When Is It Too Early To Talk About Marriage?

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
By Liz Keneski and Taylor Anne Morgan

Talking about the possibility of marriage with your S.O. can be both exciting and stressful. After all, it's only natural to discuss future plans as you're becoming closer to your partner. But are some talks more helpful than others in terms of paving the way for a happy and long-lasting relationship? Is there such a thing as planning too far ahead?

As part of a larger study on engagement and weddings (more details here), we asked currently engaged and married individuals to reflect on how much they discussed a range of topics before they became engaged. Specifically, participants were asked how often they talked about:

The possibility of getting married.
The possibility of when or how a marriage proposal might take place.
The type of ring (or token) that might be exchanged when a proposal did take place.
The details regarding the wedding they wanted.

Participants responded to each question on a scale from “never” to “very often,” with options of “rarely,” “sometimes,” and “often” in between.

We wanted to find out if talking about these future events before becoming engaged was associated with couples subsequently being happier with each event when or after it happened. We also wanted to explore whether discussing certain aspects of getting engaged before actually doing so might also be associated with the overall quality of the relationship.

Then, when engagments did happen, we asked how satisfied people were with their proposals, engagement rings, and weddings, as well as how satisfied they were in their relationships overall and how committed they were to their partners.

Related: When Is The Right Time To Get Married?

What We Found
First of all, how often are couples actually having these discussions before becoming engaged? These talks did come up for couples who were dating, but not very often for most. There was a lot of variability in how much couples reported discussing these topics: Some had never talked about the possibility of marriage before becoming engaged, and some had talked, pretty frequently, about exactly what type of ring(s) they wanted to exchange.

Talking about marriage may be an important step in moving a relationship forward.

Second — were more frequent talks about these topics associated at all with how happy people were with their engagement and wedding experiences, and with how happy they currently were in their relationships?

Well, for engaged individuals, more frequently talking about marriage in general before becoming engaged was associated with higher levels of satisfaction and commitment within the relationship. But the frequency with which those couples discussed specifics — a possible proposal, ring, or wedding — was not related to their current relationship commitment or to individuals' satisfaction with any of those details.

For married individuals, discussing the possibility of getting married more frequently prior to becoming engaged was not related to current relationship satisfaction or commitment. Having had more frequent discussions of the specifics of the engagement (i.e., proposal and rings) was associated with lower levels of current relationship satisfaction and commitment. And discussing the wedding before becoming engaged was also associated with lower levels of relationship commitment overall.

Related: How Do Important Relationship Events Impact Our Well-Being?

What It All Means
According to our results, talking about your future plans may be an important step in moving a relationship forward and likely reflects something happy couples are naturally inclined to do. But, planning far ahead with frequent nitty-gritty discussions about the specifics of getting engaged and married may not help the relationship — or your chances of experiencing a more satisfying proposal, ring, or wedding.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Now, before you rush off to your partner for an exciting discussion about your future marriage, there is an important caveat to these results: Because individuals were reporting retrospectively about discussions they had in the past but also providing current levels of relationship satisfaction and commitment, we can't say that discussing these topics causes different relationship outcomes.

It may be the case that individuals who are happier with their current relationship simply remember discussing marriage more prior to becoming engaged, but do not recall discussing the details of a proposal, ring, or wedding as clearly. On the flip side, individuals who are less happy in their current relationships may remember discussing those details frequently (maybe because those discussions were less welcomed or did not go smoothly at the time).

Although the current study’s results do not provide insight into why discussions of marriage may be more beneficial than discussions of the proposal, ring, and wedding, we suspect that the former may be more positive for relationships for a number of reasons.

For example, it could be that focusing on the future of the relationship itself rather than future events (like the proposal) and possessions builds a foundation of putting the health of the relationship first (i.e., is it about getting married or about having a wedding?). It may also be that talking more about future details before the commitment of an engagement has occurred might accelerate a relationship too quickly, before everyone is ready to move forward.

More research is needed to fully understand the implications of pre-engagement marital discussions. But for now, you might want to carefully consider whether you want to share your mason-jar-filled Pinterest "Wedding Board" with your partner.

Next: Put Yourself In Your Partner's Shoes Before Reacting To Bad Behavior

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