With December being the most popular time of the year for somebody ('cause it ain't always the fellas) to get on one knee with a ring in hand, and with Valentine's Day being right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to explore engagements a little bit. More specifically, let's explore some of the reasons why it's not only OK to break off an engagement but, in my humble opinion, it's highly encouraged, too.
It's not that I'm trying to be a Debbie Downer or anything. It's just that, if there are two things that a lot of couples who regret getting married tell me, it's 1) they knew that they ignored some significant red flags when they got engaged and/or 2) they also knew on the night before their wedding that they should have called things off.
I personally know some couples who ended their engagement. By no means was it an easy thing for them to do. But now that they have healed and moved on to individuals who are a much better complement for them, they also have no regrets when it comes to making that initial decision. I say it often—break-ups are hard but man, they don't even begin to hold a candle to how devastating a divorce can be. So, whether you're contemplating getting engaged, or you currently are and something doesn't feel quite right, for the sake of your ultimate long-term health and happiness, take a moment to read some of the circumstances that you should feel totally fine with breaking off your engagement for.
1. His Boundaries with His Family Are Unhealthy (or Non-Existent)
Something that I spent a lot of time doing in 2019 was figuring out the difference between "PTSD Shellie" and "actual Shellie". When your childhood consisted of trauma, sometimes you don't realize that a lot of who you are is tied to pain rather than your true authentic self. When that is the case and you end up linking up to someone who also hasn't done the self-work that's needed to heal, not only can that result in a really difficult relationship, it can put you both in the position where you are constantly dealing with the toxicity of one another's families too.
No family is perfect. Lord knows. But if you are sensing that your man has narcissistic parents or other toxic relatives, and either he doesn't have healthy boundaries with those individuals or their influence keeps him in an emotionally unhealthy place and space, at the very least, encourage him to get some therapy before saying "I do". A lot of the married couples that I work with, their marital problems are rooted in their unresolved childhood issues. What they all have in common is they wish they had focused on healing those things on the front-end rather than constantly triggering each other, sometimes without even knowing it, on the back-end. If you want a thriving marriage, childhood healing should transpire as much as possible and family boundaries must be set. If none currently exist, it is beyond wise to pump the brakes until they are.
2. The Two of You Don’t Communicate Well
One of the reasons why I think it's a good idea to not be so quick to have sex in a relationship is because you need time to get to really know each other. If you don't, you could mistake good sex for an actual true emotional connection, or you could abuse sex by relying on it to be the only real way to get on the same page with your partner.
It's no shocker that one of the biggest causes of divorce is poor communication or a breakdown in communication. That's why I think it is so important to focus on developing a true friendship during the dating and courtship process.
And how can you know if you and your man are good communicators? Do you listen to each other? Do you respect one another's feelings? Can you both say that you have an intimate connection outside of sexual activity? Do you both feel emotionally safe with one another? Do you handle conflict well? Are you both good at forgiving? Do you both avoid toxic practices like gaslighting and being passive aggressive? Can you each share your deepest secrets and biggest vulnerabilities without hesitation, worry or regret?
Yeah, all of this is a tall order, but if you plan on spending the rest of your life with someone, these are just the kind of things you need to be able to say "definitely" to. If you can't, don't rush walking down the aisle. Better to wait than to end up in somebody's divorce court…right?
3. Money Is Super Funny
Wanna know one of the main reasons why I wrote "7 Solid Reasons To Strongly Consider Eloping"? It's because, along with poor communication issues, another leading cause for stress, strain and ultimately divorce is financial drama. And weddings? The average cost of those bad boys is somewhere between $20,000-50,000 (depending on where you live). If you factor that in, along with the almost $40,000 worth of debt that the average American has as well—whew! It's easy to see how student loans, credit card bills, car notes and mortgages (or rent) can truly take its toll on a relationship.
Listen, no one is saying that you and yours have to be independently wealthy before becoming one. But if you think that marriage isn't also about two people entering into a business partnership, you are in for a real roller coaster ride that could leave you queasy on so many levels. You know what they say—love doesn't pay the bills. If you're in a world of debt or your man can't seem to get his coins right—and worse, he doesn't intend to—don't think that it's superficial to not get married just yet. Or, if you continue to see red flags—like if he's a dad who's not paying child support or if he's someone who is always borrowing money—not getting married at all. A ton of married people will tell you that they wish they had paid more attention to their partner's financial habits beforehand. Don't find yourself being a statistic because you didn't.
4. The Wedding Planning Process Sucks
Back before I became a marriage life coach, I used to think people were exaggerating when they said that if you want to look at the potential future of someone's marriage, all you need to do is watch how they act during the wedding planning process. But chile, there is some super-duper wisdom in that. While a couple is putting their upcoming nuptials together, you get to see who is the most controlling, who sucks at compromising, how folks handle delays and irritations, how they deal with their family members and friends, if they are good with money, how good they are under pressure—I could go on and on and on. Weddings are nice. They really are. But they only last for a day. Besides, if you ask any couple who has already jumped the broom before, one thing they will probably vouch for is the fact that it all goes by in a blink.
