Cover photo by Katende Muhammad Photography
Whether you’ve been together for several months or years, you might be considering the big question: How long should you date before getting engaged? Unfortunately, there’s no gold standard in regards to time spent in the pre-engagement phase. Every relationship is different, as is every couple. However, experts agree that there are some important rules that can help determine whether or not a couple is ready to take the marital plunge.
According to Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great and professor at Oakland University, what really matters is that a couple knows each other well. “You should have a solid understanding of each other, have seen each other through some ups and downs of life, know each other’s passions and how you handle stress,” she says. “When you’re in the throes of the falling-in-love beginning stages of romantic love, you’re not able to really see your partner for who they really are—you’re blinded by the passion and romantic love.” Once you graduate from this state, you can start to see your partner’s flaws. Hey, we all have them!
Because you generally need time to get to this stage of understanding, Wendi L. Dumbroff, a licensed professional counselor, believes that time does plays a role in determining how long you should date before getting engaged. “The honeymoon phase’ of a relationship is the stuff dreams are made of, but—and this is a big but—it doesn’t last longer than three to six months tops for most couples,” she says. “You might be so smitten with someone in the early stages of the relationship, but, as life becomes more realistic, you realize that your new partner isn’t quite as perfect as you had imagined, or hoped.”
It isn’t to say, however, that once you see your partner for who he or she truly is, that you’ll want out. “If you can look at this person with greater clarity—at their good and bad qualities, as well as everything in between—and still decide you love them and want to marry them, that’s much better than making such an important decision from the starry-eyed infatuation phase that characterizes those first months of new love,” Dumbroff adds. “Giving a relationship enough time to get through this phase can offer partners different insights about each other, as they manage, for example, when the first argument comes along.”
To help demystify time and the emphasis we should place on it before someone gets down on one knee, we asked relationship pros to reveal how you can tell how long to date before getting engaged.
The core principles are in place
According to relationship coach Fila Antwine these important aspects of making a relationship last—and knowing how long you should date before getting engaged—include trust, honesty, forgiveness, compassion, flexibility, passion and love. “There’s a reason we’ve heard them all before—each of these principles are vital to the health of the relationship and the overall fulfillment each partner experiences,” she says. “If one or more of these aspects is fragile, the relationship becomes exposed to break down.”
You don’t expect each other to change
If it’s something inconsequential, like how often he or she takes out the trash, you can probably live with it, or hope that he or she will step things up, but if it’s a more serious change you’d like to see happen, this is probably not the right person for you. “I’m not saying that your partner has to be perfect, but if you’re not willing to accept them with all of their imperfections, you should find someone else,” says Dumbroff. “The likelihood you will be able to change them is not very good.”
You know how to negotiate boundaries
This is an important step for a soon-to-be married couple, according to Dumbroff. Boundaries may include how often you go out with and without your significant other, if and when you entertain friends and family, how much time you spend alone, etc. As relationships continue and grow, new boundaries may need to be negotiated and can help determine how long you should date before getting engaged. “Relationships are more sustainable when partners can listen to each other and make compromises,” Dumbroff adds.
You’re sexually compatible
It’s important that you know your partner’s likes and dislikes when it comes to what happens between the sheets. This ensures that you’ll enjoy a happy and prosperous sex life together—a key ingredient for a long-lasting relationship. “Sex is certainly not everything, but when that basic need cannot be satisfied, it can possibly end a relationship,” says Dumbroff. “It is better to talk about these things ahead of time, to find out if you will be sexually compatible in the long run and make an informed decision about moving forward together.”
You can communicate clearly and effectively
Fighting is a totally normal aspect of any relationship, especially the romantic kind. But how you fight is what determines whether or not you’ll last as a couple. “The goal of relationships is not to never argue, but rather, to stay present, listen to the other and share your perspective of the situation when you do argue,” says Dumbroff. “When couples allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other, they’re not only sharing the core of the problem, versus just yelling angrily because your favor wasn’t done, but they’re also building closeness and intimacy with each other.”