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Ask Izzy: Marriage or move on? Finding value alignment in long-term relationships

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Photo by Kampus Production/  Pexels
Photo by Kampus Production/ Pexels

Ask Izzy is a biweekly advice column about relationships, mental health, and sexuality. Written by Isabel Mata — a Seattle-based lifestyle writer, podcast host, and mental health advocate — Ask Izzy offers tangible expert advice so all readers can have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. Submit your question today by filling out this survey

Dear Izzy,

I've been with my boyfriend for about seven years now. I'm ready for full commitment — house, marriage, kids... I bring it up often, but it's never really a conversation with a "resolution." It's just put back on the back burner. I don't want to pressure him, but I also don't want to wait around for nothing to happen. What if I am wasting my twenties on somebody who cannot commit to me? I love him so much and hate to think of us breaking up, but my personal values include starting a family and having a happy marriage. What do I do?

— Impatiently in Love

Dear Impatiently,

I was scrolling through Netflix this past weekend and stumbled across The Ultimatium: Marry or Move On. If you aren't familiar with the show, it is exactly what it sounds like. In this particular season, we meet a couple similar to you: high school sweethearts who have been together for seven years. In this case, Ryann, a sweet Southern woman who has been patient for so long, gives her partner James the option to either get married finally or break up. Like you, she has been bringing up her needs and wants for years, and the conversations never go anywhere. They decide to go on the show in order to figure out if the problem is compatibility, or something else.

The reason I bring this up is because, more often than not, it is not a question of compatibility or values. Instead, it has to do with a fear or anxiety that one person in the relationship has. In the case of the show, James often talks about how he does want to get married and have a family, but because of his turbulent childhood, he has a huge fear of being abandoned. If he finally does take that next step and it doesn't work, all his fears will become real.

This is so scary for a lot of people who have gone through some form of trauma. The difficult thing is that this has nothing to do with the other partner, who can't do much except show support.

By the end of the season, viewers see some amazing communication between James and Ryann, in which they talk about how they can work through those fears together.

This is where my advice for you comes in. The first thing is to establish whether or not it is actually value misalignment, or something else entirely. When you bring up your desire to get married, settle down, have kids, etc., with your partner, what is his response? Does he ever say that he also wants those things?

If the answer is yes, then I would encourage you to dig a little deeper and ask your partner about his views on marriage as a whole. Did he have a good example of marriage growing up for him to emulate?

Couples therapy is a great place to start these conversations if you have tried before and they haven't ended the way you would like.

If you bring up marriage and family and it seems as though your partner does not want those things, then unfortunately, you have your answer. So many couples in long-term relationships forget the importance of value alignment, which ultimately leads to divorce or breakups. Truly, the only way for a marriage to actually work is if both partners want and care about the same things.

While I understand how hard it is to think about breaking up with someone you care deeply about, remember that you deserve a relationship rooted in the same core values. If you try to move forward with someone on a different page, then you will constantly feel disappointed and hurt.

If your current partner does not want the same things as you, it will be sad. But like the cliché says, when one door closes, another opens. There is someone out there for you who wants the same things as you do. But you won't find out if you are constantly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.