Engagement Anxiety and the Ex

My clients are always surprised, then relieved, to learn that thinking about an ex is a normal part of being engaged. As we spiral into deeper layers of transitions, our past comes floating to the surface of our thoughts, dreams, and emotional life. For some people, the past includes thoughts or feelings about unfinished transitions – leaving home for the first time, their parents’ divorce, the end of a friendship, the loss of a loved one. As she walks toward her wedding day, the bride-to-be finds herself re-living the loss associated with the previous transition. The unconscious bride does anything she can to avoid these uncomfortable feelings that she thinks she’s not supposed to have during “the happiest time of her life.” The conscious bride recognizes that loss is an inherent – and important – part of any transition and she allows herself to process the sadness as best she can.

The same principle can be applied to thoughts about an ex. However, since the thoughts involve another man (or woman), it’s often a lot more challenging for my clients to accept it, make sense of it, and move on without feeling guilty or questioning their decision to marry. The thoughts then inevitably become drenched in anxiety. As is so often the case with anxiety, it’s not the thoughts or feelings themselves that are a problem; it’s the meaning we ascribe to the thoughts that create the pit in our stomachs, the furrowed brow, the hidden tears. So when a client tells me that she can’t stop thinking about her ex and I tell her that’s normal, she breathes a big sigh of relief and can begin to let the anxiety go.

Without this awareness, a bride-to-be (and it could just as easily be a groom but for this article we’ll talk about the woman), begins to wonder the million dollar question, the question that causes most of my clients to do a google search for “wedding stress” or “engagement anxiety” and find their way to my cyberspace doorstep: Am I making a mistake? The internal dialogue looks like this:

“If I loved my fiancé, why am I thinking about this other guy? I felt so passionate for this other guy in a way I don’t feel for my fiancé. Does that mean I’m not supposed to marry the one I’m with? Am I making a mistake? Am I settling? What if he’s not the one?”

So during our first session, I inquire further:

“Tell me about the ex. What was he like? What was your relationship like?”

To which they invariably respond with some version of:

“Oh, he was your typical bad boy. We had a great sexual connection but I could never rely on him. I knew all along that he wouldn’t make a good husband or life partner, but it took me a while to extract myself from his hold. I was always pursuing him and he was always putting on the brakes to some degree. But what a great connection we had! He was so interesting, alive, passionate, and creative! My fiancé isn’t really that way.”

“Tell me about your fiancé.”

“He’s the best person I know. He’s a gem. He’s reliable, kind, responsible, loyal, and I know he truly loves me. He’ll make a great husband and father. We share similar values about all the important areas. The sex is good, but not always fantastic. I knew early on that he was a great match for me. He’s my best friend. Before he asked me to marry him, I never doubted that he was the one I wanted spend my life with. So why am I thinking about this other guy now?”

Hmmmmm… which would you choose? Obviously, the current fiancé is the better choice, but why is it so difficult for women on the verge of marriage to accept the smart decision? The answer is three-fold:

1. Closing out the Old Life:

When you decide to marry one person, you have to say goodbye to every other possibility of life partner. With billions of members of the opposite (or same) sex on this plant, that’s a lot of goodbyes! So instead of grieving about every single other option, the mind focuses on the one option that usually represents the polar opposite of the person you’re marrying. Where your husband-to-be is responsible and reliable, the ex on the brain is irresponsible and unreliable. Of course, those aren’t the characteristics you’re focusing on; all you can think about is how spontaneous and fun he was! But it’s important to reel the mind back in and say to yourself, “Yes, he was spontaneous and fun and sometimes my groom isn’t those things, but along with those qualities came an irresponsibility that never would have worked as a life partner.” And then allow yourself to grieve that no one is perfect, and no matter who you married you would have to accept his imperfections and limitations.

2. Cultural Conditioning:

Our culture tells you from the moment you’re born that the person you marry should be “the one,” “your soul mate”, “your perfect match,” etc etc. These buzzwords can send the most sane and rational woman into a tailspin of questions during her engagement as she begins to wonder if that other guy, the one who made her stomach belly flop and her head swoon every time he walked in the room, was indeed this sought after soulmate. Isn’t that what love is supposed to feel like, she wonders. Isn’t that how I’m supposed to feel about the person I’m about to marry? The answer is a resounding NO! Those feelings that the other elicited are just that… feelings. They’re not a basis for making a decision to marry.

