When he seems to be perfect "on paper," it is very difficult to know how long you should wait for him to make a long-term commitment. There are many factors to consider, and so before making a decision you need to get clear on the following questions and choose which MAN described below you are dating.
1. Is your partner acting like he is in it for the long term but remains unwilling to discuss marriage?
Let's Pretend Syndrome
If the man you are dating or in a relationship with loves the words "relationship" and "commitment" but won't commit to marriage, it's time to sit down and have a bigger conversation. Many women believe that if they bring up marriage, it will send her man scurrying away like a mouse who has been caught in the kitchen. However, it is normal and healthy for you to want to discuss this with a man who is truly looking for a long-term commitment and has shared this with you in the first few months of dating. (Yes, it is necessary and appropriate once you get past the three-month mark, or you have agreed to be intimate with him, to find out if you have the same relationship goals.)
When you want to have this conversation, however, make sure you don't preface it with, "We need to have a talk." These very words alone will send a man into a defensive stance, which will most likely result in a closed conversation in which there is an abundance of talking with little listening. Instead, tell him that you are enjoying spending time with him, love him and want to check in to make sure you are both on the same page regarding the relationship. Ask him if there is a time that works for him where you could both spend some alone time to talk. Then, once you are face to face, revisit the relationship goal conversation. Remind him, "I'm in a place where marriage/family are very important to me, and I'm wondering if you see this relationship progressing in that way?"
It may seem scary. What if he says no? The truth is that if he says no, then it is important you know this NOW! There are women who avoid this conversation for months and years, hoping their partners will see how fantastic they are and then be inspired to change. While this could happen, the odds are that you may be waiting a very long time while building up a healthy amount of resentment -- which is surely a relationship drain.
Now, if your partner won't discuss a timeline or is unable to define exactly what it is he is waiting for before making the leap, then you will be forced to ask yourself how long YOU are willing to wait for him to decide AND decide what you need him to do to show you there is movement in the direction you desire. For example, is he willing to go to couples counseling with you to sort through the issue? Is he willing to tell you what is holding him back? Can he articulate it? If it is a challenge that has more to do with his past or his own challenges, is he willing to seek coaching or counseling individually? Ultimately, being in this position could make you feel somewhat powerless; however, if you set small milestones that show he is willing to work toward a mutual goal, it could be important to practice patience.
However, if the man you are dating cannot commit or tells you that marriage is not in his cards, then you ultimately must choose what you seek to have in your life in terms of relationships and commitment.
2. Is he telling you he plans on staying together for always, but doesn't "believe in marriage?"
If he wants to be with you and his words and actions match consistently over time, yet he consistently wants to banter back and forth regarding the value of marriage in 21st century society, toss around the latest divorce rate statistics, or point out the number of friends you have who don't seem to be happy even though they are married, it's time to use the same techniques as you would with The Pretender, above.
Ask him about his willingness to engage in couples or relationship counseling, or his desire to move away from his need to be "right" about his point of view so you can create a mutually beneficial solution. A man who wants to be with you long term also wants you to be happy. Creating a win-win is the ultimate goal, and finding a way to get there TOGETHER will ultimately result in the best outcome. Remember, marriage is not accurately portrayed in chick flicks. Therefore, if you can let go of the fairytale proposal you had in mind and work with your partner to find a way to solidify your commitment to each other, you are both more likely to get what you want, when you want it, in a way that is a true expression of your love.
3. Are you willing to compromise, creating a new definition of long-term commitment that includes another sort of ritual or ceremony on which you can both agree? Or is marriage the only option for you?
Perhaps one of you has been married before, once or twice. Or perhaps he is afraid of having yet another set of financial commitments should the marriage fail. Perhaps you both had divorced parents and are considering what you will do differently to ensure your relationship lasts. Maybe he wants to be with you always but is attached to his personal space. Whatever your circumstance, allowing your partner to express his fears and anxieties (and yours, also) openly without judgment and using this as a spring board to creating a solution or safety net that is satisfactory can be a valid option when this "problem" is viewed through the lens of possibility. In the 21st century there are many creative options, both legal as well as spiritual, that can be designed to overcome each person's fears around financial responsibility and custodial obligations, in addition to finding a way to ritualize and honor your commitment to each other.
Again, in a true win-win relationship in which both partners truly want the other to be satisfied and are both able to give up the need to "be right" regarding the ins and outs of having a traditional marriage, it is worth the difficulties and messiness to come to a mutually beneficial and joyful arrangement.
4. He has given you the "disclaimer": He says he loves you, is attracted to you or loves spending time with you, *BUT* he is not ready or able to make a long-term commitment and shows no signs of wanting to change.
The Faux Beau
In this circumstance it's time to stop settling for "good enough" and create space in your life for someone new. He may be fantastic, loving and better than anyone else you have dated in the past, but ultimately if you want to be with someone who wants to be in a happy, mutually beneficial and OFFICIAL relationship, it's time to cut your losses.