That Dreaded Question: 'So When Are You Getting Married?'
Holidays are always the best time for inquisitive family members to aim their small talk toward uncovering any juicy details about your love life. When I was dating my now-husband a few years ago, Christmas gatherings always involved questions like, "When do you think he is going to propose?" or "When are you getting married?"
For most of us in a relationship, it's one thing to discuss marriage plans (or not) but another entirely when you start to feel pressure from people around you. With my loved ones, I tried to be honest, yet generic, but ultimately struggled to draw boundaries tactfully.
Now that I'm married, the nagging question my husband and I receive is, "When are you guys going to have kids?" It never ends.
It can be tough to respond to these questions politely only to be met with judgmental responses. In search of best practices when grappling with these queries, we spoke with three relationship experts who gave their recommendations on some key strategies couples can use when faced with these and other tactless questions about their love life.
Step 1: Ensure you and your partner are of one mind
"The first step is for you and your partner to get on the same page about this topic, then honestly present it to your families as a unified front," said Wyatt Fisher, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and relationship coach in Boulder, Colorado. If one partner wants to get married while the other does not or the couple disagree about a marriage timeline, the situation will only be more stressful.
"Sometimes, the expectations of family and peers can put couples on a timeline or budget that may not suit the couple's own needs and desires," said Merri Knox, a certified relationship and dating coach at Relationship Hero, a platform based in Australia.
Katherine Hertlein, Ph.D., a researcher and professor in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Couple and Family Therapy Program, said that in her work, couples have told her, "I want to get married but my partner doesn't and everyone's always asking us."
The discussion you have with your family and friends can be stressful but represents a crucial step in creating boundaries.
Thus, it's best to have this discussion first with your partner to work out a general timeline both of you can agree on. Based on whatever that looks like, you can then come up with a message both of you can present to your loved ones together.
"It's important to also discuss and decide who the person will be who is going to deliver the message to loved ones," she added.
The discussion you have with your family and friends can be stressful but represents a crucial step in creating boundaries. It's not a race: Give yourself and your partner enough space and time to align with each other before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Listen and be honest with your loved ones
Once you're both on the same page regarding your future plans and have crafted the message you want to convey, try to keep an open mind and listen to potential responses.
"Couples could use reflective listening with their loved ones," Knox suggested. "For example, 'I can see that you're really interested in what this looks like for me.' Then couple it with a request like, 'Right now, I'm really enjoying where the relationship is at and I would love to come back to you on this when we have a clearer idea on what that could look like for us.'"
Don't be afraid to be upfront about your views, even if you don't plan to get married or have different plans for your future as a couple.
"You can share [your views as a couple] honestly, openly, to the extent that you find appropriate and that you feel like it's going to be productive," Hertlein said. "When it starts to become an unproductive conversation, I would recommend stopping."
Step 3: Draw boundaries and remain firm
If you're faced with objections, judgmental remarks or more probing questions that make you uncomfortable, establish boundaries with the family member or friend. Try to do it positively, Hertlein advised.
"It's about saying that, 'We as a couple have decided on this and we're so excited you are interested in our relationship and that you support us,'" she said. "'This is a decision we've made together and we'll definitely keep you in the loop if that changes.' So keep the interaction positive and assume that your loved one has positive intentions, even if the impact is rough."
Fisher added, "I think it's important to be honest with your loved ones about your intentions in your relationship and remind them of it often to keep judgment at bay.
"You can remind them that we shouldn't judge one another and if they continue, you can pull them aside and discuss how it makes you feel," he continued. "If this does not help make things better, you'll probably need to distance yourself from the family member."
"Besides compassionately setting boundaries, you can also explore what place those questions are coming from with your loved ones to better understand how to respond," Knox said.
For example, are they coming from a place of genuine concern for your relationship and well-being?
"Think about what the motivation is behind their comments," Hertlein said. "Is it due to a control issue? Is it due to people being curious about your choices? Is it because they don't support the relationship? What's the motivation behind it? Try to see the positive intentions instead of looking at it from the perspective of, 'This person is trying to hurt me' or 'This person is trying to interfere.'"
Questions from family members or friends are often about expectations they have for couples in general rather than for you personally, Hertlein said.
"Their expectation is often that if you're together for a long period of time, there would be a 'next step,'" she explained.
Finally, remember you and your partner are the ones in control.
"Don't let anyone else influence what you do in your relationship," Fisher emphasized. "Your relationship is yours, and it's up to you and your partner to decide what is best."