How soon is too soon to propose? Turns out, the right timeline for an engagement has less to do with how long you’ve been together and more to do with how much you’ve been through together.
“A couple must establish trust and safety before proposing marriage,” says Terri Di Matteo, a professional marriage therapist at Open Door Therapy. “Trust takes time to build, and rushing through this phase places the relationship's future at risk.”
Keep scrolling to learn how soon is too early to propose, and how to know when to get engaged.
When it comes to relationships — or when to get engaged — there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but experts recommend dating for at least a couple of years before getting engaged.
“The best outcomes tend to occur when a couple is together for one to three years before proposing,” says Di Matteo — and research backs this up. One study published found that couples who got engaged after being in the relationship for at least three years were 39% less likely to get divorced than couples who got engaged within the first year of dating.
“The reason for this recommendation is that the couple must experience real-life challenges together,” explains Di Matteo. She explains that this timeline allows enough time to experience everything from holidays together, to illnesses and interpersonal work challenges.
“The strength of a relationship is partially determined by how well a couple handles their challenges,” she adds. Before getting engaged, consider how well you handle and resolve conflict in the relationship, or navigate big life events together.
Before committing, you want to feel confident that you and your partner have each other’s back and can weather the storm when life throws you a curveball. “It can’t prepare a couple for all the stresses and strains ahead, but it allows them to learn about each other during difficult times,” adds Di Matteo.
Although there are a few things to consider before popping the question, there is no hard and fast rule for how soon is too soon to propose. It’s less about the time passing and more about what you’ve been through as a couple.
“A proposal during the rosy, newlywed, falling-in-love phase may not have given the relationship enough time to experience the realities of their partner and how they work together as a pair when challenges occur,” says Di Matteo.
“Conversely, a couple remaining in a committed relationship without advancing toward marriage also has consequences.”
So, what are the milestones you should hit before putting a ring on it? “Milestones to reach before engagement would certainly be meeting the parents and meeting friends,” says Jennifer Klesman, a licensed therapist.
“You want to learn as much about your partner and their life and the people in it before making such a long-term commitment,” she explains. “It tells you a great deal about a person based on how they treat their family, their family dynamics, and their culture.”
Another milestone would be living together. “People don't have to necessarily live together beforehand, it really just depends,” says Kristin Davin, a national board-certified licensed psychologist at Choosing Therapy.
“However, many couples do this because they feel they would get to know their partner better and make sure on a day-to-day basis, they can live together,” she adds. “This also provides the opportunity to talk about things that may come up.”
There are certain factors you should consider before proposing — and some relationship questions to ask yourself. These include:
Whether or not they want children. And if so, how many? Within how long of getting married?
Where to live. Does your future spouse want to put down roots near their family, or do they want to pursue a career in another country? “I have had the experience working with couples where one person wanted to stay where they were on the East Coast and was not flexible to move to the West Coast as their partner wanted to do — in any way. It became a game changer,” says Davin.
How you’ll manage finances. Arguments about money are one of the biggest conflict areas in relationships. Do you have wildly different spending habits? Is there a large income gap in your relationship? Will you open a joint bank account?
How your partner manages their home. How you split household chores is a big contributor to relationship satisfaction. Will your partner pick up after themselves? Do they clean or do they let the trash overflow for a few days?
Their time and expectations. Knowing how you’ll handle your daily life together is key. Do they have hobbies and friends outside of the relationship? How will you manage work-life balance?
Their faith. Does faith play a large role in their lives? And if so how does that affect having a family? What matters to them in that area of their lives?”
Aside from having important conversations about money, children, and relationship expectations, Davin shares some key signs that indicate you’re ready to get engaged. She says couples are on the right track if they:
Look to the future together and have plans
Can rely on one another
Feel safe together
Understand their partner is their own person
Want to make each other happy
Don't see a future without one another
Have discussed their deal breakers
Have good communication
Are willing to make changes or become better to improve the relationship.
According to Davin, some signs you're not ready to get engaged are:
There is not a lot of joy in the relationship
You’re not able to resolve conflict
You have poor communication
You’re only getting engaged because of time factors
You want different things and that becomes more apparent
You haven't aligned on the big conversations
The relationship takes second place often to other things in life
You don't see a future together
You have commitment issues.
If any of these ring true, they might mean you’re not quite ready to make the next step in your relationship. “Couples should consider premarital counseling and discuss the expectations of marriage — we all have them,” says Davin. “Don't let just a timeline dictate the next steps.”