On one hand, the response can be very telling. On the other hand, you're potentially pressuring your partner into making a big decision on a timeline that's just not their own.

By Lauren Katims
December 22, 2020
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When you're in a relationship, talks of marriage typically start taking place after you've been dating for a few years and the union proves serious. But when one person is ready to get engaged, it doesn't always mean that the other person is on the same timeline. In fact, many couples find that one partner is ready to take the next step long before the other. That begs the question: What are you supposed to do next?

Can giving your partner an engagement ultimatum—either to propose or the relationship is over—help the situation?

While relationship experts don't champion giving your partner an ultimatum—which can actually make the receiver feel cornered, powerless, and vulnerable—they do agree that stating your case, or else setting boundaries around where you can no longer go forward in the relationship, can help each partner have a mutual understanding of the goals as a couple and as individuals.

Delivering your message in a non-threatening way is key, experts agree.

"The ultimatum has a negative connotation; it shuts down communication," says Anna Osborn, a marriage and family therapist in Sacramento, California. Instead, express your feelings in a way that's inclusive of your partner's, communicating that you want to know the reason behind his feelings and not shut them out. Making your intentions firm—and stating your case in a non-threatening way—can benefit your relationship.

You'll uncover sensitive issues.

When you start having discussions about marriage, you may find there are difficult reasons why your partner partner is hesitating to popping the question. For example, some men wait to propose until they feel they can financially support their partners, says Osborn. Admitting they aren't ready for marriage is admitting they aren't at a point they feel content in their careers. Hearing these reasons can put your mind at ease that marriage is on the agenda and it can give you the opportunity to communicate your thoughts on the topic as well, which sets the path for compromise.

Or, perhaps your partner is hesitant to get married because his parents' marriage failed, and he's afraid the same will happen in his relationship. "The hope is that you can get to the core of where those differences lie," says Osborn, who adds that these emotional conversations can unlock fears that each person is striving to overcome.

You'll compromise on an engagement timeline.

Even if you and your partner have the same goal of ultimately tying the knot, your idea of when it should happen can be misaligned. Talking through your ideal timeframe, without threatening to end the relationship if the proposal doesn't happen as soon as possible, can bring to light a reason why one of you might not be ready for marriage at this time—and, more importantly, why it's worth the wait until both of you feel ready, says Trysha Bodden, a marriage and family therapist in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Both parties might have to compromise on the timing, but it's settling to know you both can agree that it will happen, and within a designated number of months. But, Bodden warns, if compromising carries on for too long, that's when resentment can build up. She says, "It's time to think about whether or not you're really a match."

You'll challenge relationship roles.

In all relationships, one person takes the leadership role, says Janet Page, a marriage and family therapist in New York City and author of Get Married This Year: 365 Days to "I Do." If the male isn't the leader, but the woman is waiting for him to take the lead on the proposal, the misunderstanding can cause tension.

Communicating that expectation can clear up intentions and expedite the engagement, she says. Another option is for a woman to propose herself. Page says, "That can be a very effective ultimatum."

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