Well, he probably thought, either because you told him outright or you gave enough hints, that you wanted a commitment from him, so he gave you a ring and engagement, hoping that would suffice. And it has…for nearly 20 years. He has seemingly had zero incentive to make it official and tie the knot; have you ever told him you’d leave him if he didn’t? *Would* you leave him if he didn’t? If not, you’re probably going to have to accept that you will likely be perpetually engaged to this guy and never married, unless you can give him some convincing reasons why marriage would benefit him. If you *would* leave him if he downright refused to marry you, tell him so and give him a date that you need to be married by. If it doesn’t happen, leave.
Before you do all this though, are you sure you want to marry the guy after all this time? You’ve probably been so focused on why he hasn’t wanted to marry you — analyzing his feelings—-and his behavior for signs of his feelings — that you may have lost sight of your own feelings. Do you feel loved and supported in this relationship? Does he make you feel good about yourself? Would you be satisfied if your relationship, aside from the marriage thing, remained forever as it is today? Or, do you think a lot needs to change — beyond your marriage status — in order for you to feel happy and satisfied and loved and cared for?
A marriage certificate is not going to change things between you. Whatever you have together now is what you would have after you marry. If it isn’t making you happy, there’s no sense in legally committing yourself to it. But there would be some sense in working through your issues to see if you can get your needs met and vice versa. You might find that if you can do that, the marriage thing won’t feel as important to you, or it may feel more important to your partner. You may also find that the relationship has run its course and ending things will be easier without the red tape of a divorce.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.