How long to stay in relationship

How Long Is Too Long to Stay in a Relationship that Isn’t Moving Forward?

I just heard about a young woman who ended a 10 year relationship with her college sweetheart. She wanted to get married. He just couldn’t commit. I was shocked. Ten years. It reminds me of the movie He’s Just Not That Into You where Jennifer Aniston finally breaks up with her boyfriend of 7 years (Ben Affleck) after he tells her that he doesn’t want to marry. That story has a happy ending, when Ben overcomes his nuptial fears and proposes to Jennifer. Real life stories usually don’t end so well.

I know that what I’m about to tell you is probably going to be really harmful to a lot of women, but I believe in being totally honest with my readers, so here goes.

I personally know several couples who dated for five years or more and finally did get married (and are still happily married).

Why is this harmful? Because I might have just given women stuck in dead end relationships which will never lead to marriage the false hope that they too will be one of those success stories, and the motivation (or excuse) to hang in their for another couple of years (or more).

Ladies, before you get too excited let me tell you two things about those success stories:

1. The women involved went through hell for years.

I can only imagine the frustration and pain they constantly had to suffer as year after year flew by with nothing more to show for than some I love you’s and promises of impending engagement, as they watched their friends walk down the wedding aisle one by one. Can you handle that pain, day after day, for years?

2. The women eventually gave their men a choice: marry me or lose me.

And they were serious. They cut their guys off, cold turkey, no making up, getting back together, trying again. No more. It worked.

Learn your lesson from these gals. If you’re in a relationship with a man who is unable to ask for your hand in marriage, you have two choices:

1. hang in there and hope he comes to his senses.

2. break up with him.

If you choose curtain option number one, you will join the legions of frustrated and disappointed who have made the same choice, and eventually find yourself back on the dating scene, scarred, bitter, and several years older competing against a whole new crop of young, bubbly, playmates. If you are in your mid thirties, staying in a dead end relationship could be socially, and maternally, suicidal.

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My advice is to choose option two and break up. Yes it’s scary. What happens if he doesn’t come back? Well, I hate to tell you this, but if he doesn’t come back he would never have married you anyway.

What if he just needs more time? Fair enough. Set a time frame that is reasonable for YOU. Unless the guy is in the middle of med school (or the equivalent), he shouldn’t need more than 6 months to at least make a very clear commitment to marry you in the near future. If it doesn’t happen by your one year anniversary, I’d say it’s time to “go on now go, walk out the door”.

Being engaged for years is no solution either. I can’t see a good reason to be engaged for more than a few months or for as long as it takes to plan your perfect wedding. More about long engagements coming soon.

I can't see a good reason to be engaged for more than a few months -- enough to plan wedding. Click To Tweet

So how long is too long?

I think anything over a year. If you can’t get clarity by then, chances are extremely high that it will never happen. And by the way, the same applies to guys dating girls that won’t commit. If a woman can’t commit to marrying you now, she almost definitely never will.

How long do you think is too long? Have you been in a long relationship that ended well? Badly? You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.

If you need personal dating and relationship advice, you've come to the right place. To get answers to your specific questions or scenarios, click here.

27 replies
  1. Honey B
    Honey B says:

    This is a really useful post. I have been in a relationship for 10 years now and I have always wanted to get married but my partner doesn’t (he is divorced.) I respect his feelings, but he uses the “it’s just a bit of paper” line as well and it does get to me that when he married his first wife he believed in it and now he doesn’t with me.

  2. Kathi
    Kathi says:

    Well at least reading these, I dont feel so dumb. Others are in the same boat. I have been with my bf for 9 yrs, we are both widowed and in our 50’s. He knows I want to get married and just goes silent when I try to talk about it. The most he says is, he just doesnt want to get married again. Wont give a reason. Hard to leave after so many years, what seem to be wasted years. I talk about moving, and he doesnt even suggest living together. I guess I know what I need to do, but its so hard.

  3. Mandy
    Mandy says:

    Why Marriage so freaking important to tell everyone they are committed to someone. It really doesn’t mean your in love it’s just a paper that is harder to end the relationship if you want out but people still Divorce. You should act like your married before you married if you have that kind of close relationship and don’t put any weight on a piece of paper. Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of marriage but people need to stop acting like it’s the end goal in a relationship your wedding isn’t the end. The end goal is to spend your life with that person till death you don’t need a peice of paper. If you put a number on how many years till marriage comes because it’s some form of reward or end game after loving the person your with then you don’t really care about the person. I understand that different have diffent security levels they need to feel like the other person cares about them but I don’t think marriage should be the answer you should build the relationship strong enough to with stand with or with out getting married The idea of marriage is great but some think it’s more important than it really is. The love and loyalty you share with someone is 1st priority.

