Writer and broadcaster

My boyfriend won’t marry me, even though we plan to start a family. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

My boyfriend does not want to marry me. I am 30 and he is 35. We have been in an amazing relationship for almost two years. We moved in together after 11 months of dating and this relationship is the happiest part of my life. He is a very good man, supportive, understanding, caring and thoughtful about my needs.

The problem is that I have started to have tantrums of unexplained anger, or disappointment towards him for very silly reasons. I have tried to get rid of that and understand the cause. I analysed the occasions on which this happens and it is when our friends get married; after a cheesy movie with a happy marriage ending; whenever I am introduced as his girlfriend (and not wife) – this paralyses me.

He has told me that he does not want to ever get married. He was a coward not to tell me this news in the beginning of our relationship; he told me about seven months in, when I was fully and irreversibly in love with him. I said he should have told me earlier and he replied: “Let’s decide now in that case. Do you want to be with me, have family but no marriage?” He also said that I should be very certain because he doesn’t want me to change my mind in 10 years.

I know that it is not me personally he doesn’t want to marry, but how he feels generally. He says there is no difference to him between living together or being married. In that case, I said, if there’s no difference to you, let’s get married because it’s different for me!

But he says no. All around he has happy examples of relationships – his parents have been together for 40 years and are very happy, as well as more and more of his friends. We plan to start for a baby soon.

I ask him “Would you rather be without me than with me married?” and he either runs away from an answer/conversation or, lately, he has started to respond “No! It is you who would rather leave me than to be with me as we are now.”

I do not know what to do. Is there any other way around this apart from breaking up?

If something matters (and this counts for both of you) – be it being married, not being married, having children, not having children, living in the country v town, etc – then it matters. Whether you compromise on that, and by how much, is a matter of choice, but if you compromise too much, you sow the seed of resentment that grows into a plant of bitter leaves that you will be picking off and chewing daily. You want to get married, your partner does not. Both valid points. If you can’t reach common ground, the problem is not so much that you can’t agree on the subject (here: marriage). It’s that, ultimately, neither wants to compromise for the other. Also understandable, but it says something, doesn’t it?

I went to Dr David Hewison, a couples psychoanalytic psychotherapist (bpc.org.uk), with your problem. His first question to you is: “What makes you so angry, where is the rage coming from? This is about a control thing, for each of you, and neither is prepared to give up that control.”

It’s really not that uncommon for one partner in a couple to want to move on to the “next stage” before the other. But what seems to have happened here is that you are both so busy defending your own point of view, so busy digging your heels in, that neither can look calmly at the other’s.

I agree that if he says it makes no difference, why not get married to please you? But it clearly does make a difference to him, despite what you say.

I asked Hewison about your boyfriend’s parents’ marriage, and if that might have any bearing. He thinks that “good parental marriages can be a good example to follow or sometimes you want to react against them”. He wonders what your boyfriend’s relationship with his mother is like. If she is domineering, he may be worried about marriage. Hewison also wonders about your experiences. “Is marriage a statement for you? Did you have a male figure in your life (maybe your father?) who let you down? Is marriage standing in for something?” In other words, is marriage a seal on a relationship that makes it feel safer for you?”

You need to cut your boyfriend some slack that he didn’t talk about marriage in the first few months, that’s really understandable until you’re more serious about one another. Equally, did you bring it up? It’s hardly early dating talk. Hewison thinks that “the marriage subject carries with it all sorts of wishes and demands about the relationship. And it’s a sign of other things to work out.”

What to do? Hewison says a couple can withstand one of them not getting what they want (it happens frequently in relationships), “If the other really understands and sympathises with [the other’s feelings].”

Forcing the issue hasn’t moved things along. You need to step back, stop talking about it for a bit and think: “Is this relationship enough to fulfil me even if we don’t get married?”

“If,” says Hewison, “marriage really matters to you, but your boyfriend still doesn’t want to, then that says something.”

You are both entitled to feel the way you do, but how much you compromise is up to you.


This article first appeared in the Family section of The Guardian on 14 April 2017.