When Is the Right Time to Start Discussing Marriage With Your Partner?

We asked a therapist and marriage coach to weigh in.

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Photo: September Company

Bringing up marriage with your partner can be a daunting conversation. After all, your future together is a serious subject. But even if you know that marriage is an eventual goal, when is it truly the right time to introduce the topic? Do you take your lead from Hollywood and pop the question unexpectedly? Or is it best to discuss this next step before it arrives?

According to Christie Tcharkhoutian, a licensed marriage and family therapist and senior matchmaking specialist at Three Day Rule, pop culture shouldn't be your guiding light, since it forces the proposal and emotional work that happens before it onto one person (typically the person who proposes).

And while a top secret proposal may be movie-worthy in the romance department, popping the question—without having a conversation about marriage—is not ideal. "A proposal should never come from out of the blue," says Lesli Doares, a marriage coach and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage.

Instead, these experts believe a proposal should come only after a thoughtful discussion about marriage and the future. But, again, that lingering question: When is the right time to have this talk?

Wait Until You Have Established Commitment and Trust

With trust, says Tcharkhoutian, often comes the marriage talk: "In a relationship, building trust through expressing feelings to your partner is crucial to feeling the love and respect that is necessary in a long-lasting relationship," she says.

Once you establish commitment and trust and feel ready to take the next step, share it. "If one partner feels they would like to take that next step, it's important to express those needs to a partner," says Tcharkhoutian. "If the other person does not feel ready, it's important to discuss what would make them feel ready—or what steps need to be taken to meet in the middle at a place where both people feel is healthy for their relationship."

Discuss Marriage Before You Move in Together

According to Doares, moving in with one another before you've broached the topic of marriage might not be a good idea. The reason? If one person thinks that the relationship is headed towards marriage while the other is only focused on what could unfold over a 12-month lease, feelings are bound to get hurt.

"The marriage-desiring partner may feel the relationship is headed that way when it may not be," Doares explains. "This results in unnecessary heartache and frustration. Once you cohabitate, any break-up is harder, so the relationship can limp along and not be what either partner really wants."

Don't Talk About Marriage Too Soon

Even if you're smitten from the start, Doares cautions against having the marriage conversation too early. "Wait until you each know each other fairly well—and are clear about your own goals, as well as the ones you have for the relationship," she says.

However, there's one conversation you can have very early, she says: "If one person wants to be married someday, that should be clear from the time you become exclusive," Doares says. "It's not the 'when will we get married' or 'do we get married' conversation—but the desire is clearly stated up front."

How to Start the Marriage Conversation

When you're ready to have this talk, approach it is in an open, loving, and non-confrontational way, Tcharkhoutian says. She suggests saying something like: "I've been thinking about our relationship and feel that I would like to move forward in our future together, and I wanted to hear your thoughts about it and where you're at."

This kind of start opens the possibility for your partner to express their feelings without feeling pressure—and provides space for the partner initiating to share their point of view, as well, Tcharkhoutian says.

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