Our culture calls it love, but it’s really closer to adolescent infatuation. Now that’s not to say that sometimes those feelings don’t transform into a solid foundation on which to base a marriage. But more often than not, the bad boy that broke your heart does not magically turn into the adult man who is wiling to take on the responsibilities of marriage. It’s our culture who transmits a faulty message about love, and an engagement is often the time when women decode this message and learn, for the first time, what real love is really about.

3. The Pursuer-Distancer Syndrome

Part of learning about real love is learning about the typical – and unhealthy – dynamics that inform many people’s early relationships. During adolescence and in your early twenties, you may have pursued boys that weren’t as interested in you as you were in them. When they did give you the time of day – or more – you felt ecstatic, loved, and validated. When they ignored you or broke up with you, you felt devastated, and equated this negated feeling with love, thereby forming the false belief that loss equals love. For many people, love and loss are fused into a confusing knot that only becomes disentangled with a healthy love relationship. But on the threshold of marriage, when you analyze every aspect of your relationship, the old beliefs thrust back to life and you find yourself thinking about the one-who-got-away, wondering if those intense feelings meant that you loved him more than the one you’re with.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and through our counseling sessions and the step-by-step guidance of my Conscious Weddings E-Course, through which I prescribe specific exercises designed to exorcise the past and heal the unhealthy belief systems, my clients are able to lay the past to rest and move toward their wedding day with clarity and gratitude about the wonderful man they have chosen to marry.

61 comments to Engagement Anxiety and the Ex

  • Sarah

    What does it mean if I’ve had doubts throughout the entire relationship? The anxiety started early on for me, and this has been a huge factor in me questioning the relationship. Only now, when I start to focus on myself, does the anxiety subside. But I still wonder what’s wrong with the constant and persistent doubting over the past 6 years.

  • admin

    Since there are no red-flag issues in the relationship and things are good between you when you’re feeling good, it means that you’ve probably had your eyes on his side of the street most of the time. Now that you’re starting to focus on yourself and take responsibility for your own pain and joy, the anxiety is subsiding. The anxiety is probably largely due to you handing the responsibility for your well-being to him, which will always make you feel anxious because it’s a disempowered place to be.

  • magda

    Sheryl, your post completely reminds me of what I’m going through. I’m just having flashbacks of my past, whether it’s of an ex boyfriends, or friends, of all the struggles, of school, everything from my past. I’m having dreams of ex boyfriends, as if I was still with them. Is that normal, I’m really trying not to react to them.

  • KD

    Dreams are interesting things. They can involve something that is so unrealistic and out there, and sometimes they feel very present, but both types of dreams can communicate something to us. I often have dreams where I am driving and feel like the car is going insane – and typically these dreams come when I am stressed out and feel out of control. Dreaming about your ex is normal, but could also be trying to say something to you. As Sheryl noted, you can, one by one, note why you are no longer with that person. It’s really about processing the dream, saying it’s just a dream, and my life is REAL. My fiance is fabulous. Maybe the ex was OK, but my guy is here and he is great.

    Fortunately, I never did the fantasizing of the ex, but ultimately it’s comparing what you have to what you no longer have. Marriage and relationships are about HAVING. Dreaming and fantasizing are about wanting. And, having can be a heck of a lot less dramatic than wanting, but I bet it is way more fulfilling.

  • Sheryl – this post (like all of them) is so helpful and I’ve thought about it many times since I first read it a few days ago. I really struggled with this before I got married – and now, 5 months into my marriage, I find that it still comes up. It’s definitely WAY weaker than it was before (when the thoughts almost crippled me), but it’s still there – slinking around in the wings, waiting to pounce on me in a moment of doubt or loneliness. For us “grass is always greener” people, I think it’ll always be a little bit of a struggle to control our minds and remember that no, the grass is not always greener – and your posts help me do that so much! Thank you!

