ground for continued growth and connection. Marriage may happen eventually, but when you are both truly ready.

Know When to Leave

At some point, you may need to decide on leaving the relationship if you can't reach a compromise on marriage. You will probably experience a range of emotions, from sadness at the loss to anger at the time wasted.

It may not be easy for your partner to be open and honest about the reasons behind their hesitation, but if you can't learn more, then there is likely no chance of moving forward. Try asking them what they are feeling or talk out different scenarios together to have a better understanding.

However, it's important not to dwell on "what could have been." The best time to leave is when you've exhausted all options at making things work. At that point, you can feel confident that you gave everything you had. And when you've done your very best, there is no longer any reason to feel sad about the situation. If you can, try to focus on the better future that is waiting for you.

A Word From Verywell

Whether your relationship continues and leads to marriage is often the result of a complex interplay of the needs and wants of you and your partner. While it's always possible to reach a compromise, if there is a huge gap between what each of you wants, this is usually a sign that even compromises could lead to conflict down the road.

For someone who struggles with codependency and has difficulty connecting with what they need and want, chameleon-ing to match or please others and seeking the opinions of outsiders for your personal life can be more harmful than helpful.

Instead of getting advice from others, seek support in having others witness, listen to, and hear your experience and perspective. They can then ask thoughtful, insightful, and curious questions, and support you in getting clarity about what you want (without intruding with their ideas, preferences, and perspectives).

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Uecker JE. Marriage and mental health among young adultsJ Health Soc Behav. 2012;53(1):67-83. doi:10.1177/0022146511419206

  2. Marks NF. Flying solo at midlife: gender, marital status, and psychological well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 1996;58(4):917. doi:10.2307/353980

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."