    • Arnie Singer
      Arnie Singer says:

      If marriage isn’t important to both parties in a relationship, then they don’t need the “piece of paper”. But if it is important to one or both, then you need to respect that and recognize the importance.

  4. Patrice
    Patrice says:

    Hello I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 1.5 years. I don’t want 4 to 5 years to pass and we are still in the same place. I was very open in the beginning advising him I will like to be married again. I was previously married for 8 years and it ended. The interesting thing about this situation is he has three kids (4,7 and 25) by three different women. I have a child of my own 13 and do not want anymore children. All of his relationships have been anywhere from 5-8 years with no marriages. If I don’t bring up the future neither does he, I ask him about this and he stated “ just because I don’t speak about it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it”. Keep in mind this man is 48 and I am 43. Just need some advice.

  5. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I have bin with my man for almost 10 years … I have had to watch my friends and family one by one walk down the aisle… and it has caused me a great deal of pain .. everytime I asked him if he had plans he would say yes I will .. when will you can I start planning or just go to the court house it didn’t matter to me . I have two kids with him nothing has bin more harder to me then to finally realize I wasn’t good enough 😩 But I can’t watch one more person I no have the dream I want so badly … I am giving up I give up i plan on moving out asap and letting him come back to me or not .. but I would rather be alone then with someone who isn’t coming to his sense it’s ate me alive inside it’s done more damage then it’s bin worth believe me .

  6. Posh
    Posh says:

    We lived together for 5 years, and were together for 6 years. In 2013 summer I said: 6 months to think – lets get married or lets break up. I’ve waited for 1 year. He didn’t proposed. 2014 summer I left.
    One year after break up he wrote me letters, we talked…
    In 2016 spetember he proposed to our common friend and in 2017 he married her!!! What a “Happy end”! :)))
    And I am still alone and depressed…

  7. Lo
    Lo says:

    I’ve been with my bf for 11 years since college. We’ve had many ups and downs which includ long distance and breaks. We broke up a few years back due to disagreements of marriage and when. We got back together with a compromise but 3 years later still nothing. Reason being we need to be financially ready- meaning a house. We ended up moving for my job and getting close to buying a house, only to have him relocate for a promotion in his job. Feeling like we are never on the same page- I gave him until the end of the year to decide or I’m gone. What hurts is he has to think about it. It’s made me think if this is what I even want at all anymore and it just sucks.

  8. Shae
    Shae says:

    Please help!
    7 years no ring and I’m miserable.
    Been waiting since year 3. He had me pick out a really affordable ring. We got pregnant which was fine at the time because we were getting engaged anyhow. It never happened. If I could go back I would have left when I found out. I feel all alone like a single mom except for finances.
    At baby shower I felt ridiculous without that ring and him being there. At the babies birth I debated not having him there. I ended up giving the baby his last name. Huge mistake. Now I’m the outsider.
    Our son is almost two now. Since his birth I have no stopped asking him when when when. I’ve screamed and cried now! I want to get married now l I’m leaving I’m done. He looks at me quietly.
    He insists we are getting married. Nothing ever happens. It’s all words no action.
    His annual fam xmas Party is coming up in 2 weeks and I said I’m not going to any fam events anymore with him. Last year his aunts embarrassed me putting me on he spot calling me his wife and asking when the wedding was. Our son was a few months then.
    And the year before I was there 7 months pregnant! I can’t even believe this BS as I type it. I’m so upset.
    I’ve never had a situation like this or even heard of it. I’ve seen it in movies and read stuff online but it makes no sense. Why is he even with me???
    And now I saw there’s no money in our bank. He’s been putting all his dough in his retirement. Thousands of dollars. This would seem fine if A. We didn’t have expenses and bills like we do B. Where’s my ring?! C. If you want me to be a true single mom then get out of my house!
    I feel so stuck here. I know I’m going to be broke if I’m alone and I can’t do it alone. Every time I see his face I’m angry about this. I feel used! Like he used my body as a baby factory for him! Forget women using men and trapping them by getting pregnant. This is the other way around! I love my son and wouldn’t go back but I would never have had a child with this man without commitment. Huge mistake.
    I told him I’m leaving and won’t go into 2018 w/o at least a proposal. He insists he will prooose by then. He also said he would propose back at my bday in September. We are both 34 and he wants another baby! I said no sorry no way it will happen. I told him I’m moving on and I’m going to meet another man now. If he won’t commit then I want to find someone else. I want another baby before I’m 40 but I’m getting married first.