  • magda

    Hi KD,

    You are right on about dreaming and fantaasizing that it’s about wanting. When in an anxious state like me right now, I want my fiance close, I want to feel at peace and knowing that I have him. I do know that I have him, the problem is that because of the transition that I’m going through, it’s hard to know sometimes what you have. I just feel completely disconnected from my fiance. I cry about it, because it just hurts so much. Feeling like this for four months almost five has literally stripped my whole entire life. I don’t know who I am anymore, I don’t know who I am with my fiance, I’m slowly starting to get some balance, but a really bad day will throw me completely off my tracks. It’s like I’m engaged to a man who is so far away but yet so close by. Everytime I talk about him I either want to say my boyfriend or husband, both sound so much easier than fiance. The other thing that I’m doing is pressuring myself to be back to normal with him, just the way we are together laughing, joking around, just enjoying being together, to the point that I exhaust myself and it just back fires, because than I start to repel him, when I can’t relax. Did you have that problem?

  • KD

    Oh, you bet I did. I felt way more anxious in his presence too. I know there was a post a few months ago about how some women feel comforted when their fiances are around, while others like me felt more anxious… and most of mine stemmed from feeling the way I felt, feeling disconnected. I felt that way at work, with friends, all the time.

    I guess it depends of what your fears are. As I said before, really focusing on the present, not on the ‘what ifs’. Write those down. Talk about them, to yourself or to someone else, or maybe your FI if you feel like that would help (without hurting him).

    Are you journaling, exercising, praying/meditating, talking to someone you trust, avoiding stimulants or things that might spike anxiety (OK, yes, sometimes I needed like a good bottle of wine)? Write a list, maybe one thing a day, why you love your FI.

    Also, notice when the anxiety presents itself the most. Is there a pattern? Let me know how you’re doing.

  • magda

    Yeah, it basically feels like you are in a relationship but not really, he’s just there. I do talk to my fiance a lot, I think I actually told him a lot too much, so now I don’t know how to get over the fact that he has to live through all my horror and now he has to get over everything that I told him. Did you ever feel uncomfertable with your fiance, like you didn’t know what to say, and did you feel like you don’t even know who you were with him? See, I haven’t been taking good care of myself, I fell into a pretty deep depression. NO excercise, I pray, but not as often, and lately I’ve been so depressed that I feel like nothing is going to help.

  • KD

    You know, I know you feel like you might have done damage, but your FI is still here, isn’t he? Go to the groom’s suite on ConsciousWeddings.com and share with him a few of the articles. Do you tell him about the work you’re doing here? It might be beneficial if he knows just how badly you want to make this work, even as you’re confused and in pain.

    First thing though: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. You are not being fair to him if you are not fair to yourself. Do whatever you have to do to find some sort of peace. Make sure you get activity in, even if it requires you peel away from the bed or couch for an hour or two. Get a massage, manicure, whatever relaxes you. Maybe you need a weekend away to give you perspective? I don’t know, it’s different for everyone. As soon as you feel down, write down what’s going on. You’ll pull through, I know it.

    I can give you my email if you want to chat one on one, but I know you’ll do great if you take the pressure off yourself to ‘feel normal’ or ‘feel better’.

  • magda

    My fear is that what if I don’t want to be with him. Sometimes I actually believe it (those days are horrible). My sister suggested I take a weekend of, and then I told her that what if I figure out that I don’t want to be with him, right after I answered by saying that I don’t want him not to be the one I marry. So I basically answered my own question. If I can keep busy, not by just planning the wedding, because that’s so hard at times, I’m really taking it easy, will is subside? I mean if I do thinks for my self and on my own, I get this false belief that it means that I don’t want to be with him. What stage are you at in your transition and did you have to take any medication for your anxiety?

  • Charisse – Thank you for that beautiful comment – and yes, it’s quite true that for us “grass is always greener” types we’ll always have to wrestle that “what-if” mind down to the mat. I was just driving around Boulder today and I had a flash of another house in another city, and I knew it was a fantasy house. Now, if you follow this blog, you know I have nothing short of a love affair with our house and our land. So why this sneaky image of another house – a completely different kind of house – that flashed through my mind with longing fresh on its heels? I can only say it’s the grass is only greener syndrome and that annoying reality that we can’t have it all. I can’t simultaneously live in our country home surrounded by land on a creek AND the city Craftsman bungalow. So I breathe it in and remind myself to connect to gratitude for the beauty and blessings that spread out before me in this moment, in this life – not some imagined, future, other life.

  • KD

    Hi Magda. It can take a LONG time to get over some the necessary humps you need to get over in order to feel more confident and assured in your decision. Feel free to contact Sheryl to get my email address is you want to speak one on one. Also, don’t feel ashamed or angry for feeling the way you are feeling. It’s really OK.

