Is marriage a more solid commitment than living together?

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Hey There,

I can’t believe I’m emailing you for advice, but I’ve got to get your perspective!  I’ve been with my boyfriend for 4 years. I’m now 33 and he’s 36. We get along amazingly well. No drama, just mostly have fun doing things together (surfing, golfing) and great sex. He has always said from the beginning that marriage is not for him. He had a terrible upbringing through several divorces, not knowing who his real dad is, and has a couple of friends who are in gnarly marriages. That being said, I’ve never pressed the issue because I hadn’t ever needed or wanted the additional commitment.  I know he’s committed to me, and I totally trust him and our relationship.  We moved in together about 6 months ago, and things are still going just great.  For some reason, now I’m struggling with “why fix what’s not broke” with the whole marriage thing, yet I’m feeling like I need something more solid of a commitment rather than just his word of “I’m going to be with you forever.”

Maybe it’s my age? I’m 33 and he’s 36. I just know he will never marry me, and how do I turn my back on such a great relationship over a stupid piece of paper? Is it more than a piece of paper? Is it a more solid, set in stone commitment that I am looking for? Hmmmmm……



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Dear Anna,

Thanks for your question. We alway get a chuckle when someone writes to us and says, “I can’t believe I’m asking you guys a relationship question.”  We understand completely. But sometimes the best way to get an objective opinion is to ask a bunch of strangers. And we also know how difficult it is trying to pry an answer out of a guy friend. So we’re glad you wrote to us.

Every couple handles the issue of marriage differently. Most couples do end up getting married at some point if they stay together a long time. However, some couples happily stay together their entire lives without getting married and it works for them. Other couples break up over this very issue, and others decide to get married later in life when the relationship becomes more complicated due to having kids, buying a home, or changing health.

We guess the answer has less to do with your man, and more to do with you. You guy seems fine with your situation, but you don’t. So the question is why? Are you getting pressure to get married from family or friends? Are you traveling in social circles where you feel awkward because you’re not married? Are you thinking about having children and would like to feel more solid in your standing with him? Or are you really not sure why you feel the way you do, but you know it’s bothering you?

First of all, don’t underestimate what you have currently. From what you describe you’re in a loving relationship with a good man. We can tell you that a lot of people would love to have what you have. We’re not saying you shouldn’t feel how you do, because really, what other people do and think doesn’t really factor into what you’re feeling and doing. But we think it’s important enough to mention if only to give you some perspective on what’s really important in a relationship: love, trust, and good communication.

But having said that we also think you need to bring up the topic; because if he loves you, we would think he would want to know if something was bothering you. But be careful here. You need to plan out what you’re going to say if you decide to bring it up. It can’t be accusatory, or threatening in any way. But it certainly could be brought up within the context of a broader conversation about your future together. For example, it could be part of:  What happens if/when we have kids? What happens when we’re older, or buy a home together?

We won’t lie to you. We believe the vow of marriage does bring another level of commitment to a relationship. Even just planning the actual wedding day and then following through with the ceremony, ups the ante. Of course the divorce rate is still ridiculously high at close to 50%, so marriage is no guarantee of forever. But it does mean something more than just a piece of paper.

In the end you need to figure out what you need, and then make a decision. First figure out what is the real problem. Is it not getting married? Or are there other possible divisions between the two of you? We think you really need to figure out why you feel the way you do. Once you’ve done that, it will be clearer how to move forward. This could be an easy problem to resolve, or it could be far more complicated than you think. Do some soul searching, and really get to the bottom of this.

Also, people change their minds over the course of their lives. Your man might have said what he said before he was involved with you, but maybe he feels differently now? Just because he has friends who aren’t in great relationships and he grew up in a broken home doesn’t necessarily mean he shouldn’t get married. Many people with similar experiences happily jump into marriage vowing to do things differently than their parents or friends. Have you talked about it with him? Or are you afraid to bring it up for fear it could rock the boat? If so, then it actually might be an issue. Because if your relationship is tenuous enough to be changed by this conversation, what happens when something else big comes up? (Something will at some point) There shouldn’t be any topic that is taboo if you truly have a trusting, loving relationship.

One final note: Breaking up with someone you love over a “piece of paper” as you call it, does seem excessive, but people have broken up for much simpler reasons than that. We will say if getting married is something you need in order to feel “secure” in this relationship, it’s something that needs examining; because that feeling isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Good luck,


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