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He Bought Me a Ring, But Says He Doesn't Want to Get Married Yet.

Updated on February 6, 2011

I received this email from Kelly: 

Hi Lindsey,

I posted a message on the HUB but thought I would just try reaching you this way and ask for a little of the advice you have been giving.

I have been with my boyfriend for three years now - in that time he has even picked up and moved with me when I got promoted. About 8 months ago - we bought a ring but he never really proposed, etc. He kept saying that it wasn't the right time. Finally, it came out that he doesn't really want to get married - that he has a hard time making the commitment when he is worried that marriages don't really work out.

He can be really pessimistic - he gets down on himself and things. In the past, there have also been instances where it's almost like he sabotages things because he thinks he doesn't deserve them, etc. He started taking anti-depressants a few months ago but so far it hasn't helped all that much. So given all of this - I don't know what to do!

I also am trying to figure out why I want to get married. Truly, there is a lot of pressure from friends and family - I am 32, we live together, etc. and really I am just tired of getting those questions! But also, there is a big part of me that feels insecure about our relationship and getting married would help me feel more confident that we will last (even though I know marriage is not a guarantee).

So what do I do? How do we even compromise on this? We talked and thought it was best for him to move out and break up since we want different things but it just doesn't seem that black and white! And the thought of not being with him - i just can't even imagine it.

Any advice??

Thanks for listening :)

Hi Kelly,

I have to say that your situation is one of the more confusing and complicated ones I’ve seen, and I think that may be the crux of your boyfriend’s issue – confusion, and likely a lot of fear. First off, since you didn’t disclose his age, I’m assuming that he’s not significantly younger than you – that at the very least, he’s in his late 20s or early 30s (if he is much younger, then it would change how I view this). He is giving you some very confusing and seemingly contradictory messages.

Signs He Wants A Life Together But Telling You He Does Want to Marry. On one hand, he is doing things that would indicate he is envisioning a lifetime with you – picking up and moving when you were promoted, buying a ring. Those are big signs of a man that is thinking of you like a single unit with a future together. But on the other hand, he is telling you that he isn’t ready for marriage (despite having bought a ring) and is having a hard time committing to marriage because he is worried that marriages just don’t work out.

Confusion and Fear. To me, this says that he is confused and very fear driven. He loves you and appears to want to have a life with you, but is scared of committing because he’s worried that he may make a mistake – a mistake in choosing a wife, a mistake in getting married, a mistake that will result in divorce. Those are all common fears that pretty much everyone has that is contemplating marriage. However, it feels as though these are so great for your boyfriend that they have overwhelmed and virtually paralyzed him, and that’s not healthy.

Given the other traits you described about him being overly pessimistic and self-sabotaging, I believe that his views of marriage are another manifestation of this fear. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything you can do about this – it’s a path of self-discovery that only he can take. He is his own greatest enemy. In this case, it really is about him and not about you.


Now where does that leave you? That’s a hard question to answer. To me, it looks like you a very self-aware woman who is doing the appropriate soul searching. You’re questioning your own motives for desiring marriage and attempting to pinpoint your true motivations. This is excellent! For this part, it’s a two-step analysis: 1) figuring out whether your own motives for getting married are healthy and 2) reconciling your desires with his issues.

Why Do You Want to Marry? It appears to me that part of your desire for marriage is, in part, just as you said – a reassurance from him that you’re both on the same page – that you both are looking for a lasting relationship, regardless of whether it includes marriage or not. And yet you’re also feeling the pressure from friends and relatives to take the next step. You’re on the right path in parsing these issues out, you just have to continue to follow it.

Wanting Reassurance Alone Is Not A Good Reason to Marry. Is marriage merely a substitute for the reassurance you need from him about the status of your relationship? And if so, are there other ways you can gain this reassurance? If that is the primary driving force, then it may do you some good to explore the reasons behind desiring such reassurance. Is there a fear of abandonment in your past that is coming out in this relationship? Are you reacting out of fear as well? If so, then I don’t think that’s a good idea to get married as the reassurance you need is within yourself, not so much from him.

Building A Life Together Is A Good Reason to Marry.  But on the other side of the coin -- are you simply ready to take the next step? You want to build a life together – look into buying a house, start a family, etc. and you need a firm commitment from him that he’s in this too in order to start realizing these joint dreams? If that’s the case, and you’re certainly at a good age for it, I think you’re completely justified in wanting marriage to solidify such commitment on his part.

You just need to really look within yourself on why you want to get married. If it’s for reassurance or pressure from others, that’s not a good reason to get married. But if it’s so you can begin truly building a life together as a single unit, that is a good reason, and one for which you likely won’t be able to compromise on.


Where to go now? If you’ve figured out that you do want to get married for the right reasons, then you’ve got to see if that’s a real possibility with your boyfriend. From what you’ve told me, right now, that does not look to be an option. He is either far too scared of the concept generally, or just doesn’t want to marry you. Unfortunately, there is little you can do about this situation -- his fear and issues are his own. You can't fix them for him. Only he can confront them and there is no guarantee that he ever will--some people live their entire lives paralyzed by fear. However, I've got a couple suggestions you can look into to see if he's willing to explore these stumbling blocks of his and see if there is a chance you can get past them as a couple.

Talk about His Fears. My first suggestion would be to talk with your boyfriend about his reasons behind not wanting to get married. Since he’s on anti-depressants, I assume that he is in some type of therapy. Ask him if they are working on any of the issues contributing to his current views on marriage – the fear of marriage not working out, his general pessimism, self-sabotaging, etc. He may have a deep-seated fear of abandonment or vulnerability that is driving him to such self-sabotage and ultimately sabotaging your relationship. He may not want to discuss such things with you, but he does need to discuss how things are impacting you and your relationship at least in a general sense if he doesn’t want to discuss details of his therapy with you.

Couples Counseling. Then, I’d highly suggest that you guys see a relationship counselor – one that deals with fears of commitment and reassurance issues. Plenty of people see couples counselors before getting married -- in fact, I think a lot more marriages would survive (or be prevented in the first place) if couples saw a counselor before getting married. A good counselor will help you both explore your deeper desires and fears to see if there is truly longterm satisfying relationship for you both. In a few short months, you may be able to tell whether there is any hope for him getting past his fear and commitment concerns and whether there are other ways he can give you the reassurance you seek without getting married.

What if He Can't Work Through His Fear? If he isn’t able to work through his issues (or give you enough assurance that they're able to be worked through), there really is nowhere else for you to go if you want to get married. You’d have to break-up as you already mentioned and look for someone that is willing and able to get married as your boyfriend is not. I know it’s not the answer you want to hear, but I truly believe that’s the inevitable result if he can’t work through his issues on commitment. You can’t make him get over his fears or change his pessimistic perspective – those are only things he can do. You can just be clear and genuine about your desires and goals in life and act accordingly.

I wish you the best of luck and hope it works out. But if it doesn’t, if your boyfriend won’t or can’t get over his fears, then you both deserve to be with people that have compatible life goals – you with a man that wants marriage and him with a woman that doesn’t. Please write back and let me know how it goes – my heart goes out to you!

Ring photo credit - Idea go -


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