  • seekingclarity

    I am feeling very much the same as you Sarah and Magda. I have always had minor lingering doubts about my relationship over the last 5 years and it freaks me out to think this now that we are engaged. Though I am coming to realize these doubts are fear based and have little to do with the relationship itself (if anything at all), it is difficult to think clearly when in the grips of anxiety. I look at this site at least once a day, even if just to re-read posts to keep myself in check. My anxiety is definitely heightened around my wonderful fiance because I feel like we aren’t clicking-though really its just me keeping my distance because I feel strange. I’m constantly questioning when we are together “are we close enough”, “are we having enough fun together”, “am i still feeling anxious”? Basically I’m creating my own problem and being my own worst enemy. If I could just stop over-thinking everything, I’d have nothing to worry about.

  • magda

    kd I would really like to email you maybe for some support.

  • sarah

    I’m a professional at over-thinking! People have been telling me I think too much for years, so I know this is no exception. I also am super indecisive. I spend a half hour standing in my living room thinking about where or what I want to eat for lunch. Today I recalled the memory of when my family moved into a new house when I was about 14 (14 years ago) – I was soooo excited to move, and when the time came I wanted nothing to do with it and was so angry about it, as well as sad. It’s weird thinking back and realizing how much I’ve struggled with transitions without anyone to help me understand what was happening. It’s still difficult now, because my brain cannot seem to take in anything rational when I’m anxious. I’m not sure what will happen with my partner and me; I feel like I’m going through so many transitions I can’t tell which is which and what decisions need to be made.

  • seekingclarity

    Its so wild to me how much of a roller coaster this transition can be. Yesterday, when I wrote my post, I was feeling confused and anxious, but then had a wonderful, anxiety-free evening with my fiance. I have been going through this since about July, though most intense earlier this fall and now it is less so. I feel like I may be rounding a corner, but am feeling anxious about thinking that…what a mess :)! As far as feeling overwhelmed with decisions Sarah, I found that even though it was hard, doing something made me feel less anxious than procrastinating. I was feeling really anxious about sending out save the dates because of the transitional feelings I was having, but NOT sending them out was making me have anxiety because I knew I needed to. So, when I finally sent them, I still had anxious feelings about the relationship (though trusting that it was all just a projection of my own issues onto the relationship), but at least I didn’t feel anxious about having not sent them. Now, when I feel lost in my anxiety, I try to connect to it and name exactly what I’m anxious about–its not Brian, its changing my alliance from my family to Brian, its figuring out what it means for me to be a wife, its letting go of my “child” identity, etc. Baby steps. And breathe.

  • Sarah

    Yes, I can relate to being more anxious about procrastinating. Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning helps – I’m assuming there are people on here that can relate to the time in the morning when you wake up but just aren’t ready to get out of bed yet, but your mind sure is wide awake and screaming? So yes, I have to make myself do things. Taking the behavioral approach seems to work for me. I tend to become paralyzed by anxiety rather than go into doing mode. Seekingclarity: I know exactly what you mean about the roller coaster effect. I notice that I’ll be having good days and post something somewhat meaningful, only to go back and read it and think, “What was I talking about? I’m more anxious than ever right now!” It’s pretty frustrating, but I’m really trying to be interested by this transition and am curious about all that I’ll learn as a result of allowing myself to experience all that I am, comfortable or not.

  • magda

    Sarah and Seekingclarity I so know how you both feel. When I first got the anxiety it was around July as well, actually two weeks before my fiance proposed. The anxiety and panic hit me so hard that I couldn’t get out of bed, and felt this strong force telling me to tell my fiance to leave him, without even understanding why, when I’ve been so happy with him. Since then, my anxiety was just pointing at him as the problem, and if it wasn’t him then it was my ex boyfriend, and it was just this limbo and still is of emotions and it bounces of from one to the next. I’ve been horrible at transitions, infact I think I avoided them. But this time I know I can’t run if I want a chance at a normal life. Things have been hard, I thought I tried everything, I pressured myself to just feel love when I saw my fiance, I just wanted things to be normal. I forgat to do one thing though, I forgat to re look at my whole entire life, and notice that it’s me that I should be looking at, not at anyone else. I’ve been scared of happiness and always had a low self-esteem. I always ran from loving relationships and ended up broken hearted because I chose to be with guys that didn’t want to commit to me. I have everything I ever wanted in front of me and I am horrified because I don’t know how to keep it. And I negatively projected my fiance since the anxiety, poor guy got picked apart. Really him and I are so much alike that I was just getting upset at him when really I’m upset with myself. It’s hard to see things getting better in an anxious stage, but I won’t give up, because this is my one in a life chance to make things right with myself and my life with my future husband, which will have challenges, and will be a struggle for me until I make myself whole again, and I can meet him half way, because he’s already there, he’s just waiting for me to join him. Anxiety free for right now lol, but who knows what tomorrow brings, it will be another battle ladies, but make sure that you are up for it, because there is so many woman that say it’s worth it at the end.

