Q: How can i propose to my girlfriend in a memorable way?

Before you ask, make sure you and your partner are ready and want to get married. This advice sounds obvious, but many couples, for example, decide to get married after fights, brief whirlwind courtships, family pressure or traumatic events that temporarily draw people together and create a pseudo-intimacy. 

Ask yourself these questions first:  Have we been going back and forth about getting married? Does one of us bring up the topic while the other person seems ambivalent--and then the two of us swap roles when that other person finally "comes around?" If these words describe your situation, then you just might not be ready.  These patterns are a big red flashing warning light. Heed them and seek counseling.

If you are sure you and your partner want to get married, take these next steps for a great marriage proposal.

1. Know your partner's wishes. Think about what your partner likes. What hints has she dropped about the "perfect" proposal?  Do you know your partner's fantasies? For example, I know a couple where the woman always wanted to get married in Hawaii. Her parents promised her year after year a family vacation to see Diamond Head and the beautiful island beaches. But they never went. Her father was a dreamer who always blamed everyone else for things not turning out well. She told her boyfriend that she always wanted to get engaged or married on a beach in Maui. Her boyfriend "logged" her requests in the back of his mind.  On their second year anniversary of dating, he planned a trip to Hawaii.  She thought they were going just to celebrate, but he proposed on the beach in Maui.

If you draw a blank and can't come up with a proposal plan, think about what your partner likes to do. Does she like movies? hiking?  sports? skiing?  Still drawing a blank?  Think about where you met or went on your first date.  Or, how about the place where you first said, "I love you."

2. Don't think you have to "pop the question." Sometimes those surprise proposals are not the best way to get engaged. Proposals done solo--and without knowing how your partner feels--can backfire. Often, these proposals are done under stress, in reaction to losing your partner, after fights or other emotional turmoil. Just because you and your partner discuss the future, it doesn't mean that the romance has been taken out. You don't want to find yourself engaged to someone you don't know well.

In fact, it is a very good idea to iron out your issues before you get engaged. Don't think that getting engaged will just naturally resolve your differences. Love does not conquer all. Just because you have addressed topics such as religious differences, whose house to live in and who whose kids will live there, don't assume that logic and problem-solving have "killed" the romance factor. Proposals are special--even if you have talked about marriage and your unique things to address. 

So, don't be casual in planning or executing your proposal. In one of my client couples, the man proposed in the car while they were doing errands. They did marry, but the woman never could erase the memory and sting of the thoughtlessness.  She knew that the proposal style reflected her husband's anxiety about getting married, but she still expected him to override his fears and propose in a caring and mature way. 

3. Propose the old-fashioned way. Just like in the classic movies and novels, ask the father or other family members of your future marital partner for the bride's "hand in marriage." Yes this might sound terribly outdated, yet this gesture signals your respect and care for the family. It means that you welcome them and want your lives to include them. 
As a bonus, the thousands of women I've counseled said they felt "closer and more in love" with their partner when the parents were approached first. The women said they felt 'relieved" that their partners were willing to honor their needs for family--even if they family were difficult and demanding.

4. Keep your proposal private. Don't propose in public! This suggestion might seem obvious, but too many of my clients staged public proposals in imitation of those scenes in movies. Usually, these proposals occur when there is a great deal of doubt or strife in the relationship. The hope is that the public nature of the proposal will create the group pressure and panache necessary to sway the other person's acceptance. The better plan is to make your proposal private--and then celebrate later with friends and family.

5. Keep it simple. You aren't staging a Broadway scene. Over the years, I've heard from my clients that they hired orchestras, proposed on the handy-cam monitor at the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game, and arranged for the singer to dedicate a song to the intended bride and then invite the couple to come to the stage while the man proposed.

Once again, these over-the-top proposals are often meant to serve as the emotional balm for a rocky relationship or tough times.  Proposals are not band aids or medicine for unstable couples. A wiser approach is to make sure your proposal matches your partner's needs and interests.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in relationships.  For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com. Also on her website, if you donate $5 to Habitat for Humanity-Sarasota, Florida, you can receive a download of her relationship advice cartoon book for women, "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie."