One couldn’t help but worry to hear a friend of a friend at a party talking about her engagement plans. Not her engagement plans as a couple, not her partner’s thoughts. Just her engagement plans. Hinting and prompting is, unfortunately, still a way that some people try to procure an engagement—and it’s not a good idea. "Dropping hints about getting engaged is not really a direct, healthy way to handle an engagement,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, tells Brides. Deciding to get engaged is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life—do you really want to leave it to hints?
Meet the Expert
- Aimee Hartstein is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist with over 20 years of experience. As a counselor with advanced clinical training and expertise in relationship struggles she has contributed articles to a variety of leading publications.
- Crystal Bradshaw is a licensed professional counselor specializing in couples therapy.
- Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. is a psychologist/psychotherapist in Los Angeles.
Like with anything in life, relationships have stages. And although a guidebook that pinpoints the exact right moment for every milestone would be mega helpful, the truth is, every duo moves at a pace that’s right for them. That’s why it can be a very tricky situation when you’re ready to cement your lifelong commitment with an engagement—and your partner isn't quite there yet. The healthiest and happiest of relationships thrive off communication and the willingness to discuss every nook and cranny of your mind and heart. But even if you and your No. 1 are incredibly open with one another, bringing up the, "Hey, should we put a ring on it?" discussion can cause jitters in anyone. Psychologists weigh in on how to navigate this chat, so couples don't have to stress.
And we know that it may not feel romantic to sit down and have a long talk about engagement, but it’s still important to do. There will be plenty of time for romance when the engagement actually happens and during all of the wedding planning (not to mention the wedding itself). But before that, before the whirlwind of romance, consider talking about it. Really talking about it.
Here’s why hinting you want to get engaged isn't the way to move your relationship forward.
Why the Conversation Is Difficult
You and your person have been together for so many years, that you both lose count. Or you’ve only shared one lap around the sun together, but it feels like you’ve known one another forever. Whatever the case, when you move from being boyfriend-girlfriend (or BF-BF and GF-GF) to engaged, you up the ante on intimacy. And that’s scary.
As a licensed professional counselor specializing in couples therapy, counselor Crystal Bradshaw explains, the concept itself comes with built-in vulnerability and the possibility of rejection. “You're laying it all out there and your partner may not feel the same. What if you don't see eye to eye? What if your partner wants something different? What if they have a different vision of what the future looks like?” she continues. “You might discover you are not as ready as you thought. In having a conversation about getting engaged, there is the possibility of disappointment because you both may discover you are not on the same page after all.”
Some people avoid discussing marriage out of fear of how they'll be perceived. But don't let that stop you from talking about what's important to you. No matter how anxious it makes you, an honest convo about the future of your relationship is a healthy one to have.
Having conversations about the future is something to practice time and time again—think of it as a check-in. “It's not a one-and-done thing; it's many conversations over time,” says Bradshaw. “You'll be confident in your future together once you've discussed engagement and marriage thoroughly and clearly define where you both stand on the subject and see how you view your future together.”
Be Mindful of the Timing
No, Bradshaw doesn’t mean a certain number of years or months of dating, but rather, your surroundings and what’s happening in your personal lives. As she puts it, a dinner party isn’t the smartest setting for a super-serious, are-we-going-to-get-hitched discussion. She also suggests easing into the topic by having a candid chat about where you both see your future is heading. After all, marriage at its core is about joining two lives together—not just a sparkly diamond or big party.
“Maybe you're ready to plant roots and want to move out of your apartment and into a house that's in a good neighborhood with a great school. Maybe you want to ditch the two-door sports car and get something more practical for a life that is evolving. Maybe you want to take that trip that you know will not be practical if you have kids, so perhaps discussing that dream trip is how you start that conversation,” she says. “The bottom line is that timing will help you as well as the entry point you choose to bring up the conversation.”
Why You Shouldn’t Drop Hints About Getting Engaged
Hinting that it’s time for your partner to buy a ring or pop the question takes away your agency in the situation—it’s really old-fashioned but not in a good way. “It harkens back to a different time when there was more of a power imbalance between men and women,” Hartstein says. “Men called the shots a bit more and really held the reins in the relationship. If a woman wanted something to happen, she often may have found herself dropping hints or using some other indirect method of communication.”
