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It’s a relationship myth that giving your guy an ultimatum will mess things up. As a matter of fact, it may be exactly what he needs. “If you’ve been together for a while and he’s not moving things forward with a proposal, you really should have a serious conversation to get what you need,” says relationship therapist Krista Bloom, PhD, author of The Ultimate Compatibility Quiz. Here’s the catch: Men are notoriously skittish about “till death do us part,” so having The Talk is a delicate business.

When to Bring It Up

Every couple sets a different relationship pace, so there’s no rule that says you should be discussing a proposal after X amount of time. That said, there are some guidelines you can abide by. If you’ve been together for only four or five months, it’s too soon to detail what kind of ring you lust after. At this point, you’re still getting to know each other, and it may weird him out. At the same time, it’s not realistic to wait years before bringing it up. “After you’ve been in a serious, monogamous relationship for a year, it’s reasonable to want to talk to him about your future,” says Bloom.

How to Do It

If you’re not careful, issuing an ultimatum can sound like a threat and make your guy feel like a caged animal. To avoid freaking him out, it’s vital to be firm but calm.

The best way to make sure you’ll stay relaxed is to talk to him as soon as you realize marriage has been on your mind frequently. “If you wait until your feelings are boiling over, you’re bound to sound impatient, which may make him stop listening to you,” says Anthony Riche, PhD, author ofFinally! How to Stop Dating Losers Forever. When you start getting those persistent wedding-bell urges, find a nonstressful time to chat, like during a quiet dinner.

Then, be direct. “Men don’t do well with hints, so telling him flat out what you want will reap the best results,” says Bloom. Tell him you picture him as your husband and that you want to know if he’s on the same page. Or try “I love being with you and want to move our relationship forward. I need to know if you feel the same.”

Now Back Off

Finally, you can’t expect him to propose immediately. Remember, you’ve had time to let everything percolate, but this is new to him. “Give him a few weeks to think about his feelings on marriage,” says Riche. Make a date to have a follow-up convo, and don’t bring it up again before then.

Once he makes a decision, it’s up to you where you go from there. “You can invite a man to propose, but you can’t force him. If he’s really not ready, you have to decide if you want to wait for him or move on,” says Bloom.

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