Because discerning marriage is a really big decision, we naturally look for cues that help us find certainty in that decision. There is no formula for determining exactly when you and your partner are ready for the next step, whatever it may be. But there are some universal signs that you are NOT ready to tie the knot. These warning signs can serve as important guideposts to ensure you’re on the right track.
I’m not married and I never have been. But I did almost get engaged a couple of years ago. I wasn’t ready — and he knew I wasn’t ready, but applied a lot of pressure to make me think I was ready, even though I couldn’t ignore my discomfort and unease. I know for a fact that if we did indeed get married, we’d be divorced by now. I am so glad that I left — I am in a much better and more peaceful place now. If I’d paid more attention to some of these signs, I might have avoided more heartbreak than I did.
Only you know the dynamics of your relationship, so weigh these thoughts against your own experience. These markers won’t tell you how healthy your relationship is, but they can reveal fault lines if anything is shaky. If any of these red flags are present in your relationship, it will only make you stronger to address them before you get engaged.
You think that getting engaged or married will change your partner
I’ll tell you what does change in a marriage: taxes, names (sometimes), the amount of jewelry you wear, and your bank account before and after a wedding. That’s about it.
Marriage does not automatically make you or your partner a better person. If your partner is a negative person before the wedding, they will be a negative person after the wedding. If you think your partner is just okay right now, but would be — or worse, should be — better, then you are more interested in your partner’s potential than the person they are right now.
You have not discussed or cannot agree on finances
Let’s be real: it’s not just about money. Money represents a big investment of the time and energy we invest in earning it. Money is an expression of our labor, so sharing it takes just as much intimacy and trust as other aspects of marriage.
Do you talk about credit? Does one of you have debt? Are you okay with combining finances with someone who has a lot of debt? Is one of you an aggressive saver and the other a big spender?
You might be able to ignore or completely avoid these things now when you have your own separate bank accounts. But joining your life to another means your assets will no longer be just yours alone. Make sure you talk about your current financial situation, your financial goals, and even your spending habits before you decide to share a life’s journey together.
You have not discussed if you want kids or how many kids you want
If you want kids and your partner does not, then your options are that one of you is happy, and the other is not. Additionally, a life with five children looks very different from a life with two.
Raising a family is not just about how many offspring you bring into the world, or how many years you spend changing diapers. Family life takes everything you have, so raising children determines a lot about your life. What kind of sacrifices will it take to educate, cover medical bills, clothe and feed them? How will you handle child care if you both work? This will affect where you live, how you live, and even how you save for retirement.
You have not met your partner’s family or friends
Excluding estranged family relationships, it’s true when they say that when you marry a partner, you marry their family, too.
While in most cases, the family does not live with you and partake in every aspect of your marriage, the family does have direct influence on your partner’s past, character, decisions, and personality — now and forever.
The same holds true for your partner’s friends. You should know the people who are important parts of each other’s lives. Those people have a voice in shaping the person your partner is.
Your engagement is about something other than your relationship
Sometimes people put something other than the relationship itself first as a reason to get married: pressure from family to get married, desiring children, eyeing tax breaks, trying to tie the knot before your sister, or wanting to be the first of your friends to get married. Sometimes people want to get married just because they want to be married — to whom is a secondary question.
In these (and other) instances, an institution that is meant to foster union and family becomes a charade for status, life goals, or keeping family peace. The only basis for marriage should be love for your partner — nothing else will last.
You cannot imagine your quality of life improving with your partner
Marriage shouldn’t feel like some kind of trap or drudgery; it should feel like neither the end of your life or the start of it. If you feel like your happiness is going to end when you tie the knot, it’s a signal that there are significant questions about your future together.
Every marriage includes some give-and-take, and rarely is it ever simply 50-50. The point is that you are willing to give because you also receive, and the work and sacrifice you put in to your shared life together — no matter the balance — leads to new life between you.
You think that if your partner won’t marry you, no one will
Is this really the right reason to get married to someone?
Acting out of fear is no way to live your life, especially since someone else will be a part of it. It may sound cliché, but it is better to be single and happy with yourself than committed to someone just because you’re self-conscious.
Your partner gives you an ultimatum
Ultimatums are never fair. They reveal that the foundation of your relationship is a power struggle, not mutual, self-giving love. If you and your partner face deep differences, the way through is conversation and compromise and creative work that meets values on both sides — not an ultimatum.
You have serious questions about your partner’s mental or emotional health
Because you are committing to one another “for better or worse” it is crucial to know what that “worse” is before you get engaged.
It is your partner’s responsibility to be a healthy, whole person before they enter into a lifelong commitment with you. Let them go to therapy and work on themselves before dragging you down with their personal emotional labor.
Love requires vulnerability, and if the relationship lacks safety — both emotional and physical — that kind of self-gift is impossible.
Every marriage faces serious moments — that’s life. The question is not just how to weather those storms, but if you can weather each other during these storms?
You think all you need is love
I believe in love with all my heart, but I do not believe it fixes everything. You may love a selfish person, and love alone will not make them unselfish. You may love your partner very much, but that love does not pay bills, open communication channels, wash the dishes, end a fight, or change diapers.
You want to know what fixes things and brings out the “better” in your vows? Resilience, honesty, rationale, wisdom, compassion, thoughtfulness, patience, a good sense of humor.
If you’re wondering if your love is strong enough for marriage, comparing it to the most famous Scripture passage read at weddings is a pretty good measuring stick. No one is perfect, and we all have moments when we’re not our best, but you should be able to recognize one another in this list:
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It is not jealous.
Love is not pompous.
It is not inflated.
It is not rude.
It does not seek its own interests.
It is not quick-tempered.
It does not brood over injury.
It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.