Beat The Engagement Blues!

By

Beat The Engagement Blues!
Most fiancées experience "unbride-like" emotions, says an expert. Here's why.

Now I try to help other brides feel the same way. Most are afraid to give in to their sadness and fear, thinking that once they turn on the faucet, it'll never shut off. In reality, emotions work the opposite way.

When strong emotions are not felt, they grow in power. Facing—and feeling—negative emotions cleans house of fear and sadness, doubt and worry, and makes room once again for feelings of joy, excitement, and happiness.

What helps brides most, I've found, is to embrace reality instead of remaining wedded to their fantasies.

Fantasy: Once you're engaged, the decision to marry your fiancé is final.

Reality: During your engagement, you evaluate your fiancé and the relationship all over again, with even more intensity.

Why? When you were just boyfriend and girlfriend, self-protectively, you may have held yourself back from fully imagining a lifetime together. Now that he's about to become your husband, a future with your fiancé has become very real, and you're (understandably) looking at him with a more critical eye.

It's normal to put your relationship under the microscope. Think of it this way: Each time you dissect and analyze your fiancé and your relationship and find you still want to marry him, you're recommitting yourself to the marriage.

Fantasy: Your engagement will be love and romance, 24/7.

Reality: This is a romantic time of life. But it's a stressful time for your relationship with your fiancé as well. Many engaged couples report more fighting and less sex, more uncertainty and less fun. 9 Things To Say During A Fight

Why? Because your relationship has taken on a new seriousness and permanence, and that's just plain scary. What's more, your relationship, once intensely private, has now become public property.

Everyone comments on whether or not you're a good match. On top of that, all eyes are on you to plan the "perfect" wedding. As you and your fiancé have clashing visions of what "perfect" is, you're discovering personality differences and relationship challenges that never came up when you were just dating.

Fantasy: Your engagement will be filled with frilly, feminine times with your best girlfriends.

Reality: You may very well have some uncomplicated fun, especially with your married girlfriends, but things between you and your single girlfriends can often be much more complicated.

Why? You've probably known your best girlfriends far longer than you've known your fiancé. And in some ways, they know you better than he does.

So it's no big surprise that your closest single girlfriends feel a bit displaced and replaced by him, causing a mixed-up mess of emotions. They feel happy for you, but they may also feel sad about losing a degree of intimacy with you. Some of them may be a little scared, too: You found your Mr. Right, and they wonder if they'll find theirs.

Fantasy: You will feel supported and surrounded by your family.

Reality: When you're going head-to-head with your parents over the wedding details, that's not really what you're fighting about. Beneath the surface is an unspoken, underlying issue: the change in the family dynamic caused by your marriage.

Why? When brides-to-be begin to put their future spouses first (the healthy thing to do), families often act up and act out. They channel their feelings of abandonment, fear, and sadness about the impending loss of their child into the wedding.

Most brides-to-be say they feel alienated from or angry at their families for much of their engagements.

Fantasy: Engagement party! Bachelorette party! Bridal shower! Being engaged is all about parties!

Reality: You may find that you need more time alone.

Why? Loosening your grip on your identities as a single woman, daughter, and girlfriend can be destabilizing to your sense of self. Thus, after the initial excitement of announcing the big news, many brides-to-be go into hibernation so they can adjust to the changes.

Fantasy: Wedding planning shouldn't take over your life.

Reality: Allowing your wedding planning to take over your life can actually help you make the transition from single to married.

Why? To outsiders, a bride-to-be's strange obsession with, say, place cards may seem like just one more indication that she has gone off the deep end.

Many brides-to-be are teased by friends and family; others feel embarrassed by their new, compulsive behavior. But being engrossed in your wedding can be psychologically and emotionally healthy, if you can find the metaphors.

