As a dating and relationship therapist, one of the most frequent things I hear from my unmarried (but want to be married) clients is that they don’t want to waste their time. But over and over again I see the same thing: a partner can keep them in a relationship for months or years, hinting at marriage as a “someday” thing, when they have no intention of following through. 

If you’re like my clients and you truly don’t want to waste your time, it’s important that you know where you stand in your relationship. There shouldn’t be any guesswork if there’s a future with your partner. Your needs are valid, and for something as important as marriage, you want to make sure your goals are aligned. 

To find out if your relationship has potential for the long haul, here are 5 tips on how to have the future talk with your partner:

1. Create a relaxed setting. People can struggle with heavy intimacy talk, and staring at each other across a table or a couch can make things more uncomfortable. So before you start this conversation, engage in another activity where you can still talk to each other, such as cooking dinner together or going for a hike. Being slightly distracted can lower one’s guard because they feel the conversation is more natural and less intense. 

2. Keep it short and focused. Thinking that you have to have it all figured out in one conversation can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Let your partner know that you’re opening the conversation, but that you don’t need to have it all figured out right away. You will need more talks around what you both think marriage looks like and means to you, and that includes specific topics such as money, sex, lifestyle, chores and responsibilities, children, etc. You’ll quickly see if they’re a willing participant or keep putting off your future.

3. Be specific about why you’re choosing themWhen it comes to marriage, people can be terrified that they’re merely fulfilling a role or a timeline. I commonly hear, “We figured it was just the next step” or “All of my friends are getting married.” You want to be very clear about why you are choosing your partner to be the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. Tell them what you love and adore about them. Tell them why you respect them and what you’ve learned from them. Tell them what excites you about having a future with them and why you can’t imagine life with anyone but them.

4. Don’t give an ultimatum. How you bring up this topic makes a difference in it being taken as an ultimatum versus honoring your desire to be married. Don’t say, “You need to marry me, otherwise I’m going to find someone else.” This is an ultimatum that will most likely backfire. No one wants to feel like they are forced to make a choice, especially if they aren’t ready. You can let them know that getting married is a goal of yours, but if they don’t see you in their future, you’d rather know so that you can both find people who can give you what you want.

5. Be ok with a different timeline—as long as there’s action. 

People have fears of marriage for a number of reasons—their parents divorced, they don’t see many happily married couples, or they’re not 100 percent confident that they are picking the right person. It’s OK to give them a timeline of when you would like an answer. I’ve frequently worked with people who think just more time will magically give them an answer, but it never does. They need to take action to get more clarity, such as reading articles or books, talking to happily married friends, or seeing a relationship therapist. I’ve worked with both couples and individuals in helping them decide whether they should get engaged by giving them the knowledge and skills needed to make a marriage work. I’ve noticed that for many people, discovering this kind of knowledge is power and can calm fears and increase confidence in their decision.

People can put off a conversation like this because they keep trying to find the “right time.” There won’t be the perfect time for a conversation like this, so if you’d like an answer, trust yourself that you’re doing the best thing to make sure you’re not only saving precious time, but getting what you ultimately want and need—someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them. 


​As originally posted on