Susan on marriage statistics.

How Brides Really Feel
During Their Engagements

For the past few months, I’ve posted this question on my website:
“During your engagement, you have felt:
A. really happy
B. more anxious than I expected to be
C. more afraid than I expected to be
D. sadder than I expected to be”

The answers are revealing.

12% are “really happy”

“I can honestly say this is one of the happiest times of my life,” said these brides.

Some lucky brides really are happy. Granted, not a whole lot of them — only 12% — but at least someone’s living the myth of the happy bride. Writes one bride: “We both have the same ideas in terms of the wedding we want, and we shared the work.”

From their answers, the “really happy” brides seem solely focused on the wedding itself: their emotional process of being engaged centered around the wedding.

For less-than-really-happy brides, Life intervened. Wedding planning itself was easy. Psychological and emotional issues are, shall we say, challenging.

23% are “sadder than they expected”
For one bride, her engagement feels sad to her because “my parents think I can do better, he’s not paying the bills, and he admits he’s feeling scared.” Her image of her engagement was far from living up to its reality.

Another was consumed with sadness about the state of her family relationships, sadness so great that it felt like grief.

Allison Moir-Smith
Bridal Counselor and
Author of Emotionally Engaged (Feb. 2006: Hudson St. Press)

HELP! I Have
Cold Feet!

During my engagement, I would have fit into this category. I felt sad about feeling disconnected from my single girlfriends. I felt sad about difficult family relationships and how I wasn’t being supported they way I felt I needed. I felt sad about leaving my single life and losing my identity that I had honed and crafted for many years. I felt sad, sad, sad….I was stunned at how sad I felt. For me, it had nothing to do with my relationship to my fiance. It was all “my stuff.” And it was hard to be sad when I was supposed to be “happy.”

24% are “more afraid than they expected”
For 24% of brides, the reality of a lifelong commitment has thrown them for a loop: “I really thought I was ready for marriage, and now that I’m faced with it, I’m surprised at how scared I feel,” they said.

“I know he’s the right guy,” elaborates one bride, “and that we are perfect for each other. BUT I’m so scared inside — what if he isn’t the guy? What if there’s a different guy I was supposed to marry, and I just haven’t met him yet? I love my fiancĂ© so much, and the very ideas in my head make me feel awful and guilty. HELP! I need to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

She’s not. By a long shot.

“I’ve been really happy, and wedding planning hasn’t been too stressful,” writes another bride. “The biggest surprise is how scared I have been about getting married. The idea of committing myself to one person is wonderful, but the reality of putting all my faith and love into one relationship has me scared about what could happen if it ends one day. It’s a big transition from dating to having that kind of faith in one person.”

Writes a third: “Letting into my heart someone who really loves me is causing me great anxiety along with commitment issues around giving up my independent nature.”

The Private Lives of
Engaged Couples

The good news is that these brides are acknowledging and articulating their fears. Their next steps are to work through the fears — to get to the kernel of what the fear is about, understand the fear, and integrate the fear.

My sense is that the fear is not really about The Guy: it could stem from an old relationship, a parents’ divorce, a relationship with the father, or something else altogether. This is what we’ll do in the Cold Feet workshop next Tuesday, August 12 — get to the source of the fears. Let me help you work through these fears, brides!

41% are “more anxious they expected”

“I’ve discovered that an anxious person lives inside me,” writes one bride. For her and many others, there’s a
love-hate relationship with their weddings. At times they love the planning and the details. At others, “I can’t wait to get it over with and get on with my life!” says one.

There’s a lot of ambivalence, and “all this internal conflict is causing my anxiety to bring itself forward,” she continues.

Each “anxious” bride also mentioned that sadness and fear were present as well, but anxiety was the over-arching emotion. Anxiety is a manifestation of fear. Think about your body’s reaction to stress and anxiety: racing heart, racing thoughts, shortness of breath. This is how your body reacts when you’re afraid.

So while you have the joyful, fun, difficult, sometimes tedious task of planning a wedding, these deeper feelings of sadness and fear bubble up, too. The result: an emotional stew of anxiety.

The take-away message of this survey
For most brides — 88% — engagement brings up difficult feelings, psychological issues, and family and/or relationship problems. So take some comfort in the fact that your difficult feelings are normal and natural.

And, I’d argue, necessary. Why? By getting married, you are being transformed — your relationship to yourself and your identity, your relationship to your family and to your friends, and your relationship to your fiancĂ© — are all undergoing major changes. As a result, you’re making internal, psychological, and emotional shifts as well. You are changing, and change is always challenging.

To top it all off, you’re planning a wedding! If a wedding were in fact just a big party — as some people say it is — then there would not be all this emotional turmoil. The turmoil reflects the changes you’re going through.

In each Emotionally Engaged workshop, we delve into these deeper issues that come up for 88% of brides — why you have cold feet, what you can do about family tensions, working through commitment issues and more. We get not only to the “why” these feelings are happening, but “how” these feelings are serving you individual self-development and “how” these feelings are preparing you for marriage.

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