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Marriage discussion should verify what partners already feel

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

If partner's opinion on marriage is a mystery, you're not there yet

Too pushy?: I'm going to talk to my long-term, live-in boyfriend about getting married; no pressure, just what are his thoughts. We're in our 20s and I'm absolutely okay with waiting if he wants to do that; I'm bringing it up because I've had increasingly persistent marriage-would-be-nice thoughts.

Plus, this is the first year we're doing the holiday-swap thing (we've always gone to our respective parents' houses), and we've both got at least one person in the family who will ask something obnoxious, so it'd be better to go into it as a unit than to hear each other's thoughts on marriage for the first time in front of an audience.

Anyway, I always hear about these conversations as total disasters. Any recommendations?

Carolyn: Why would marriage be nice? Are you waiting for some part of your life to start, are you waiting to be able to say something to your family, is it a matter of security, completion, children, faith … ?

These conversations are disasters when the person who starts them isn't even sure what she or he wants or why — or when you're in this for something other than a lifetime shared with this person, or if you're looking for validation through a title.

When you have a true, shared, committed life with someone, the fact of marriage is not a big leap, but instead a bit of sealing wax on the envelope. A nice flourish, but not necessary for getting your mail from A to B.

You're either there already, together, or you're having this conversation because, despite living with him, you don't know where he is emotionally. If it's that, then that's what needs your attention, not the legal status of what you share.

Generous aunt should speak up about unappreciative remarks

Georgia: My sister, a single mom, needed a sanity break, so I spent 10 days with her 8- and 5-year-old boys while she took a romantic trip with her boyfriend. I had a fantastic time getting to know my nephews (good practice for when I have kids) and tried to keep them to their regular routine as much as possible.

Yet when Sis got back, she spent the next week criticizing absolutely everything I had done, from the way I did the dishes to my bedtime leniency (it was summer!) to the fact that one of the kids lost a tooth while I was there. She ended it with a "But thanks" that sounded more like "Thanks for nothing."

My feelings are really hurt about this. I've never done anything like this before, so I had no idea how rigid my sister is about her parenting and housekeeping. Part of me wants to let it go (after all, I didn't do it so she'd thank me, I did it as a gift to her — I thought) but the other part wants her to reconsider whether her idea of a perfect routine was worth hurting my feelings over. Say something, or let it go?

Carolyn: Say something. How about "I can't argue with you on any of your complaints about my housekeeping and parenting skills, but, really, I offered you love here, not skill. Your criticism really hurt."

And since she didn't tell you herself: You did a remarkably generous thing.

Marriage discussion should verify what partners already feel 12/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 14, 2009 5:07pm]
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