Is it just my feed, or does it seem like everyone you know is getting engaged? Seeing countless engagement announcements makes me wonder how all these couples knew when to get engaged. After all, every engaged couple is in different stages (in life and in their relationship), but they decided it was time to get engaged and take the next step to marriage. Being in a long-term relationship myself, post after post of ring pictures had me feeling happy for my friends, curious about their wedding plans, and (TBH) a little jealous. How does anyone know when it’s time to get engaged, and what are their lives or relationships supposed to look like? I reached out to psychologists and relationship therapists for the scoop on how to know when you’re ready for that next step. Here are the five signs to look out for.
1. When both of you feel ready for marriage
I would be lying if I said I don’t send my boyfriend pictures of engagement rings—often. But the right time to get engaged is when both partners feel ready for not just an engagement but also for marriage. If one partner is feeling rushed, pressured, or unsure, the time isn’t right. Pressure from either a significant other or friends and family is never a good reason to get married.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, relationship expert, and author of Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly, explained that a common reason couples get engaged when they are not ready for marriage is because of external pressure from well-intentioned loved ones or even internal pressure if you feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do. “These variables often have very little bearing on the viability of a relationship,” she said. While most people don’t often feel 100% ready for big life changes (marriage, kids, career changes, etc.), you should feel comfortable in your choice to spend your life with this person. You’ll know you’re ready to get engaged when both of you feel ready to be married and all of the responsibilities that come with it—not just ready for the engagement phase because it’s what’s supposed to come next.
2. When both of you are sure about each other
So you know you both have to be ready for the commitment of marriage, but you also both have to be sure about the commitment to each other. Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage, has worked with countless divorced couples who were not sure about an engagement but went through with it anyway to “try it out.” Both partners should feel emotionally ready to commit for the long term. Before taking the next step, have an open and honest conversation with your partner to make sure both of you are not having doubts or have any unanswered questions that may be deal breakers. Also, you should feel sure about the person as they are now (and not how you hope they might be).
3. When the decision has nothing to do with timelines
I repeat: There is no “right time” for couples to get engaged. Just because you’ve planned on getting engaged after a certain number of years or if you had a vision for your life to be married by a certain age does not mean you should be engaged. Give yourself the freedom to get engaged based on your feelings in the relationship and not based on time. A couple who has been together for five years might never feel ready for engagement if they are not the right fit, while a couple who gets engaged within months of dating might have a lasting, happy marriage because they were both ready for that commitment to each other. In other words, there is no such thing as the right timing; it’s more about your feelings and commitment to each other.
4. When you really know your partner
Whether you’ve lived together for years or have been dating for a matter of months, you should know your partner inside and out. Moments where you see each other at your worst are important to determine compatibility because you know that you’re not just in love with the best version of them and that you know who they are when they’re not trying to impress you. When deciding whether or not to commit to someone for a lifetime, you should (of course) love all of their best qualities and traits. However, you should heavily focus on their negative traits as well. If you accept each other as you both are and love (not in spite of but because of) your partner even through their faults, you probably know your partner as they really are. This also means making sure you have similar life goals, whether it’s where to live, career choices, or family planning. You can be different in personality traits and hobbies, but it’s crucial to be on the same page about major life decisions.
5. When you see them in your future plans
If you’re thinking about the next step, you probably have already thought about the future (and have hopefully talked about it together too). And when you do picture your future, you always include them in your plans, whether it’s daydreaming of bucket list vacations or more lifelong goals like buying a house and having a family. Your future plans naturally include them and consider their goals as well. If you see yourself living in an apartment in NYC and they want to buy land in Utah or if you don’t want kids and they want a big family, you may not be ready to get engaged with such separate ideas of future plans.
Every couple and every person is different, so there is no hard and fast answer to when you should get engaged—each couple has their own needs, history, timelines, and future. But hopefully now you have some insight on how to know when it’s time for you and your partner to talk about engagement. They say “you know when you know,” but I think that’s a load of crap. You “know” when you’re in love and have had honest conversations about your goals, dreams, and feelings and when they all align in a way that makes you feel secure in spending your life with them.