For example, trying on dress after dress helps you become comfortable in your new skin as a bride. Tweaking your online registry—10 place settings? 12? 10? 12?—helps you imagine your new married home. Finding the perfect place cards helps you wrap your brain around the fact that all your friends and family are gathering to celebrate your marriage.

So, go ahead, be obsessed about your wedding if you want to be. Just bring a psychological awareness to your obsession. Ask yourself: Why am I devoting so much effort and energy to this wedding detail and not another?

Fantasy: You can avoid wedding stress and emotional crises by having a brief engagement or by eloping.

Reality: Nope.

Why? Making the psychological transition from single to married is a process all brides-to-be go through. For those with short engagements, the road can be even rockier.

They have to take the bumps at high speed, and their emotions tend to run higher, hotter, and faster than those with year-long engagements. Women who get married very quickly often need more emotional support; in fact, a third of all brides I counsel have engagements that are less than four months long.

Fantasy: Not every bride-to-be has an identity crisis during her engagement.

Reality: True. Some have them after they're married.

Why? Occasionally, I meet married women who don't see the need for bridal counseling. "I don't remember going through anything like that," they say to me. "My engagement was really fun!"

"Well, then, let me ask you," I say, gingerly. "How was your first year of marriage?"

"Oh, God, it was rough," they say, shaking their heads. "I ended up spending a lot of nights sleeping alone in the guest room." How To Survive Your First Year Of Marriage

Fantasy: Your engagement will be the happiest time of your life.

Reality: Your engagement will be one of the most up-and-down times of your life; your wedding day will be one of the happiest days of your life.

Why? Even planning one of today's elaborate weddings is a piece of cake compared to the psychological changes a woman undergoes before she gets married.

Most brides-to-be write off their "unbridely" feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness to wedding stress—which does in fact account for some of the angst. But much of it is caused by a normal, natural psychological process.

From the moment you say yes, you are tossed into limbo, an unknown, in-between, new world in which you're neither single nor married, neither girlfriend nor wife. Your sense of who you are suddenly feels shaky as you close the chapter on your single life.

Fantasy: A wedding is just a big party.

Reality: How many parties have you attended from which you've gone home with a new husband who has the power to make life-and-death decisions for you, a new branch on your family tree, and (possibly) a new last name?

Why? Enough said.

So back to that phrase—"rite of passage"—and my search for its definition. I learned that a rite of passage is a ritual to mark and celebrate a change in identity. A wedding's ingrained traditions, its universal structure, and even its insanely detailed planning process help women make a break with their former realities.

The idea that I was grieving the end of my single life was a counterintuitive, unconventional, and revolutionary way to think about being engaged. It debunked the myth that this should be the happiest time of my—or of any bride's—life, and transformed my engagement from a time of high stress to a time of self-discovery.

The transition from single to married is a slow evolution. What's a bride to do? Take it step by step, detach from your fantasies, let yourself feel whatever emotions you feel. By consciously mourning your single self, you'll be building a strong foundation for your marriage—one that will support you for as long as you both shall live.


Allison Moir-Smith is the founder of Emotionally Engaged counseling for brides, based in Brookline, Mass., and the author of Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide to Surviving the "Happiest" Time of Her Life.

Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc. From Emotionally Engaged, by Allison Moir-Smith. Copyright © 2006 by Allison Moir-Smith.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was an "Insert Groom" bride-to-be. You know the type: the woman who fantasizes about her wedding in such detail that when she finally meets Mr. Right, and he proposes, planning the event is a snap.

In just two weeks, I'd booked all the big-ticket items. All I had to do for the rest of our engagement, I figured, was register for gifts, be feted by friends, and, of course, revel in my luck. I'd kissed a lot of frogs, so I knew how right my fiancé was for me.

When I started to feel sad, anxious, and irritable, I was confused, to say the least. At times I became a complete bridezilla—a bitchy, self-absorbed, entitled, wedding-obsessed, perfectionistic, stressed-out nightmare of a person.

