Let's talk about something a little taboo. I've been looking forward to sharing on this subject because it's something I think a lot of brides-to-be experience, yet no one wants to talk about - why would you? Your engagement is supposed to be the most blissful, happiest time of your life, and if you have any feelings that aren't 100 percent all-in excitement and elation, something must be wrong, right?
Not the case at all. My friend Alyssa Cornett, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has teamed up with me today to address this topic and her insight is GOLD for any girl who's engaged or even still dating. It's important to be aware that these feelings are normal and on some level, to expect them, or at least to be ready for them.
Why you could be feeling fear or anxiety about your wedding
Wedding- or marriage-related fears can be brought on by a number of underlying causes. Just to name a few:
the weight and seriousness of the commitment, not to mention complications brought on by in-laws, finances, moving, and life's unknowns
fear of divorce or past experience with divorce, personally or within your family
the stress of planning such a big event
It's important to recognize the weight of those emotions and not try to talk yourself out of them. "First things first, it is 100 percent okay to feel these feelings!" Alyssa says. "Planning a wedding is a big deal and takes a lot of work, as does a marriage. But sometimes these feelings can feel very big and overwhelming which can result in a LOT of distress. That being said, I promise you, you are not alone."
Friends, she's right. I promise she's not just saying that, because I experienced these feelings myself. Not even so much about our wedding, but about marriage in general - the weight of the decision I had made by saying yes when he got down on one knee, and the one I was about to make by saying yes in front of our family and friends, was really overwhelming at times, even though I knew I loved Andrew more than anything.
Normal feelings of fear and anxiety do not mean your wedding or marriage is doomed
Sometimes, the immediate reaction to these feelings is to think, 'Well maybe this isn't the right decision' or 'If this was really meant to be, I wouldn't be having any fears or anxieties or doubts at all.'
"Many people think that the stress of planning a wedding is a precursor to the stress they will experience in their marriages," Alyssa explains. "To some degree, I could understand that assumption, but more often than not, that is far from the truth. There are so many factors that play into a wedding that you will often not encounter with such a heavy weight in your marriage. But it is true to the extent that you will meet uncertainty and unexpected obstacles and challenges in your marriage that are equally as stress-provoking. The beautiful part? What is certain is the partner you are choosing to face these opportunities with. The content will change, but how you approach these opportunities with your spouse will be the game-changer."
How amazing and reassuring is that?
How to deal with these feelings
Reassurance is great, but how do you actually deal with these feelings? And should you tell your fiancé about your concerns?
"Every relationship is different, so it's hard to say what will work for every person, partner, or couple," Alyssa says. However, the tips below can help any bride-to-be and her future spouse get on the same page and hopefully, alleviate some of the stresses and fears. Alyssa's advice, in her own words:
1) Check in about your own personal values and goals. This is my favorite place to start with couples. Our values are our foundations, so it’s common to flare up when our values or goals are being challenged. This can be a helpful conversation to have with your partner if you’re feeling unsettled by something. If you discover that your values and goals are different, that’s okay too! Learning about each other’s is a beautiful first step to understanding big emotions throughout your marriage.
2) Be transparent with your soon-to-be spouse. This ties into the values check-in. For most, the wedding is the first big event planned jointly with their partner, and it can feel very frustrating when expectations aren’t met. These expectations can often set us up for disappointment and failure. I always encourage partners to check in about what expectations they have not only out of the wedding but out of the relationship. Talking about these feelings now will help pave a path that leads to a more successful marriage later. When you welcome openness into your relationship, you’re allowing the trust within to illuminate and sparkle!
3) Be open to flexibility. Sticking to your values is one thing, not budging on a fight is another. Couples are bringing together two different journeys, so it’s common for one partner to see things one way, and the other partner to see it another. When we are unable to open our minds, shift our perspectives and be flexible is when we can run into more stress and turmoil. Be open to hearing your partner out and see if you can’t find a happy medium.
4) Listen to your body. Sometimes we are so much in our heads, we dismiss what our body has already been telling us – we’re exhausted, drained, fatigued. We push ourselves and our stress levels to the limit and don’t honor the rest that our body needs. Be compassionate with yourselves when planning a wedding and when loving in your marriage. Everyone needs a break to breathe. Know your own limits so you can step back when needed.
5) Chat with a professional. If you’re still unsure about how to approach these feelings or want to process them deeper, talking with a therapist can be very helpful. Therapy is a wonderful tool to help address any challenges, patterns, and blocks, and can assist in creating clearer relationship parameters and cultivate a healthier relationship experience overall.
Final thoughts on calming wedding- and marriage-related fears
It's me (Kaitlyn) again! I wanted to add a few more things to consider, coming from a non-professional but as someone who's been in your shoes as an engaged girl with a lot on her plate and some occasional moments of weakness - we're all human.
I also want to be completely honest and tell you that I attended counseling while I was engaged, both together with Andrew at a Christian-based premarital counseling program, and on my own with a therapist. There's such a stigma around seeing a counselor, but working through things with a non-biased professional for ANY reason is nothing to be ashamed of.
From personal experience, I highly recommend making the following things a priority during your engagement:
Attend pre-marital counseling. Many churches offer programs even for non-members, and a completion certificate can also save you $60 on your marriage license - bonus! Our particular program had us go through a workbook that was SO eye-opening. We talked a lot about the different ways we were raised, how that affects us currently and how it could affect our marriage down the road. One of our homework assignments was a massive family tree, which was cool because neither of us had ever done that for our own family before, much less looked at the other person's.
Be open about your biggest fears. This was a game-changing exercise our pastor had us do in pre-marital counseling, and if anything helped to assuage my anxieties, this was it. He had us admit to each other our biggest fear about marriage. We dug deep, got really vulnerable, and opened up to each other about the biggest reason marriage scared us (because on some level, it scares everyone). Getting those feelings off our chests and addressing them with each other brought us closer than we ever expected.
Realize your fiancé is "the one" because you're marrying them. I think girls can get too caught up in the notion of "the one." Regardless of what you believe about soulmates, your spouse is the one because you're choosing to love that ONE person, forever. Trust your story and trust your love.
Look forward to new "firsts." Looking back on your relationship and realizing you'll never have those "firsts" again can add to those anxious feelings. But while you may never go on a first date again or have the first-kiss butterflies, entering into a marriage with someone brings so many new firsts to look forward to, and that never gets old.
Pray. A lot. For your fiancé, for your marriage, for your future family, for your friendships, and for yourself.
As a wedding photographer, I love sharing the happiest moments with my clients. But I also know that the moments captured during an engagement session don't paint the whole picture, and that the wedding is only day one of a lifelong commitment. Photos are fun and beautiful, but the weight of these relationships and commitments is SO much more important, and I never want to overlook that. If you're ever in need of a listening ear, please reach out - to me, to a friend, or to a professional. Your marriage is worth it!
Alyssa Cornett is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Austin, Texas who specializes in relationship coaching and couples therapy. She enjoys helping couples and individuals strengthen their connections, deepen their passion and enhance their lives by building confidence, competence and motivation as a means to cultivate a greater sense of fulfillment and transformation. You can learn more about her mission at www.loventuretherapy.com.