So, you’ve been dating for a while now, and you’re starting to wonder if you ever might get to call your significant other your fiancé. Even if you consider yourself an above-average communicator, that doesn’t mean that you’re super comfortable telling your partner that it’s time to put a ring on it.
Before you start casually mentioning what style ring you think would look great on your petite hand, you should take a step back and consider why you’re feeling this pressure to get married. (In other words, make sure it’s not because your Instagram feed is filled with ring selfies and honeymoons).
Remember, everyone’s timeline is different and every relationship is different. In fact, millennials are getting married later in life than any other previous generation. According to Pew Research, the median age of a first marriage in 2019 was 30 for men and 28 for women.
How Long Do You Need to Date Before Getting Engaged?
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that there’s no tried-and-true formula for how long couples should date before getting engaged. Some couples “date” forever, remaining in a monotonous relationship without ever getting legally married. Other couples get engaged after a few days, a few weeks, or a few years.
It can be hard to tell the difference between too fast and not fast enough sometimes, especially if you’re a young couple. Everyone will have an opinion on what you’re doing (and what you should do).
Every couple is different, and ultimately the question depends on the kinds of experiences that you’ve shared together.
According to therapist Ian Kerner, one to two years is a good amount of time to be in a relationship before getting engaged. Dr. Kerner explains that it’s important to have the opportunity to go through problems together and experience a range of issues that demonstrate that the couple is compatible.
Some of those kinds of experiences include:
- Major life challenges (for example, job loss, death of a relative)
- Learning about family and background, seeing interactions
- Knowing and understanding strengths and flaws
- Seeing each other at your “highest” and “lowest”
- Dealing with loss
- Attending important ritual events like marriages or funerals
Naturally, experiencing these events together naturally occurs with time, which is why Dr. Kerner recommends 1-2 years as a baseline measure, but some couples go through many trials together early on. Other couples may never experience some of them during their dating life. The key takeaway is feeling that you truly know one another in a variety of contexts and that you can remain compatible no matter the circumstances.
Stages of a Relationship
Another measure of where you’re at with your partner is by identifying which stage your relationship is in. Some experts maintain that before you start thinking about marriage, your relationship needs to advance to the conflict or power-struggle phase to make sure that it’s built to last.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these stages.
1. Romantic Love
This is the first stage, and it’s the Hollywood version where both of you just adore the other and the relationship is easy and effortless. This stage is characterized by maximizing similarities and minimizing differences. The relationship is passionate and romance is expressed frequently.
Couples in the romantic love phase don’t fight. This is when you think about your partner all the time and want to spend every moment you can together. If you feel like somehow the stars aligned just right and brought you together and that your feelings will never change for the rest of your life, then you’re in this stage.
The romantic love stage lasts between six months and two years, and it’s the shortest stage for those who stick together long-term.
Couples in the romantic love stage should not typically get engaged just yet.
Once your googly-eyes start getting back to normal, reality sets in. In this stage, some kind of conflict has occurred and some of the earlier romantic fantasies fade away. Some people feel anxiety, hurt, or disappointment when they realize their dreamboat is less-than-perfect.
This is the first time when the couple faces fears of intimacy, or maybe even a feeling of loss or that things are not the same anymore. Weak relationships typically end during this stage, but those that are built to last will learn and adjust to each other’s differences and how to deal with conflict.
According to the Relationship Institute, this is where the real relationship begins.
3. The Power Struggle (Conflict Stage)
The first initial conflict that led to the adjustment stage becomes the first of many during this stage. The couple will have more disagreements, and yelling happens for the first time (if it ever will during the relationship).
This is where arguments result in each partner defending their opinions instead of seeking to please the other or find compromise. Arguments become daily power struggles. This is a normal and common phase in a long-term relationship.
During this phase, partners may think about leaving the relationship, there may be doubts about the other partner’s feelings, and the blame game becomes much more common. This is a very important period to the future of the relationship, because when each partner digs in and wants the other to be the one to change, it can lead to resentment. Without recognizing and responding to these feelings in a healthy way, the resentment builds and eats away at the very foundation of the relationship.
To get through this phase, couples should work on their communication and conflict resolution skills. Each person must listen to the other’s position and they must support one another even if they don’t agree.