I felt a deep pit of sadness in my stomach about leaving my single life. I felt paralyzed by fear of the future. I felt isolated and alone, unsupported by my family and friends, none of whom seemed to understand what I was feeling.

Worst of all, the emotional roller-coaster scared me. "Oh my God," I thought. "If I'm feeling this upset, does it mean I should call off the wedding?"

The rare times I admitted to my conflicting emotions, I generally heard one pat response: "It's a rite of passage," family and friends would say. "Of course you're having a hard time." But what was a rite of passage, and how could I go through mine more gracefully? Engaged & Confused: Overcoming My Fear Of Marriage

I'd just completed my master's degree in counseling psychology, so I took myself on as a client, so to speak, to explore and understand what the hell was going on with me.

All that self-analysis paid off: Six weeks before our wedding, the clouds lifted, and I felt genuinely happy and ready to get married.

Now I try to help other brides feel the same way. Most are afraid to give in to their sadness and fear, thinking that once they turn on the faucet, it'll never shut off. In reality, emotions work the opposite way.

When strong emotions are not felt, they grow in power. Facing—and feeling—negative emotions cleans house of fear and sadness, doubt and worry, and makes room once again for feelings of joy, excitement, and happiness.

What helps brides most, I've found, is to embrace reality instead of remaining wedded to their fantasies.

Fantasy: Once you're engaged, the decision to marry your fiancé is final.

Reality: During your engagement, you evaluate your fiancé and the relationship all over again, with even more intensity.

Why? When you were just boyfriend and girlfriend, self-protectively, you may have held yourself back from fully imagining a lifetime together. Now that he's about to become your husband, a future with your fiancé has become very real, and you're (understandably) looking at him with a more critical eye.

It's normal to put your relationship under the microscope. Think of it this way: Each time you dissect and analyze your fiancé and your relationship and find you still want to marry him, you're recommitting yourself to the marriage.

Fantasy: Your engagement will be love and romance, 24/7.

Reality: This is a romantic time of life. But it's a stressful time for your relationship with your fiancé as well. Many engaged couples report more fighting and less sex, more uncertainty and less fun. 9 Things To Say During A Fight

Why? Because your relationship has taken on a new seriousness and permanence, and that's just plain scary. What's more, your relationship, once intensely private, has now become public property.

Everyone comments on whether or not you're a good match. On top of that, all eyes are on you to plan the "perfect" wedding. As you and your fiancé have clashing visions of what "perfect" is, you're discovering personality differences and relationship challenges that never came up when you were just dating.

Fantasy: Your engagement will be filled with frilly, feminine times with your best girlfriends.

Reality: You may very well have some uncomplicated fun, especially with your married girlfriends, but things between you and your single girlfriends can often be much more complicated.

Why? You've probably known your best girlfriends far longer than you've known your fiancé. And in some ways, they know you better than he does.

So it's no big surprise that your closest single girlfriends feel a bit displaced and replaced by him, causing a mixed-up mess of emotions. They feel happy for you, but they may also feel sad about losing a degree of intimacy with you. Some of them may be a little scared, too: You found your Mr. Right, and they wonder if they'll find theirs.

Fantasy: You will feel supported and surrounded by your family.

Reality: When you're going head-to-head with your parents over the wedding details, that's not really what you're fighting about. Beneath the surface is an unspoken, underlying issue: the change in the family dynamic caused by your marriage.

Why? When brides-to-be begin to put their future spouses first (the healthy thing to do), families often act up and act out. They channel their feelings of abandonment, fear, and sadness about the impending loss of their child into the wedding.

Most brides-to-be say they feel alienated from or angry at their families for much of their engagements.

Fantasy: Engagement party! Bachelorette party! Bridal shower! Being engaged is all about parties!

Reality: You may find that you need more time alone.

Why? Loosening your grip on your identities as a single woman, daughter, and girlfriend can be destabilizing to your sense of self. Thus, after the initial excitement of announcing the big news, many brides-to-be go into hibernation so they can adjust to the changes.

