When is it the right point of a relationship to start talking about marriage?
When to Discuss Marriage
Dear When to Discuss Marriage,
Simply explaining you are interested in getting married to someone, some day, is a normal part of getting to know someone and can occur as early as the first few dates. My husband told me the first week we were dating he was ready to move forward with the “second part of his life,” letting me know that playing the field was something he wanted to put in his past. But a discussion about marriage between two people who are dating exclusively is a different story. A serious conversation about marriage can create a significant shift in your relationship, so it’s good you are thinking about the right timing.
To begin with, you should definitely be dating exclusively! The fact you are not dating anyone else, and you are not interested in anyone else, should be clear and intentional for both parties. If you find yourself still interested in seeing “who is out there,” then your relationship is not ready for the marriage discussion.
Assuming you are both committed only to each other, there are several factors to consider. You want to be sure that you have dated long enough to see the other person in a variety of settings. You are looking for consistency in character, whether you are with friends, family, co-workers, or out in social situations. Celebrating a holiday together can be an important milestone, and a good way to see your date’s family rituals and expectations. If one of you has been married in the past, then you want to have several frank discussions about what happened and what was learned. If you plan to marry in the Catholic Church, any previous marriages must be submitted for annulment. The process of annulment can be very helpful because it can shed light on areas that may need to be worked on before proceeding.
The level of authenticity in yourself and your relationship is another important factor. This means being honest with your date, and being honest with yourself. As Jesus tells us in Matthew’s gospel, to see others clearly we must remove the log out of our own eye first. Can you be completely real with your date? Even about the parts of you that may not be the most flattering? Have you told your date about any previous history of addiction, abuse or infidelity, either in your own life, your relationships, or in your immediate family? When marriage is part of the discussion, then the intimacy and security of the bond between the two of you should be able to handle the “difficult” conversations too. The strength of your relationship lies in your ability to be upfront and honest about everything: who you are, where you have been, and what you believe.
Have you had at least one disagreement? Two people who spend a significant amount of time with each other, if they are both being authentic, will eventually disagree about something. It’s okay to have disagreements. It’s how they are handled that is the important part. Do not lie about how you feel or about significant portions of who you are just to get along. And certainly, authenticity means that you do not tolerate deception in the other person. If you have experienced dishonesty, be sure that it has been discussed and enough time has passed to make sure change and repentance has set in.
So you’ve got the “real and authentic” part down. Then one final step, a litmus test of your relationship to see if it is ready for marriage conversation. Simply compare your relationship with the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Does your relationship bring you more joy or more stress? Do you feel safe to be open with the other person, secure in his or her ability to be kind to you? Can your friends and family see the blessings of your relationship?
I know it’s a lot to consider; no person and no relationship is perfect. If you haven’t been dating long, make sure your interest in getting married is not out of loneliness, wanting to get over an ex, or hoping that marriage will somehow improve the relationship. Invite God into your discernment process.
After thinking about all the different factors, and praying about it, talking about marriage can be a very special time in a relationship. It’s always a miracle when any two people meet, fall in love, and are both ready at the same time to make the same level of commitment. Talking about marriage changes how you see each other. You are not just a boyfriend or girlfriend, but a potential spouse. The first time my husband mentioned marriage to me, my heart pounded with excitement. I had been praying to meet the right man and it felt as if God was showing me, through the fruit of the Spirit, that He had finally drawn us together.
And know that if you have learned to be real and compassionate with each other, then the beautiful gifts of marriage are waiting for you on the other side! A good marriage is a blessing not only on the couple, but on your families and community. As Catholics, we believe that God has ordained marriage to be a commitment for life. This is such a huge blessing and responsibility! Taking those first few steps with thoughtfulness and prayer can send you down a path of great joy and fulfillment.
My prayer for you is that talking about marriage will increase the excitement and peace, along with the dedication, in your relationship. Keep us posted!
Michele Fleming, M.A.