  9. Ms troublesome
    Ms troublesome says:

    I found this article because I am searching for answers. I am dating my biyfriends for almost 1.5 years now. We talked about concerns we have. Sounds like we both want to get married and have a family, he defiantly wants to have kids. The key here is my age! I am almost 40, so the time is very critical for having kids (he states he wants kids for sure!). It bothers me because I don’t know how long we would date. The longer we date the less chance I can get pregnant! If I am younger or older I really don’t care, but I am on the edge, and we still just dating meeting each other on the weekends, we are not even talking about moving in together. I mentioned few times but he seems no rush! I told him if he wanna find someone else go ahead, but he said he likes me, so I don’t know what he is waiting for?!? Any suggestions?

  10. Holly
    Holly says:

    Sorry, but I don’t agree with any of this. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 5 years this June. We began our relationship at a rocky time in our lives, when we both had just graduated college and the economy was horrendous. We’ve only just begun to live together, but that’s because we were both struggling with financially and couldn’t make it happen. We had been trying to move in together for a few years prior.

    We are both perfectly content with our relationship. He takes things slow as a way to be sure of his decisions – that’s just who he is. I know it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to marry me. And, he is still struggling financially, so I know he can’t afford to save for a ring at the moment.

    And honestly, I don’t care. Marriage is not a priority for me. It rarely crosses my mind and although I’ve told him my dreams, I never bring it up otherwise. Sure, there are a few times I’ll stop and imagine how great a small, dream destination wedding would be, but then I shrug and say what’s the point? Neither of us want kids, and marriage would increase our student loan payments to ungodly amounts we probably can’t even afford. And although he talks very occasionally about marriage (he brought it up a few weeks ago when talking about his friends engagement, and said about us that “we’re building something special”), I can tell it’s not exactly a priority of his either.

    And that’s fine! Who says you have to be married to be committed? Who says you have to marry at all?

    Thats just how we feel.

  11. Kat
    Kat says:

    We’re both in our 40s. We’ve been together for almost 7 years. At our 3rd year he proposed to me and then 4 months later he called the wedding off. I thought we had broken up but we didn’t know how to leave each other alone. Now I’m unhappy because he was ordained to be a deacon in his church, spiritually this type of relationship isn’t acceptable, and I feel that this relationship is going nowhere because he’s gotten comfortable. Ladies don’t let your man get comfortable! When he does, that’s a wrap!

    • Cin
      Cin says:

      You are sooo right! Also, be weary of him being “all talk and no action” Even the simplest things, like doing something you mentioned to him and it never happens says alot about him going Nowhere but Comfort Zone with you.

  12. Jaeson
    Jaeson says:

    I think someone knows if it will work out (barring any major mental issues) within 1.5 years. If a man or woman is unable to commit at this point, it is time to let them go. They are trash, and KNOW they are trash. Most people I know who are married, said they could tell within 6 months if this was the right person or not. I don’t think one should commit that soon, since some people take longer to get to know than others. But if you are smart enough to not be someone’s sex cow you can make a wise decision. Relationships are built on trust, respect, and shared life goals and interests. If you don’t have those, no amount of sex can make up for it. If you are woman, you are fooling yourself- he’s using you. If you are a guy- she’s using you. If someone really loves you- they commit.

    I’ve seen way too many stupid people end up with the wrong person just hoping things get better. Then you look at them, and 5 years later (6 in one of my friend’s cases) they are still just ‘dating’ while their s/o clearly doesn’t give a shit. I see this more in women then men, but it happens to them too.

    A bad boy will always remain a bad boy. They don’t grow up from your influence, they have to want to grow up themselves. And no, that doesn’t happen once someone hits 21 or whatever age you have in mind.

    Someone who is arrogant, impatient, and unkind will stay that way as long as you are with them.

  13. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    This September will be 10 years we’ve been dating (with the exception of the 2 years we broke up. I basically broke up with him because he hadn’t married me.) Anyhow, I was miserable without him. And now I’m dead inside knowing that he really just doesn’t care, love or respect me enough to marry me.