Simply put, this is when couples are re-evaluating the relationship and if they want to stay after the changes and conflicts during the power struggle phase. People sometimes completely disengage from the relationship during this period, both physically and/or emotionally. As a result, separation, divorce, or infidelity are most likely to occur during this stage.
Once a relationship survives the re-evaluation stage, the couple typically has a strong desire to reconnect. Partners recognize their own contributions to problems and accept each other’s flaws. Conflict is accepted as a part of the relationship, but the couple now demonstrates a desire to learn how to work through problems together.
In this final stage of a relationship, partners have complete acceptance. Very few couples reach this stage (some researchers estimate less than 5%). There are very few resentments, and each person knows the other inside and out. There’s no illusion about what they’re getting from the other person.
While not every couple may go through these exact stages in this exact order, it does lay out a common flow for how relationships evolve and change. The important takeaway here is how conflict is at the center of many of the issues that may threaten the relationship’s survival, and the conflict is often a result of a disconnect between expectations and reality.
How to Know if You’re Ready to Get Married
Remember, being married is not the same thing as getting married. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of ring shopping and the proposal before moving on to planning for the big day. However, after the honeymoon is when married life sets in. As one therapist said, there should be way more preparation and discussion about being married than getting married.
Before you discuss getting married, there are a lot – and I mean A LOT – of other topics you need to cover with your significant other. In addition to the big hitters (i.e., kids, where you’ll live, and if you’ll share the same last name), there’s a whole host of other issues to discuss.
At the root of so many issues lies a lack of communication ahead of the marriage vows. Despite common beliefs that engagement and marriage will be a solution to small problems, the truth remains that many issues of conflict end up rolling into big, nasty snowballs.
In fact, some problems are so closely tied with the nature of marriage, that research has shown that they do in fact get worse after the big day. Things like the roles of women versus men in a marriage, or whether one person has the final say in a decision versus deciding together, are examples.
And, of course, financial matters.
Help in an Unexpected Place
Now, what I’m about to say may seem counterintuitive, but just hang with me.
Prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements actually help protect against these issues during the marriage. They can lead to stronger relationships with a greater sense of understanding.
And – remember all that resentment we talked about earlier? Should your marriage end (for whatever reason), a prenup can help make sure that important decisions aren’t being made from that place of resentment.
You may be wondering where to begin when you aren’t even sure what topics you need to talk about, but that’s where HelloPrenup comes in. The first thing you should understand is that this is not the prenup of twenty years ago. Millennials are smart, educated, and usually always have an escape plan just in case of disaster (let’s face it, we’ve been through a lot). Most importantly, we are realists. When the divorce rate continues to hover around 40-50%, we know that you can’t argue with the data.
So, of course there’s an easy-to-use, affordable, totally DIY (with a little help) platform to draft a prenup together.
That’s the best thing about HelloPrenup – you and your partner work together to create an agreement that is fair to both of you and protects both of your interests. The process will guide you through those uncomfortable convos in a really easy way, which takes away (most) of the awkwardness.
Some of the topics you’ll cover include:
- Current income
- What you expect to earn in the future
- Debt – credit cards, student loans, all things debt
- What each of you own
- What property is “yours” and what’s “theirs,” or is it all shared?
- Considerations for children from previous marriages
- Whether you wish to have separate or shared bank accounts
- How long will the agreement be enforced (or will there be a sunset clause?)
- How will you handle inheritances?
- Infidelity clauses
And other topics are bound to come up along the way. That’s the awesome thing about it, once you start these conversations, they become much easier and you’ll find that you only want to learn more about your partner. Besides, chances are you’ll just realize you’re on the same page with a lot of these topics, which will only make you feel better about moving forward with an engagement.
One of the best ways to advance a relationship forward from dating to engagement is to demonstrate your compatibility and commitment to one another. Not to mention, talking about all this super “adult” stuff helps make sure you’re both in the same place in your minds.
A relationship that starts off with honesty is always stronger than one that doesn’t. So, what are you waiting for? Put on your mom jeans or whatever makes you feel ready to talk finances, pour a couple glasses of wine, and get to work on making your relationship (and future marriage) even stronger.
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected].