The majority of my clients find me when they’re in the midst of the marriage transition, stifled by anxiety and convinced it means that they’re making a mistake. What they fail to realize (until they come across my work) is that the anxious thoughts (“What if my marriage fails?” “What if I’m marrying the wrong person?” What if the fact that I’m not head over heels in love means I’m not supposed to be getting married?”) are creating the anxious feelings, not the other way around. We’re quite brainwashed in the current follow-your-gut, all-that-surrounds-the-wedding-is-bliss culture to believe that if we’re feeling anxiety during the engagement, it’s a sign that we’re making a mistake.
Here’s a typical scenario: You’ve been with your partner for a couple years, maybe more, maybe less. During that time, you’ve been mostly happy. You never felt that butterfly, chemical insanity that the unavailable ex inspired in you, but you’ve felt a comfortable, safe connection with your partner, with whom you share values, have fun, and trust implicitly. You wanted him to propose to you, but after he did, you felt scared. That led to panic (since everything in our culture since the time you were born has told you that you’re not supposed to be scared during your engagement) and you naturally wondered, “What does this mean? Does panicking mean I shouldn’t marry him? What if this is a mistake?” The “what-if” thoughts then feed themselves and a vicious cycle begins, where the thoughts create anxiety and the anxiety feeds more anxious thoughts.
Here’s a healthy scenario: Same as above, except that after the elation of your partner proposing wears off, you expect to grieve and feel terrified as you prepare to relinquish your identity as a single person and take the great leap into the unknown of marriage. You expect to put every aspect of your partner under a microscope because you understand that an engagement is a trial marriage. You expect to have dreams about your ex because you understand that, as part of the transition process, you re-live aspects of your past life, especially the life that centered around being single. You understand that as part of the grieving process inherent to all transitions, you will re-experience old losses that were never fully grieved or past transitions that weren’t honored to completion (or at all).
So when the difficult feelings arise – the grief, the fear, the doubt, the loneliness – you make room for them. You don’t project the onto your partner. You don’t question to the core whether or not you want to get married. You don’t spin yourself out into a tizzy of unmanageable anxiety. You breathe into the fear. You grieve the loss. You have meaningful conversations with people around you about how challenging and rich it is to be in transition. You ride the waves of every emotion magnified. You feel the numbness and disorientation of the liminal stage and remind yourself that just because you feel disconnected from your partner, that doesn’t mean you’re making a mistake. You breathe. You slow down. You unwind into the cocoon of transformation. And finally, always, you let go.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998, she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com, and her blog, http://conscious-transitions.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions and ongoing counseling.