If you're currently planning out your wedding day and you two are about to kill each other, I'm not saying you should automatically call everything off, but I will say this—if you sense some serious red flags and the only reason why you are moving forward is because "Everyone already knows that we're getting married", that's not a good enough reason. Weddings are to be a celebration of two people coming together in a healthy and happy way. If you can't honestly say that is where things are right now, wait until you can. The right people will only respect you for it. And at the end of the day, they are the only ones who truly count.
5. One—or Both—of You Have “Unfinished Business”
Unfortunately, there are more than a few people in this world who get married, not because they are running towards someone but because they are running away from someone else. That's why, whenever I am in a premarital session, I devote an entire meeting (more if needed) to people's exes. And you know what? I already know, off top, that if it's something that is ducked 'n dodged, there is some stuff that is definitely unresolved.
One thing about being engaged is, while it does speak on your intention to marry someone, it is still not nearly as "weighty" as actually being husband and wife. So, if you know that you've got someone in your past that you're still A) carrying a torch for, B) needing to resolve some things with, or C) haven't fully healed from, you really need to get that handled before becoming someone else's spouse.
I know far too many married people who have cheated with an ex, snuck around to communicate with an ex, or are constantly comparing their lifetime partner to an ex, and it's all because they went into their marriage with "ex baggage".
It is totally delusional to think that a stroll down the aisle will automatically make any ex issues that you have go away. If you need time to work that out, now would be the time to do it. If your fiancé doesn't understand, well, you might need to call things off until you can be sure that you are in a good space—mentally as well as emotionally with where things stand…with your ex.
6. You Still Want to Do Some Things You Can’t Compromise On
Whenever I encounter a new married couple, something that I have the habit of doing is asking them, "So, what did marriage teach you about yourself that you didn't know before saying, 'I do'?" Hands down, what I hear the most is "How selfish I was." Or "I am." Paul Washer, a pastor, once said that nothing teaches us how to love well better than marriage which means that sometimes we will have to make great sacrifices in order to do it. I totally agree. At the same time, if you are about to sacrifice goals and dreams that would be far easier to accomplish as a single woman—that is something else to think long and hard about. If you want to see the world and he doesn't, why get married and sulk about it or try and pressure him to do what he isn't interested in? Wait and go now. If you want to go to finish school but he wants to have kids right away, maybe y'all should cool things off for a bit. If there is a business that you want to get off of the ground that you know will take up a lot of your time and attention—getting married right at this second could be like raising twins. Literally.
Being a selfish spouse is one thing (and something that I will be sure to get into at another time), but feeling like you are being selfish simply because you are still single and want to do some things that would be easier done as a single woman is smart, wise, and highly recommended.
7. You Love…But You’re Not in Love
Personally, I think the word "love" is misused way too much. I try to avoid applying it to any and everything that I simply enjoy. I mean, "loving" my favorite tube of lip gloss should pale in comparison to loving my late fiancé, don't you think? I feel similarly to the term "in love" as well. And you know what? Science agrees with me. According to a lot of scientific research, if you're truly in love with someone, not only are you attracted to them, you also are emotionally dependent on them, you share similar interests and values, you both like making plans for the future (that include each other) and there is a profound sense of empathy that the two of you share.
Aside from science, another sign of being in love that I think is valid is there is no one else you'd rather be with; there is also no one else that you are wondering about. A good example of this would actually be a chick flick. Dear John (Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried), to be exact. If you've never seen it before, John (Tatum) and Savannah (Seyfried) were head over heels for each other. He was in the military and she married someone with cancer who had an autistic son. Savannah loved her husband, Tim but who she was in love with was John. Her husband even recognized it. Her love for Tim was based on friendship and obligation. Being in love with John is what led John to wait for years, to anonymously donate money to Tim's cancer treatments, and for them to eventually reunite once Tim passed away.
I already know some of y'all are like, "Did you really just use a movie to illustrate your point?" Yes, I did. Although it's fictional, I bet you could feel the difference between Savannah and Tim's relationship versus Savannah and John's connection. If you are about to marry someone and it feels more Tim-like than John-like, you and your fiancé deserve better and more. Love both of you enough to call things off. It might hurt for a while, but you won't regret your bravery in the long run. Neither will the man who you eventually do fall in love with.
8. The Timing Seems Off
Whoever said that the right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing—they ain't neva lied.
The problem is, a lot of people move forward in relationships without actually knowing what the signs of bad timing actually are.
If you're curious, here are some of them—your career is currently more important to you than your relationship; you feel like there is some internal work that needs to be done alone; you believe that you and/or your partner have a bit more maturing to do; the love is there but you need more time to see if you're as compatible as you'd like to be; you're in different states and neither is ready to move (yet) and/or there are some personal, professional or even health-related issues that would be better served while you are single.
Although a lot of people don't approach engagements this way, once two people are officially betrothed, they are basically saying that they are planning to get married as soon as possible. If you are engaged and you don't feel like you are in this head or heart space, there is nothing wrong with ending your engagement until you can feel good about your decision—or breaking things off indefinitely.
Getting engaged is a really big step. But don't feel like it puts you at the point of no return. If you see any of this in your relationship, marriage will only magnify matters. Not in a good way either. Please choose wisely.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
Feature image by Shutterstock