Good card players can detect “tells”—those unconscious behaviors that give away information about a player’s hand.
When my clients described their feelings of disappointments or exhilaration about their proposal, a warning light went off in my head. A few years later, when these same couples came to see me for counseling, I realized the proposal often foretold the problems they would face. Not all the time, of course, but here are some thoughts and tips that might help you to see into your future so you can address important patterns and issues now.
Like the fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I discovered three proposal styles that can be too big, too small or just right.
1) The Too Big, Over-the-Top Proposal
Don’t let proposals written in the sky or delivered on the stadium sports screen seduce you into thinking you found Prince Charming. And don’t confuse a huge ring with love. Your man could turn out to be a prince among men, but keep in mind that proposals that suffer from a too-muchness factor might be “tells” about his issues regarding control, abuse and respect.
For example, a wow-proposal that sweeps you off your feet and makes you feel special could be signaling you that your man needs to be in charge and to be respected and revered. Many of these men need to be Number One, Two and Three in a relationship.
They may have a hole in their soul that needs constant feeding.
If you doubt or question him, he might minimize your needs and become abusive. These men often have emotional radar for women who are Little Orphan Annie’s who overly appreciate him.
And those surprise proposals where the man pops the question can often be more about the man’s fear of losing you rather than loving you.
Not all thrilling proposals are from controlling or insecure men. But pay attention to any pattern in your relationship where you end up feeling diminished. When you do speak up, don’t accuse, cry, throw a fit or threaten to leave. Instead, suggest ideas and work as a team. If abuse occurs, seek professional counseling immediately to learn about creating a safety plan.
2) The Too-Little Proposal
Proposals that are too casual do not create the heat of love. You don’t feel special or warm or certain. One of my clients said her husband proposed to her at work. She said, “He told everyone in the office that he was proposing, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by colleagues toasting me in the lunch room.“
The husband of one of my clients proposed while they were walking through a shopping mall. They did marry, but the woman never could erase the lack of feeling special.
Men who make underwhelming proposals might be revealing their doubts about you, themselves or their doubts about sustaining a marriage.
These men often fear taking reasonable risks, making decisions or dealing with confrontations. No wonder these men are attracted to take charge, competent women.
Their appeal is that these men also tend to be sweet and understanding listener. You might feel, for instance, that you can tell this man anything. He makes you feel warm. Over time, however, he may not make you feel safe enough to rely on him when the going gets rough.
Observe your pattern of decision-making if you have chosen a too nice man. You can avoid an imbalance in your relationship by including your man in your decisions, coaching him to make decisions and not blaming him for making mistakes.
And if your proposal is too little, you can have a re-do. Ask your partner to establish a different proposal experience so you can have a different memory. This re-do may never fully get rid of the unsatisfying proposal, but it can build a closer bond and greater respect for your partner.
3) The Just-Right Proposal
Smart marriage proposals don’t have to set the world on fire. They should honor your style, wishes and relationship history. An example of a smart proposal might take place where you went on your first date or where you had your first kiss.
The goals are to establish a memory and ritual that bond you in a personally meaningful way.
Wedding proposals are amongst the rituals—such as mothers’ and fathers’ day celebrations–that you and partner establish over time. These rituals are part of your unique emotional history that joins you as a team—especially in rough times.
By the time your partner proposes, you should both know that the relationship is a “go.” You should already have discussed key issues such as children, religion, family and finances.
Just-right proposals do not occur as a result of fights, whirlwind courtships, family pressure or traumatic events that propel you to create pseudo-intimacy. Just-right proposals are based on knowing each other over time—and through both good and bad times.
Most importantly, both of you should feel happy, warm, loving, hopeful, confident and stronger because you are a team of equals with different strengths.