We often hear anecdotally that one person in a couple always knew before the other that this was the right person for them, and the other person took their time to arrive at the decision to get married.
How each individual emotionally handles that waiting period usually varies. What is common however is the insecurity and the eagerness for the yet-to-decide partner to make up their mind. This makes most people extremely impatient. Which then leads to them giving an ultimatum to their partner to either get married or break up.
The insecurity arises from the fact that you assume the delay is because your partner is unsure about being with you. This is a big bump on the road in a relationship that has so far seemed smooth enough for you to want to be with someone for a lifetime. It makes you question the relationship itself. Is your partner not as happy as you are in the relationship? Was he/she ever serious about this relationship? It’s a turmoil laden time in the life cycle of any relationship. However, a big influence on your partner’s decision ironically is predicated on how you handle this waiting period.
N a 32-year-old client of mine handed a similar ultimatum to his girlfriend of four years. Marriage was always clearly defined as the eventual outcome when they went from dating to being committed. N, couldn’t understand his girlfriend’s surprise when he proposed, nor could he comprehend her subsequent hesitation to get married. She said she needed more time to really know what she wants from life.
It’s been three weeks since, and things have been incredibly hard for N as this wasn’t what he was expecting. Their time together has been quite strained since then, too. N says he is high-strung all the time. In these three weeks they haven’t had one normal interaction without him bringing up the topic of them getting married or arguing about why she needs more time.
N’s girlfriend is aware that he has reached out to me. N suggested to her that she speak to me as well, and she agreed.
When I spoke to her, she started by telling me she is quite settled in their relationship as it stands. Despite staying over at each other’s places a lot, they each have their separate homes. Her first apprehension is the loss of this space when they get married —they will have to live together all the time; how might that affect them, or change things?
Her other apprehension is with N’s parents. She does not feel welcomed by them and says there is a definite lack of warmth towards her. She’s brought this up with N, but he’s only brushed away her concern, saying there is no merit in it. According to him, his parents know he is serious about her and have never shown their displeasure in his choice to be with her.
But as his girlfriend notes, in India, when you marry someone you marry their family, too; and her apprehensions about them remain. She just doesn’t know how to bring this topic up again with N, especially since he hadn’t resolved her concerns satisfactorily earlier. The relationship works when she is just his girlfriend as she does not have to interact with his parents much. But as his wife, she knows that will inevitably change.
Both her concerns seem natural and true for anyone in her situation — and are addressable. Since she is sure she wants to get married eventually, it is on her to eventually reconcile her feelings and take the plunge of living together. But as for her nervousness about her future, it is N who needs to be more empathetic towards her feelings. Together they need to establish a framework of mutual regard between her and his parents, especially in the beginning, so that the foundation of that relationship is steady.
A new series on Netflix pushes this issue of ultimatums in relationships, to a theatrical extreme. The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On is designed as a social experiment in which there are six participating couples, who have been dating for over two years. Like N, one partner in each relationship is ready to get married. They give an ultimatum to their significant other.
But since it’s a reality show, the twist is through a pressure test, where each person must pick someone else’s partner to be in a “trial marriage” with, for three weeks. This “trial marriage” is supposed to tell you two things a) if you are ready to be in a marriage at all; and b) whether your original partner is the right one for you.
Personally, I thought it was a bit too intense on the emotions, and even negative to some extent — there was too much jealousy, accusation, and posturing that resulted from such an experiment. Two couples out of the six ended up getting married before the pressure test took place. One couple got married after going through it. The other three couples broke up.
Overall, ultimatums are hardly useful for either party. There are better and more graceful ways to let your partner know you want to get married. It is important to state your intent but not as an ultimatum. Let your partner know that you are ready, just make it a statement which is not followed by the question – what about you, are you ready too? Plant the seed. Then nurture it with patience by not bringing this up again for a while or until your partner brings it up. Do not get desperate to know what’s on your partner’s mind. Be confident. This confidence signals that your relationship is strong, thereby giving your partner the security that they too can take their time to figure things out.
There are many reasons why people need time to be ready for marriage. In most committed relationships, it isn’t due to doubts about the relationship itself.
So continue to be as you were before you shared your intent to get married. I’d say choose to put your time and effort in having a good time together instead of being stressed and nagging your partner for an answer. With this approach, you give yourself a better chance of hearing the answer you’d like.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org