Unless you straight up reject the idea of marriage, there often comes a time in any long-term relationship when you start to consider the possibility of putting a ring on it. You might try to picture what you’ll be wearing when you walk down the aisle, what you’ll say in your vows, and moreover, what life would be like after you say your “I do"s. But what if, while daydreaming about your future with bae, you realize that you love your partner but can’t imagine marrying them? Should you share this realization with them? If so, how are you supposed to go about having that tough conversation? And then what — can you keep dating anyway?
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a couples therapist in Los Angeles, it’s actually pretty common to find yourself in this situation. There are a number of reasons why you might not be able to imagine a future with someone, despite the fact that you love and care about them deeply. For example, your goals and visions may not line up on issues such as having kids, or where you want to live. Or, you may have conflicting values or beliefs where politics or religion are concerned. While it’s totally possible to have a healthy, happy relationship with someone despite disagreeing on certain things, there may be particular differences that you just can't overcome.
For me, it wasn’t any particular incompatibility that got in the way. My ex and I shared similar beliefs and values. But still, when I really tried to picture getting hitched and starting a family with him (both of which are long-term goals of mine), my mind went blank. For the life of me, I simply could not muster up any vision of what would look like — and that was alarming. Ultimately, I concluded that I must be a tad more ambivalent about the relationship than I thought. Just because there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong didn’t mean it was right, either.
Steve Kane, relationship expert and author of F*** it. Get A Divorce: The Guide For Optimists, tells Elite Daily that there are other factors that can get in the way of your ability to imagine a future with someone — like a lack of ambition, or a bizarre sense of humor.
"It all comes back to the core issue: Can that person change?" he explains. "Or am I just hoping for a miracle? And if it's the latter, sharp and painful short-term heartbreak maybe feels less traumatizing than a long lifetime of discomfort and, depending on the issue, even loneliness and sadness."
Regardless of why you can’t imagine marrying your SO, Dr. Brown says it’s crucial to share your newly discovered feelings with them. This may feel like an uncomfortable discussion, but you owe it to your relationship to be open and honest about where you’re at. That way, you have the opportunity to find out if your partner is on the same page, and you don’t risk leading them on and potentially hurting them down the line.
“The sooner you have this talk, the better, so they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to remain in the relationship,” adds Dr. Brown. “It's simply not loving to hold onto someone just to be comfortable, enjoy sex, and avoid the feelings of loneliness when you know it's not going to work in the long run. Ultimately, this may be a case where the old saying is especially true: ‘If you love something, set it free.’”
One way to ease the transition into this conversation might be to simply ask your boo about where they see your relationship heading. Is marriage important to them? Have they ever imagined getting engaged to you? Then, you can start to gauge whether you and bae are on the same page.
If it seems like tying the knot is a definite goal of your partner’s, then it’s critical to be totally upfront about the fact that you don't see your relationship heading in that direction. Then, allow them some time and space to assess just how important marriage is to them. They may decide that they're OK with maintaining your relationship the way it is. Or, they may realize that they can't continue dating someone who doesn't want to get engaged.
“Misleading your partner about the long-term is simply not ethical — and in particular if you also know that they are hoping you will get married,” explains Dr. Brown.
However, if it seems that your SO shares your feelings, then both Kane and Dr. Brown agree that you can totally continue dating with no expectations of engagement.
"Who says marriage is the only way to have a happy, deep, long-term, loving relationship?" adds Kane. "There are many ways to do that. And you may be liberated to consider the real beating heart of marriage: deep deep deep commitment. Are you up for that? And what does that mean to you and your partner?"
The bottom line is, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t imagine marrying your current partner. What ultimately matters most is that you’re totally honest about your needs and desires where the future is concerned. By boldly sharing that you can’t picture getting married, you're giving both you and your partner a fair chance at finding happiness, whether that’s with each other or not. Remember — plenty of couples are able to build immensely fulfilling bonds without needing a ring to prove their love. So, as long as you and your boo are in the same boat on the subject of marriage (or rather, the absence of it), then you can certainly find other ways to demonstrate your commitment.