I have always wanted to be his wife,” explained the forty-something woman looking for relationship advice from Dear Abby. She was talking about her live-in boyfriend of five years. She laments, “I want to get married and he knows it. We have discussed it — but every time I bring it up (and I always bring it up, he never does), he has an excuse. He says it’s only a piece of paper, we’ve both already been married, I have some debt, etc…. I am tired of being just “the girlfriend.” She signed her letter “Wants the Piece of Paper.”
In her response, Dear Abby tells her that “if he feels as strongly about you as you do him, he may come around one day, but there are no guarantees. And yes, you will have to ‘suck it up’ if you’re not prepared to leave, and while you’re doing that, make the best of it.”
Women Should Put Up With Being Unhappy? Really, Dear Abby?
The woman is clearly unhappy with things as they are; she feels powerless. Every woman in a relationship knows that sucking it up and making the best of it is what women have been doing for ages – to our detriment. We know how being consistently dissatisfied with your most intimate relationship will eat away at your self-esteem. That lack of self-esteem will permeate every part of your life until you are living a “half-life.”
However, at the same time, her sweetie has a real reason for concern. While most people know that nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce, few know that second marriages only have a 40% chance of success. So if she thinks marriage will seal some permanent deal, or guarantee some happily ever after, she’s wrong.
Based on a 2019 report from Pew Research, 55% of adults think couples are just as well off if they stay together without ever getting married, compared to 45% who think long-term couples ought to get married eventually. And 69% say cohabitation is just fine with or without plans to get married. At the same time, the success rate isn’t any better than with marriage.
The Two Questions to Ask Yourself & Your Partner About Marriage
There are two questions “Wants the Piece of Paper” Lady needs to ask. The first one is why it’s so important to be married. She wants the piece of paper, but why? What is it about being married that matters?
The Pew report found that married couples experience greater trust and higher levels of satisfaction. Is that her reason? Or is it about health insurance, taxes, security, legal issues…or something else? For example, unless there are legal papers in place, couples who live together don’t have first rights if their sweetie gets sick. If her sweetie got sick, his parents and children have more to say about his health care than she does. They can even restrict her visitation rights.
The second question is “why is he so adamant against it?” Was his divorce so devastating that he can’t face the risk of a repeat? Is it about freedom, money and alimony, or is he hiding something – like does he have secret property or a mistress on the side? OR, is the idea of vowing to be together “for better or for worse” until you’re dead terrifying to her sweetie? He’s been through it once. He knows how life changes and couples change. It can get ugly.
So what can they do and be happy?
The Five-Year Marriage® Offers a Better Way to Do “I DO”
What “Wants the Piece of Paper” Lady could suggest is The Five-Year Marriage. She can start with a Curiosity Conversation to find out if he’s open to a short-term (five years), agile marriage. Then she and her sweetie can make agreements about their relationship now – ones they can agree to live with – for just five years. At the end of five years they can continue some of those agreements, renegotiate others, or toss out the ones that aren’t working and replace them with more doable ones….or another five years.
What the The Five-Year Marriage does is help couples sort out their thoughts and feelings and translate them into spoken promises based on clear and written understandings. The Five-Year Marriage contract is NOT a pre-nup – which is usually mostly about money, property, etc. Instead, Five-Year Marriage agreements can include decisions about shared values, shared household responsibilities, budgets, children from the previous relationship, holidays, friends, in-laws, free time, date nights, and any of the things most couples ignore until there’s a problem.
Solve Marriage Problems with Agreements & Family Meetings
In the Five-Year Marriage, couples keep track of themselves and their agreements through family meetings. over time they get better at and more comfortable with accountability, communication skills, problem solving, and negotiation.
At the end of five years, the couple sees where they are, where they’ve been, how they’ve changed and where they want to go – and if they still want to go together.
For Wants the Piece of Paper Lady, maybe after a Five-Year Marriage discussion, she might decide she’s happier just living together. Or her sweetie could feel comfortable enough to take the step toward changing his marital status.
Either one is better than living stressed and unhappy in “suck it up” mode.
Learn more about The Five-Year Marriage here: The Five-Year Marriage