What’s the average dating time before marriage, and how soon is too soon to get engaged?
How long did you and your fiance date before he or she proposed—and what’s considered normal? Well, this might not come as a shock, but there’s no definition of what’s “normal.” Answers can vary from decades of dating to four days (wow!). Even though everyone—your parents and extended family members and friends—will have an opinion on the matter, from “You’re jumping in too quickly!” to “It took him way too long to propose—are you sure?” there isn’t a magic formula. Only you can know when you’re ready to take the next step. But as a baseline, Ian Kerner, PhD, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist, couple’s therapist and author of She Comes First, suggests that one to two years is often a good amount of time to date before getting engaged.
“I’ve worked with a lot of couples who have strong relationships, and they met and fell in love quickly and really got to know each other’s friends and family,” Kerner says. “They got to experience what it’s like to live with each other or spend a lot of time with each other, go through some life cycle issues, like the loss of a family member or the loss of a friendship, or going to a wedding or funeral and really getting to see each other in a lot of different contexts and feel like it’s a good match. And generally, that can happen in a year… You want to have some problems emerge and see how you deal with problems together. For me, it’s more about the range of experiences that lend themselves to compatibility rather than the amount of time.
Tammy Nelson, PhD, licensed relationship therapist, board-certified sexologist and author of The New Monogamy and Getting the Sex You Want, also believes that while each couple’s situation is different, it’s most important to learn how to communicate when you have a conflict, rather than focus on the time frame.
“Many couples wait until they are ready to have children, or ready to buy a home before they marry,” Nelson says. “There is no ‘normal.’ Partners may have an implicit expectation of the length of an engagement, based on their family, their culture and their community. Sometimes this is different for each partner, and if it is not significantly discussed in a very explicit way, it can lead to misunderstandings.”
“There is no magic time frame when a couple should date before the engagement, but the rule for any happy and successful marriage is to realize this—all couples go through a ‘romantic love’ phase. This lasts anywhere from 2 days to 26 months, and then the couple will enter into the power struggle or the conflict phase of their relationship. This is natural and probably will last the rest of your marriage, or forever (the bad news). The good news—with conscious communication and planning, a successful marriage means that conflict is inevitable (it has absolutely no reflection on whether or not you are in a marriage that will last), but how you repair your conflict is much more important. Whether you are engaged, living together or married, work on healing your conflicts, create healthy communication and your relationship will last for the rest of your life together.”
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