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Balking at Girlfriend's "Marry Me" Ultimatum

QUESTION: My girlfriend of 11 months is putting extreme pressure on me to marry. It has basically come down to her wanting to break up if I won't give her a commitment. I love & don't want to lose her, but I am simply not ready to get married. I am very angry that she puts me in this position, I find it very unfair. I just want us to live together for a while. What advice can you give me? Thank you.

ANSWER: Let your girlfriend know that she is very special to you and that she is in a place in your heart that someone would have to occupy to be considered as a future marriage partner. But that you take commitment very seriously and want to be certain than neither one of you would have regrets about your marital choice based on one person's lack of readiness.

Explain to your girlfriend that she is pushing you away from her by giving you an all or nothing ultimatum. And consider that the way she is attempting to resolve her own needs does not bode well for the future! In fact, it is damaging to your relationship.

How is it that your girlfriend could feel secure about your capitulating to her needs at a time that is premature for you? She could not feel truly chosen by you, if she forced a commitment, rather than experienced your desire to join in matrimony with her. And more importantly, what does her ultimatum mean about her quality of love and caring for you? Does she have your best interests at heart as well as her own? Why can there be no compromise that would allow for further development of the relationship before sealing a life-changing commitment?

Open up a dialogue to address your girlfriend's needs about the future, but do not acquiesce to ultimatums. Encourage an open discussion about feelings and how each of you envisions a healthy marriage partnership. Explore goals, family background and work on developing a process for decision making that will support relationship instead of destroy it.

With the divorce rate at about 50% you are acting wisely. Your girlfriend is making the mistake of giving you ultimatums instead of simply opening up a discussion about future marriage. But it is possible also that you are contributing by being unwilling to talk about marriage or insisting on living together right now.

The good news is that you both want to be together. She wants to marry and you want to live together. What needs to be worked through in your relationship is what kind of contract you can develop which can take both of your needs into account. What is the meaning of a formal contract for her and an informal contract for you? The PROCESS of commitment is what must be negotiated to address both of your concerns. But ultimatums on either of your parts sounds somewhat precipitous at this point in your relationship.

Take some period of time you both agree on (3 months, 6 months?) to simply explore marital issues and feelings about commitment. Continue dating and talking your way through it. This dilemma represents an opportunity for relationship building if you can slow it down enough to find your answers TOGETHER. Problems resolved through understanding, rather than pressure tactics result in progress towards dedication and commitment.

If you have not found a joint resolution after an agreed period of time, consider the fact that there may be other "fish in the sea" that suit each of you better. Continued pressure to change in ways that do not feel comfortable to one or both of you could prove to be a preview of things to come!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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