There's no doubt that the marriage conversation is essential and, as it turns out, it's something you and your significant other should have before getting engaged. "Marriage is a big step and should be taken seriously," says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint For A Lasting Marriage. "It's important to really understand what you each want in a marriage, and that's a much better discussion to have beforehand."
Psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman agrees. "If you don't discuss marriage before the question gets popped, you can't be sure you are both on the same page, wanting the same thing, and ready for that level of commitment," she explains. "Couples who don't talk about marriage before formulating a plan can often be the ones who end up with a turned-down proposal, or in a marriage filled with regret and uncertainty."
That doesn't make initiating that conversation any easier. But with these tips, this conversation will at least be bearable (and most certainly helpful). Here's how to bring up the marriage conversation for that very first, hopefully not awkward, time.
Have it when it feels natural.
This isn't the kind of conversation you want to force. Rather, "this conversation should happen relatively naturally, not on some artificial time frame," says Doares. "It should be a function of the progression of the relationship, how well you know each other, and where you are in your lives. It should not be as a result of purely external circumstances like one of you is being deployed or moving to another city."
Have it in private.
And not only do you want to have it one-on-one, but, "any and all discussions of this nature should be held when there are no time constraints and distractions, and where interferences can be kept to a minimum," says Coleman. "In other words, it should be a quiet, private, and relaxed atmosphere."
See More: The 7 Telltale Signs Your Man Is Ready for Marriage
Have it when you're feeling calm.
If you've had a tough day at the office, or are dealing with family drama, now might not be the time to bring up such an emotionally-charged topic. "You should avoid times of high stress, any period that quickly follows a serious disagreement or conflict," says Coleman. "Or when you are feeling negative about the relationship or your partner. Any of these will set a negative tone and raise a partner's defenses."
Keep it conversational.
Don't lead with, "so when are we getting married?" Rather, "I recommend broaching it as part of a regular conversation about the relationship," says Doares. "Hopefully somewhere in the dating process there was a general discussion about whether marriage is something either of you wants someday with someone. There are natural times to have this conversation — when a friend marries, when one breaks up, when decisions about your individual goals will impact the relationship."
According to Coleman, "It's important that a partner be candid and upfront about why they want to have the marriage talk. In fact, if they feel they need to be careful about what they say, this is a red flag." Why? Because, as Coleman explains, "when two people want the same thing and are headed in the same direction, this topic should flow easily. If one is ready and the other isn't, it could be a timing issue or something that points to them wanting different things."
But don't present it as an ultimatum.
If you present this conversation as an ultimatum — as in, let's get married or else — you might not like the course this conversation takes. "It is, however, appropriate to have boundaries about it," says Doares. "If you want to be married you need to be clear about that as a goal. That said, it should never be seen merely as an alternative to breaking up but as a clear and intentional choice to join your lives together."