My boyfriend doesn’t believe in marriage, but it’s something I need. Should I give him an ultimatum?

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  • If you give your boyfriend an ultimatum, he'll likely become defensive and leave.
  • Instead, strike up a discussion about marriage and children, and frame these two factors as core values you hold. He might not agree, but he can't dismiss your need for the things that make you happy.
  • After you both express your core values, you'll have a better understanding of where you stand in your relationship, and if you can be compatible for the long run. If your values are too different, it's not worth pursuing the relationship further.
  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously. You can read more Doing It Right here. 
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My 28-year-old boyfriend of one year told me he doesn't want to get married and he doesn't want children.

He said he doesn't need a piece of paper to prove to me or anyone else that he's committed, but I don't agree.

I've been married before, and I want the marriage as a sense of security and way of saying, "We're in this together." To me, marriage is much more concrete than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.

I don't know if I should break up with him in hopes that I can find a husband.

Should I give my boyfriend an ultimatum? Should I trust myself enough to know that I will be able to find a husband, or should I stick around and hope he changes his mind?

– Florida

Dear Florida,

When you reach an impasse with someone you love, an ultimatum may feel like the only way to move forward.

But I caution you against putting your boyfriend in that tough position, because it will only drive him away. Instead, approach the topic from a place of wanting to better understand your boyfriend's hangups with marriage and children.

Framing your need for marriage and children as intrinsic values you hold could help, according to Terri Orbuch, a sociology professor at Oakland University in Michigan and consultant for the upcoming relationship-improvement app Paired.

"It's very important to express that in a way, saying, 'I really care about you, but also marriage and children are important values to me. Marriage isn't just a sign that you care about me and you love me, or you're committed to my needs, but it's a value,'" Orbuch, who's studied hundreds of couples over the past 30 years, told me.

In her research, Orbuch found that marriage and children are two factors that are non-negotiable in relationships, meaning there's slim to no chance you can sway the differing opinion of your partner.

That doesn't necessarily mean you have to leave him, because there could be a misunderstanding. That's why discussing values, rather than presenting an ultimatum, will help you both gain clarity about the situation.

Orbuch told me you don't need to explain why marriage and children are important to you, because that's not the point, and you boyfriend might use your "whys" to dismiss your needs.

Instead, say something like, "Family and children are important to me. They're important to how I see myself. They're important to how I live my life, and they make me happy," Orbuch suggested.

With this approach, you're not putting words in your boyfriend's mouth, or suggesting he doesn't care about these values. You're giving him the space to consider your stance and think about his own, according to Orbuch.

If, during this conversation, your boyfriend tells you marriage and children don't play a role in his own happiness, you'll get the closure you need and realize you're very different.

At that point, it's not worth trying to convince or change him, Orbuch said, because that will lead to unresolved issues and resentment for the remainder of your relationship.

But if your boyfriend explains that he does value family time and children and just doesn't want those things right now, or doesn't need a marriage license to feel secure in your bond, perhaps you should reconsider your stance.

"How important is that piece of paper? What does it represent to you that being together, living together, having children together, and families and friends being close together can't show you?" Orbuch said.

Marriage is often an indicator of a person's underlying values, but that's not always the case. That's why getting to the heart of the problem, how you each envision your futures, will give you the clarity you seek.

As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it — no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

Have a question? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.

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