Talking with Your Family About Long-Term, Non-Marriage Relationships

A man and woman having dinner outside with an older woman.

Our families tend to get excited when we bring the same partner around to the house for a little while. After all, in previous decades some of the biggest achievements in life were getting married and having children. For many people, these remain the most life-changing and exciting experiences. But with greater egalitarianism and cultural shifts, there are also plenty of people who are choosing to forego the marriage bond.

If you’ve been with your life partner for a while, it may be worth having a little discussion with your closest family so that they know what to expect out of the relationship. Family may be actively pushing for marriage, but in many cases they simply are excited for you and don’t know how to show it other than by referencing a wedding in the future. By giving them a heads-up about your plans, you can avoid some of the more annoying questions and get support for your long-term, non-marriage relationship.

Talk With Your Partner First

A female couple laughing together outside.

For some, not getting married is an open question: are we completely uninterested, or are we simply not interested right now? This is a perfectly fine place to be, but if you sense family pressure to conform to a typical marriage relationship, it might be time to explore the question. You may discover that your partner is not interested in marriage, sees it as an unhelpful ritual, or any of a few other attitudes.

You also might discover that your partner is considering marriage as an option, and that is fine, too! However, as your family begins to ask questions about who you two are together, it can be nice to have an answer that is informed by an honest conversation. This conversation should have at least two levels: what is your partner sharing with you about their long-term needs, as well as what he or she is ready to share with your family about your relationship.

Share Your Best Reasons for Why Marriage Isn’t Your Aim

A pair of holding hands in a park.

Once you’ve established with your partner what the situation is between you, you can work together to craft a response to family. Why would you have to “craft” the response? Well, most people have complex reasons about why they feel the way they do towards marriage. To respect the privacy of yourself and your partner, you don’t necessarily need to share every reason why you don’t want to get married. (After all, some of the marriages in your family may actually be part of the reason that you don’t think it is such a good idea.)

Try to find some ways to talk about marriage that focusing on upholding who you both are and why you are happy with your current relationship, rather than focusing solely on the flaws of marriage. Statements that talk about how loving one another is enough, that you don’t need the pomp and ceremony, or you don’t feel the need to be legally married are all great. Make sure the conversation revolves around what you like and cherish about each other, rather than on marriage in general. It is easier for even a very traditional person to come around to long-term non-marriage relationships when they can see how authentically and openly you care about each other.

Offer Other Ways to “Join In” and Become Family

Often, one of the most comforting parts of a wedding is that it gives a marker for when two families are joined together. If you and your long-term partner don’t desire marriage, but do want to join each other’s families, come up with some plans for how to do so. Sometimes, that can be as simple as pitching in with the next family camping trip, but other times it may mean making a concerted effort to spend time with family who aren’t easy to reach.

A side benefit of deliberately getting connected to each other’s family is that they also become a little less insistent about having a wedding when they’ve really connected with your partner. One big reason for weddings is to get to know a partner, so when a family member asks when you’re going to get married, they may mean, deep down, that they want to get to know your partner better because they’re special to the family. It’s hard for family to raise a bunch of objections when they already know and care about your partner, so a way to get family on board is simply to get them to spend time together.

With these strategies, you and your partner can bring your family around to your thinking. They may still be big proponents of marriage, but by having honest conversations and bonding experiences with them, you can make new memories that can become the conversation topics for years to come, rather than a tired discussion of whether or not you will be having a wedding in the future.

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