He Doesn’t Want to Get Married, Should That Be a Deal-breaker?

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Hey Wendy,

Should I give up on getting married and stay with my boyfriend? Or leave him so marriage can be in my future someday?

My boyfriend of two years was in a terrible marriage, and his divorce was pretty nasty.

He and I didn’t believe in marriage when we started dating. But then I had a change of heart as time went on. I saw what a good guy he is, how caring and loving, and how well he treats me. I started thinking of marriage and I hoped he’d change his mind too like I did. He’s still a firm “no” to marriage.

My fear is I’ll invest so many years in the relationship and if it dissolves, I’ll be left with nothing after investing time, love, and energy.

My boyfriend doesn’t want the legal bind but is willing to give me a full wedding to signify our unity/love in the eye of the public. I find it hurtful that he’s not willing to make it official.

We’re in our 40’s. He has an 11-year-old and I have a 16-year-old. He’s willing to live like a regular married couple and have the whole family under the same roof.

What makes it difficult for me is to understand why? I’m in love with him and as loyal as they get. He sees my worth and value, he knows I would not hurt him. It’s my dream, ever since I was a girl, to get married. At times, I feel I’m being selfish and looking at marriage like a security blanket. He treats me the way a woman should be treated. I’m conflicted.

Lorena A.


Hey Lorena,

I want you to imagine the two of you standing at the alter of your dream wedding. The flowers, all in your favorite color, are beautiful. The music you picked is playing. All of your most beloved people are there. The preacher says, “Lorena, will you love this man through sickness and health?”

You say “yes, of course!”

And then the preacher says, “And if things don’t go quite as you planned, Lorena, will you pay this man two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for his time and investment in your marriage?”

What would you say to that?

Would you say yes?

Because that’s exactly what you’re asking your guy to say yes to. Some people are totally down with all the trappings of marriage — both the good and the potentially bad — and some aren’t. But if he doesn’t want to get hitched again after a bad experience the first time around, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to spend his life with you. And it doesn’t mean he loves you any less.

Honor Your Own Deal-Breakers

Now, before I go any further, I want you to know I honor deal-breakers. If marriage is something you absolutely, positively need no matter what, and if you won’t be happy without it, it’s time for you to call it — you should leave him. Go find someone else who is down for marriage.

Possibly not a deal-breaker? Read on.

What Men Say About Marriage

Marriage is not meant to be a security blanket, and I totally get why your guy is a firm “no” to it. As someone who has interviewed hundreds of men in their forties and fifties about this very topic, I found there’s a large subset of men who, after seeing how broken the system is, are just not willing to do it again. Once was (bad) enough. And it’s not personal, seriously; it’s about that binding contract making it “official,” not who you are or what kind of life they want to build with you.

Marriage is a risky, terrible trade that has the potential repercussions of obligations for decades to come. Guys (and women) say “no thanks!”

Hot Tip: Pay Attention to Substance, Not Form

What’s important in any relationship is the substance, not the form. So instead of focusing on the title or the form (spouse/married), focus on the substance of the relationship and what you’re building together. What a great match you two are, and what an amazing, kind, loving guy you’ve got — that’s what I mean by the substance.

How to Decide “Stay” or “Go”

When asking yourself, “should I stay with this man,” answer these questions:

  • Do we both respect each other?
  • Do we both adore each other?
  • Do we both love each other?
  • Do we solve problems well together?
  • Do I feel seen and really understood as a person by him?
  • Besides the marriage thing, does he have a track record for giving me what I need?
  • Are the things I’m dying to provide as a partner something he likes receiving?
  • Are the things he’s dying to provide as a partner things I like receiving?
  • Does he empower me to be the biggest, baddest me that I can be?
  • Does he have my back?
  • Could I live with him, be happy, and not hold him in contempt for never marrying me?

Getting Security without Marriage

If you need security, invest intelligently in your future together. This could mean buying property and/or investing together and then delineating who owns what and at what percentage, for example. Create a financial and material life together where, if bad things were to happen down the line, as his partner you can dissolve that partnership and claim your assets.

Is the Relationship Different After You’re Married?

I’d like to share my personal story. My partner, Dave, was 47 when we met, and he was a big “no” to marriage. I was fine with that since I’d already been married before, too. We figured we’d just draw up contracts for investments as mentioned above. But five years in, after the death of his step-father, he wanted to get married immediately. He could see that, in the event of his sudden death, I wouldn’t be covered, and he wanted to fix that. Nothing like a death in the family for a reality check on your own mortality, right? Literally the next week, we got married. We did the paperwork. No wedding, no honeymoon, no ceremony of any kind, just signatures on a piece of paper for the city of San Francisco.

So, we’ve been married a few years now. Guess what? It makes zero difference. It doesn’t make him more committed or make his love for me somehow greater or more permanent. He already loved me, and he was already fully committed to me — just like your guy is to you right now.

A Time to Celebrate or Call it.

I think that his willingness to have a commitment ceremony is terrific, and if it means something to you, you should do it. Celebrate your love for each other. Have your big day, if it makes you happy. And if a celebration without a license will never make you happy, then call it. Living a life where you’re unhappy on principle will be horrible for both of you.

Good luck!