What It Really Means If You're Engaged And Terrified Of Getting Married

The problem may not be your fiance.

Last updated on Apr 18, 2024

Woman in wedding dress, terrified of marriage, deep breathing  FG Trade | Canva

Eventually, all of my clients ask me the same question: I'm with such a great guy (or girl), so why am I so scared of love? It's an understandable question, especially at the threshold of marriage, when fear is the last thing we believe we're supposed to feel. The accompanying thought is often: If I was with the right person, I wouldn't feel this way. It's another understandable conclusion since nothing prepares couples for the normal fears that arise during an engagement.


Why would someone feel terrified to marry someone with whom they have a terrific relationship? Why would a loving, solid partnership trigger such deep-seated feelings of anxiety, rendering them unable to eat, sleep, or function? Other than the fear of commitment, it's because the relationship is so safe that the anxiety is triggered. Here's an example from someone who didn't attribute the anxiety to her partnership" One of my dearest friends met her life partner in her late twenties. After a whirlwind love affair, they got married, and a few months later, she developed severe anxiety symptoms for the first time in her life.


What it means if you're engaged and terrified of getting married

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Her ears started itching and she heard a ringing that wouldn't go away. Then, she felt like there was copper in her mouth and her anxious mind went into overdrive: I'm dying. I have cancer. I'm going crazy. All are common thoughts that accompany an anxiety disorder. We had fallen out of close touch, but she knew that I had struggled with serious anxiety during my twenties, so she called me for support. We spoke every day, and within a few weeks, she was able to identify that the safety and stability of her marriage were what allowed the anxiety to surface.

In other words, the anxiety had been living inside of her since she was a child, but she had always kept it at bay. She was a typical good girl — good grades, a good job, and never stayed outside the expected lines. Her psyche lived inside a steel-clad box of expectations and busyness. She was raised by two young, drug-addicted parents who were both narcissistic and emotionally unreliable. As a result, my friend learned at a young age how to take care of herself as best she could. In short, her parents didn't attend to her in the way she needed to be parented; her father failed miserably as a dad and her mother neglected to nurture.

Now, within the security of her husband's support, she finally felt safe enough to fall apart. For the first time in her life, she had someone who could keep watch as she delved into darkness. She knew that no matter how crazy she felt, her husband loved her and he wasn't going anywhere. That's when the nearly thirty years of terror came rushing to the surface. After months of suffering from anxiety and countless discussions with me and her therapist, she started to learn how to re-parent herself and develop a relationship with a higher source. It was slow, difficult work, but over time the physical anxiety symptoms diminished and she felt some sense of solid ground beneath her feet.




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She released the notion that her parents might ever attend to her the way she needed as a child, and that true healing would require her to parent herself and accept nurturing from other sources. However, she credits the development of her spiritual relationship as the key to managing her anxiety. I hope that this story sheds light on your terror, but if not, it may be because you've attached the terror and fear of commitment to your choice of marriage partner. The projection onto the partner becomes so strong that they want to run, leaving them with the painful choice of either postponing the wedding or breaking up entirely.

This is the wounded self at play, the part of you that's terrified of real love. But why is real love so scary? That is, if, rationally, you know your partner is terrific and you're ready to commit, why would you feel so scared of love? The answer is that the wounded self is the part of you that developed to protect you from the pain of your early experiences. Perhaps you were raised by narcissistic parents who didn't know how to set their own needs aside to attend to yours. Perhaps your mother was emotionally engulfed and your father was emotionally absent, so the wounded self was born and developed a belief system that said, "There must be something wrong with me because I'm not receiving the love I need. If I was more perfect in some way, I would get love."


In essence, you looked around you and realized that love isn't safe. It's either too much or too little, both of which you ascribed to some fault within yourself. Now, with real love standing before you in the form of a solid, reliable mate, the old beliefs come flaring to the surface. You're terrified of getting hurt again. You're terrified of being vulnerable, exposing your true self, and then being rejected. It's too risky. It's not safe. You're knee-deep in a projection that says, "I must be terrified because I'm with the wrong person," when in truth, you're terrified. After all, the old fears have been unleashed.

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Let me say this as clearly as possible: the terror has nothing to do with your partner. The terror lives inside of you and has always lived inside of you. The degree of terror is directly correlated to the degree to which you love your partner, even if you're so scared right now that you can't feel the love at all. Similarly, many people carry a rescue fantasy that says, "When I meet the right person, I will be so happy and alive that I'll be lifted out of my anxiety and misery." I've written extensively about this misguided belief because it's so fundamental to so many people's belief systems and is a primary reason why they leave perfectly good relationships.



Put differently, the belief is that someone else would make you happier. I'll say this clearly and bluntly: holding on to this belief prevents you from taking full responsibility for your pain and joy. Again, it ascribes the terror onto your partner instead of recognizing that this terror is old, it's yours, it has nothing to do with your partner, and you'd be feeling it no matter who you married. If you're going to work through the terror, you must recognize that it has nothing to do with your partner. It's not his fault, it's not here because you're with the wrong person, and it won't go away if you walk away from the relationship. Ask yourself honestly: how long have you struggled with anxiety? If you're like most of my clients, you've struggled with it for years.


Anxiety is a gift. It's an opportunity to address deep-seated belief systems that are no longer serving you and an invitation to learn how to connect with a source of higher guidance. The fear says, "Run!" or "Love isn't safe" or "He'll leave me" or "She'll smother me." Something wise in you is saying, "Deal with me now! You're finally with someone safe and loving who's not going to run away from your anxiety. Within this safe space, you can fall apart and learn how to put yourself back together again in a healthy way." That something might just be called love. Which voice will you listen to?

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Sheryl Paul is a writer, author, and counselor. She has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and other top media shows and publications around the globe.