Just hinting and suggesting makes it sound like the decision is totally out of your hands. “It is also a style of communication that suggests that the ball is entirely in the man’s court,” Hartstein says. “He decides if and when a couple gets engaged and she just has to wait.” You don’t just have to wait. It’s your life—so if it’s important to you, make some moves toward making it happen. And that starts with an honest conversation.
You Shouldn’t Put Pressure on Without Explanation
You have every right to want to get engaged. If you’re at a certain point in your relationship and you’ve always been clear about what you wanted, then it’s totally natural to want a proposal. But if you just start dropping hints without having a proper dialogue, your partner might feel that there’s pressure coming from nowhere—especially if they’re not feeling quite ready for an engagement yet. It’s not fair to just start hinting and nudging about such a huge decision without talking it through. And there’s a good chance that they’ll feel stressed out by it—in fact, they may even resent you for it. You don’t want a looming engagement to tear your relationship apart. If you have an open conversation, you can keep things from becoming toxic or stressed.
It’s a Huge Decision
It’s a big deal. A really big deal. And any big decision, like getting engaged, warrants a real discussion. “Relationships are very different nowadays,” Hartstein says. “They tend to be more egalitarian and major life decisions, such as an engagement, should be decided by the couple as a team. If the woman is simply waiting for the man to pop the question, then it suggests that this huge life step isn’t actually something that they are evaluating as a couple. This is a big life step—discuss it outright.” Sit down and check in about where you both are, how you’re both feeling, and what your expectations are.
You need to talk about what getting engaged and married means to both of you—if things will change or if you’re both ready. And if getting engaged soon is really important to you, then say it. As a couple, you should be a team—that means talking it through and making sure you’re both on the same page.
Getting engaged is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make—it’s agreeing to marry someone, to be tied to them legally and, theoretically, forever. It’s easy to joke about dropping hints or nudging your partner toward the kind of ring you like, but it’s too big for that. If you want to get engaged, talk to your partner about why it’s important to you and why you think it should be happening soon. Be honest and direct. If you want the spontaneity and the romance, you can get that in the actual proposal. And, if all goes well, there will be plenty of time for it throughout your marriage. But, to create a strong foundation for the rest of your life, you should start with a grown-up conversation.
Acknowledge It’s Weird
Because it may feel that way at first. As psychologist Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., explains, getting the "I know this is difficult to talk about but...” out of the way, in the beginning, can make it easier to speak freely. “Express that it seems like the time has come, at least for you, to express how you feel about your significant other and where you feel you are in the relationship. By letting your partner know this is hard for you to talk about too, it may encourage them to also have the courage, to be honest back with you,” she shares.
Talk About Your Relationship Dreams
In other words, express your love. The desire to get engaged really boils down to the fact that you can’t imagine your life with anyone else. Especially if you fret over coming across as clingy or naggy, being straightforward about how deeply you love your partner can send the right message and illustrate how well you work as a team.
“Share your dreams with your partner. Those dreams can be visions of vacations, where you'll live, how you'll celebrate special occasions and holidays, how you envision spending your free time together, things you want to do together that you have yet to do, and things you are looking forward to doing,” she says. “By talking about your dreams, you are indirectly stating that you see both of you together for the long haul, and that can segue into a conversation about marriage.”
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Since you’re fishing around to better understand where your partner is on your relationship journey, open-ended questions can help you arrive at answers. But Bradshaw warns against being hypersensitive toward their answers, since sometimes, it doesn’t have anything to do with you, but a notion your partner has come up with all by themselves.
“Seek to understand their reasons for it versus taking it personally. It's just a different opinion at the moment of discussion and is not necessarily a reflection of the status of the future of your relationship, nor is it necessarily a direct reflection of you as a partner,” she adds. You want to be able to directly communicate your reasons for wanting to get married, why taking your relationship to the next level is important, and why it feels right to you. If you are able to clearly express your reasons for this, your partner is more likely to be open to hearing your thoughts on the subject.”
Here are some questions Bradshaw suggests to get the chat flowing:
- What does marriage mean to me/you?
- Why is marriage important to me/you?
- How does our experience from our own families and childhood shape our views of marriage?
- How will we keep our relationship strong through the years?
- What areas are we aligned on?
- What areas do we differ on? How will we negotiate/reconcile those differences?
- What do you want our marriage to look like?