Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


3 Keys to an Ideal Marriage Proposal

1. No surprises.

Andre Jackson / Unsplash
Source: Andre Jackson / Unsplash

A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology analyzed more than 300 accepted and rejected wedding proposals to understand what makes for a great proposal.

“The typical Western marriage proposal involves kneeling, offering a ring, and asking some variant of ‘will you marry me?’” says Lisa Hoplock, the lead author of the study. “The proposal is often a surprise. What my research reveals is that while certain details can be a welcome surprise, the timing of the proposal in the relationship shouldn’t be a surprise. That is, couples should be on the same page about when and if they want to get married.”

Specifically, Hoplock’s study produced the following findings:

  • Couples who experienced accepted proposals were more likely to talk about marriage in advance of the proposal and the proposals tended to occur later in the relationship.
  • In rejected proposals, the proposer often assumed that they were on the same page as their partner. Or, they proposed to save the relationship (e.g., they had broken up or were fighting and the proposal was an attempt to make things better).
  • Accepted proposals were more likely to have a ring than rejected proposals.
  • Accepted proposals were more likely to take place in private.

Taking these results into account, Hoplock suggests that a great proposal consists of three key elements:

  1. No surprises. If the person being proposed to is put on the spot with no prior discussion about marriage, the answer is more likely to be a "no." When it comes to matrimony, surprises are mostly unpleasant.
  2. A rock. Proposing with a ring increases the chances of your proposal being accepted. It shows that one has put thought, effort, and resources into the decision.
  3. An intimate setting. Asking your partner to marry you in front of other people can put a lot of pressure on them. A private proposal can give them the space they need to give a sincere, honest, and fully vulnerable answer.

Hoplock and her team also found that proposals by women were less successful than proposals by men. According to Hoplock, this is likely due to gender norms. One man in the study, for instance, rejected his partner’s proposal because he wanted to be the one to propose.

“According to the Western script, men propose to women,” says Hoplock. “Having the man be the proposer and the woman be the proposee reinforces that you know how to follow the script.”

Why these "scripts" govern important parts of our behavior is something that has piqued Hoplock’s curiosity for some time. “Scripts help people make sense of life and connect with others,” explains Hoplock. “According to the life script theory, celebrations often happen when life and event scripts are followed, but social repercussions happen when they’re not followed (e.g., others might make snide remarks).”

Facebook image: - Yuri A/Shutterstock

More from Mark Travers Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today