Fantasy: Wedding planning shouldn't take over your life.

Reality: Allowing your wedding planning to take over your life can actually help you make the transition from single to married.

Why? To outsiders, a bride-to-be's strange obsession with, say, place cards may seem like just one more indication that she has gone off the deep end.

Many brides-to-be are teased by friends and family; others feel embarrassed by their new, compulsive behavior. But being engrossed in your wedding can be psychologically and emotionally healthy, if you can find the metaphors.

For example, trying on dress after dress helps you become comfortable in your new skin as a bride. Tweaking your online registry—10 place settings? 12? 10? 12?—helps you imagine your new married home. Finding the perfect place cards helps you wrap your brain around the fact that all your friends and family are gathering to celebrate your marriage.

So, go ahead, be obsessed about your wedding if you want to be. Just bring a psychological awareness to your obsession. Ask yourself: Why am I devoting so much effort and energy to this wedding detail and not another?

Fantasy: You can avoid wedding stress and emotional crises by having a brief engagement or by eloping.

Reality: Nope.

Why? Making the psychological transition from single to married is a process all brides-to-be go through. For those with short engagements, the road can be even rockier.

They have to take the bumps at high speed, and their emotions tend to run higher, hotter, and faster than those with year-long engagements. Women who get married very quickly often need more emotional support; in fact, a third of all brides I counsel have engagements that are less than four months long.

Fantasy: Not every bride-to-be has an identity crisis during her engagement.

Reality: True. Some have them after they're married.

Why? Occasionally, I meet married women who don't see the need for bridal counseling. "I don't remember going through anything like that," they say to me. "My engagement was really fun!"

"Well, then, let me ask you," I say, gingerly. "How was your first year of marriage?"

"Oh, God, it was rough," they say, shaking their heads. "I ended up spending a lot of nights sleeping alone in the guest room." How To Survive Your First Year Of Marriage

Fantasy: Your engagement will be the happiest time of your life.

Reality: Your engagement will be one of the most up-and-down times of your life; your wedding day will be one of the happiest days of your life.

Why? Even planning one of today's elaborate weddings is a piece of cake compared to the psychological changes a woman undergoes before she gets married.

Most brides-to-be write off their "unbridely" feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness to wedding stress—which does in fact account for some of the angst. But much of it is caused by a normal, natural psychological process.

From the moment you say yes, you are tossed into limbo, an unknown, in-between, new world in which you're neither single nor married, neither girlfriend nor wife. Your sense of who you are suddenly feels shaky as you close the chapter on your single life.

Fantasy: A wedding is just a big party.

Reality: How many parties have you attended from which you've gone home with a new husband who has the power to make life-and-death decisions for you, a new branch on your family tree, and (possibly) a new last name?

Why? Enough said.

So back to that phrase—"rite of passage"—and my search for its definition. I learned that a rite of passage is a ritual to mark and celebrate a change in identity. A wedding's ingrained traditions, its universal structure, and even its insanely detailed planning process help women make a break with their former realities.

The idea that I was grieving the end of my single life was a counterintuitive, unconventional, and revolutionary way to think about being engaged. It debunked the myth that this should be the happiest time of my—or of any bride's—life, and transformed my engagement from a time of high stress to a time of self-discovery.

The transition from single to married is a slow evolution. What's a bride to do? Take it step by step, detach from your fantasies, let yourself feel whatever emotions you feel. By consciously mourning your single self, you'll be building a strong foundation for your marriage—one that will support you for as long as you both shall live.


Allison Moir-Smith is the founder of Emotionally Engaged counseling for brides, based in Brookline, Mass., and the author of Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide to Surviving the "Happiest" Time of Her Life.

Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc. From Emotionally Engaged, by Allison Moir-Smith. Copyright © 2006 by Allison Moir-Smith.

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