My boyfriend has major trust issues from infidelity in his previous marriage. He made it abundantly clear during the early stages of our relationship that he never wanted to remarry. However, he knew that marriage was a must for me. Despite our differences, we stayed together and slowly started talking about what marriage would mean for us. Five years later, he's purchased a ring and we've set a date. I want a wedding that makes both of us happy. I don't care about the details. Except for one. The marriage. The literal and legal aspect of getting married.
He doesn't want to legally be tied to someone. And I simply don't understand how to compromise on this one. I've compromised on separate bank accounts, separate insurances, separate whatever I can think of to help him with his trust issues. He says he's okay with everything we've discussed including publicly reciting vows and having a small reception. But he doesn't want to sign the papers. He doesn't want to be legally married again. And I don't know how to feel about it. It really hurts. I keep trying to remind myself that it's not about me. It's about his history and his experiences. I want to be understanding and supportive.
He says that because I'm already picking and choosing which parts of marriage I want to include (For example: keeping my last name) that I'm being hypocritical in not compromising on the piece of paper. He says that it's not fair of me to decide which traditions I want to ignore, without letting him choose as well.
But what happens when we have kids? What happens when one of us is in the hospital? What happens when our family isn't viewed as a family in the eyes of the law? I'm so lost and confused and don't know how to meet in the middle. I need your help!
– Half-Engaged & Confused
In the U.S., there are lots of benefits of marriage, and that's on purpose. The government sees a benefit in legal marriage so it affords you tax breaks, visitation rights, property rights, health care choices, etc. and it's totally okay to be in the mindset that you want to take advantage of those rights and protections. (You can read about all the rights and benefits here). They're the reason why giving those rights to same-sex couples was such a big deal. It is so beneficial in the eyes of the law.
It's also beneficial in the eyes of you and your family and it's so hard when your partner doesn't want to choose that option when you do. I sympathize. Unfortunately, it's not something you can easily force someone into when they've been burned before. And as a side note, keeping your last name is a pretty big leap from choosing not to make the marriage legal at all. That's a technicality that doesn't have any bearing on your rights as a person and a couple.
Here are my suggestions for dealing with this problem:
Consider an alternative to traditional marriage
However, a living will and power of attorney can be alternatives that are much more easily dissolved than a marriage, which would give you and him more rights to visitation and other benefits without the actual legal marriage. I'd hit up an attorney to learn more about them and how to set them up. If you choose to share your life with someone else, these are issues that will come up and will need to dealt with, regardless of marital status.
Plus, bringing up these alternatives can help him understand that you're not just looking for a pretty ceremony, but are actually concerned with both of your rights as life partners.
Consider couples counseling
If the legality is that important to you (and it sounds like it is), consider some couples counseling and/or mediation prior to your wedding. I'm a proponent of therapy/counseling for anyone regardless of their mental health and for any couple who needs even a little bit of mediation in their lives. It can help figure out how your partner can heal from his past relationship wounds and help you deal with whatever decision is made between you.
Either way, you'll need to decide if a legal marriage is a deal-breaker for you. With some counseling, it may not be a deal-breaker for him forever.
Revisit the arrangement at a set date
If you're definitely going to move forward with the progression of the relationship to a permanent commitment, you could have your ceremony/reception as planned and revisit the issue of the legality of your marriage at a specified later date, say one or two years after the fact. Mark the date and see how he feels about marriage at that point. Make sure he understands that you definitely want to reconsider the legality of your marriage at that point so that you both know what you're choosing and/or giving up. Putting a timeline on it will make sure he knows you're serious about it.
Has anyone else dealt with a partner who disagreed on the legal course of your relationship? Share your solutions!