    • Brenda
      Brenda says:

      Hi Ginger, I have been dating a guy from my senior year in high school and its will be 10 years this summer. Every time I talk about or even mention marriage he seems to ignore me. We live together since our early twenties and things seem to be going along but now I am looking for more. I don’t know if staying with him will he eventually want to marry or am I wasting my time hoping he will. I feel like i’m still back in senior year of high school with him cause life decisions have not happened with the exceptions of moving in together.

    • Becky
      Becky says:

      Omg I know the feeling!!! 11 yrs together and what a waste of time! No commitment, no security, no future! I kick myself all the time

  14. Meg
    Meg says:

    Thanks for your honest and insightful post. I’ve been in a dating relationship for over a year now, and my boyfriend ‘David’ and I are both in our mid-50’s. We’ve each been married once before, our divorces many years in the past. We’re compatible on so many levels, enjoy traveling together, and get along well with the other’s family and friends. We talked about moving in together in a general way, but it’s become apparent that David is ‘not ready’. His primary relationship is with his older sister, and his future plans include family, but not me. I realize I’ve made things very comfortable for David, and allowed myself to be the third wheel. I don’t want to remain frustrated and resentful. At this point, it’s up to me to decide…if we’re staying in the ‘dating zone’, then I need to dial back my investment in the relationship, devote more energy to other fulfilling activities, and see if that’s going to be satisfying for the long run. If I really want a commitment, then I need to make my timeline clear and stick to it. Sigh.

    • Heidi
      Heidi says:

      Hello Meg.

      I don’t know if this post is still open to replies, but I thought I would give it a chance. Your post hit so close to home that I couldn’t not reply.

      I am curious as to what you finally ended up doing and what your situation is now. My boyfriend and I are also in our 50’s, previously married and divorced and we have been in a relationship for over three years. We truly love each other and vaguely talk of spending our lives together, however things have reached a point where they are comfortable for him and I do not see much of an effort on his part to take things to the next level.
      It seems that there is always something that deviates his focus from moving forward. He has his business, an older sister who spends a couple of days a every week at his place, his hobbies and activities that keep him busy, and his dog who is like his second child.
      I appreciate that he has such a fulfilling life, but I often feel like I am something he “pencils in” on the weekends.
      I understand that he wants to take his time with our relationship so that he doesn’t make the same mistakes that he made with previous relationships. He thinks that the longer we wait, the better our chance of staying together forever. I just wish I had some idea of when he thinks he will be ready….
      I know that he is the type of person who would be fine without someone special in his life. He has made that clear a few times. Like I said, he has a fulfilling life even without me. However, I would very much like someone to share my life with me (more than just on the weekends).
      I believe he is the love of my life, but does he feel the same about me if he can’t even make room in his life for me…?

      It would be nice to hear back from you Meg, but even if I don’t, it felt good to get my thoughts organized and to vent a bit.
      Thank you.

      • Kristy
        Kristy says:

        Hi Meg I am in the same position that you are I have been in a 5 year realtionship with a man who says he wants to commit but here I am still waiting. I actually broke up with him and he wanted to make things work and said things would change that was over a year ago! It is so difficult when you truly love someome For five years I have been that weekend girlfriend too! Hope this reaches you and let me know how you are doing!

        • Carla
          Carla says:

          Hi i am in a similar situation. I have to tell you i am so happy i’m not alone. i have been dating my boyfriend for what will be 3 years and I’ve been divorced for 5 years and he has been divorced for 1.5 years. yes we started dating when he was separated, which is probably most of the problem. he didn’t get time for himself. and i told him this many times. he has two teenage kids, the daughter lives with him and she isn’t the most pleasant and my relationship with her started off phony, which i thought she wanted one but really she just wanted to shut up daddy and make nice with his new girlfriend and his son lives with his ex. I have two young sons who adore him. we talked about marriage and living together buy only because i have brought it up numerous times and broke up with him over it. its the same old story he is “broke” pays for his kids private school and his ex’s alimony. the best is i lived in an apartment and he lived with his mom during the separation and divorce. i wanted a house and hinted to him but he never hinted back so i went on to buy a house and six months later he bought one. he could’ve stopped me and said lets get something together but hat was another argument. we really never talk about the future because he claims he wants to be financially stable to raise another family but we go on “family” vacations. nothing makes sense to me. oh and the ex wife doesn’t leave him alone, she constantly texts and emails and calls him and he doesn’t put an end to it. and its not only about the kids its about everyday things, things that you would ask a husband. so obviously they cant detach from each other and i’ve had multiple talks and arguments about this.anyone have any suggestions?


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