  • Confused/Anxious

    Hi all – I’ve been checking this site more and more often these days to try and ease my anxiety a bit. I’ve been working through the e-course and the CB Wedding Planner, have talked to Sheryl and am seeing a therapist and talking with friends. I was having days here and there that would prove that my fear was wrong, but those days are getting few and far between now as I try to work though everything.

    Sarah, I too, have had doubts through my entire relationship. We even broke up for a period of time a few years ago partly because of my doubts about how I felt and partly because I didn’t think he;d ever commit (even now that sounds weird – I didn’t know if I loved him enough but yet I wanted him to want to get married?) We got back together after a bit and I was so happy. The we got engaged and I was happy. The about a month after, doubt crept in again. And now, almost a year after the proposal, I’m deep in doubt and anxiety.

    My main issue is thinking that there’s someone more suited for me out there. In fact, I know who he is. He’s a real person, and I know he likes me a lot, we’ve been friends for a long time and tried to date a while back but it didn’t work out – now I’m thinking I didn’t give it enough of a chance. I just have no guarantee that he would be committed to me like my FI is. I’m having more than a hard time figuring out what to do all because of a possibility of someone who seems perfect for me (what I know of him anyway.)

    SeekingClarity – I too am having a hell of a time sending my save the dates. I break down in tears every time we talk about them. I keep thinking about maybe postponing so I can work through this before sending them out. I know Sheryl says not to do that, but honestly, I’m terrified right now – terrified of getting married and closing off other opportunities that could make me happier, and terrified of NOT getting married and throwing away an amazing relationship that I cannot even see the good in right now.

  • admin

    A few things:

    1. As you get closer to the dealing with the fear, the fear fight back harder. So it makes sense that the anxiety-free days are receding for now. It just means you have to stay with this and challenge the fear even more.

    2. Are you grieving the loss of your singlehood – and for you that means the loss of any other possibility of partner? Have you done all of the exercises in Lesson 2 of the e-course – and some of them several times? Are you consciously and actively LETTING GO of the old life and realizing that with this one choice you are saying goodbye to every other choice?

    3. Are you grieving the loss of the fantasy of the perfect partner and the idea that there’s one man out there that will “make you happy”? I know we talked about this before, but this is central for you: the fantasy that there’s a perfect partner needs to shattered before you’ll be able to embrace the wonderful man who’s standing beside you. When you say that there’s someone who’s “more suited for me out there”, it points to a belief in the one-and-only perfect partner. “More suited” really means “he’ll make me happier – I’ll be more myself” or some version of that. Since I happen to know that you’re with a great guy who would make a great marriage partner for you, I can say with certainty that you’re stuck in a fantasy that’s preventing you from embracing him.

    4. There are no mistakes here, only choices. You could choose to leave your fiance and try again with the other guy. But something is clearly preventing you from doing that.

  • NervousNelly

    Thank you for the response, Sheryl. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t found you and this website, I wouldn’t know where I would be right now. I’ll definitely go back to Lesson 2 and redo those exercises – as many times as I need to.

    I guess I am stuck in the fantasy, and I’m somehow scared to let that go, let any of it, all of it go. It’s so hard! I guess it’s possible that this guy is the one tangible element representing “all the guys” – the exes and the ones I’ve never even met yet.

    I think the thing preventing me from leaving is that I KNOW this is a good relationship. The healthiest one I’ve ever been in – or so I though before I started picking fights about everything. So what if I leave and then I’m left with nothing.

    I guess what I’m most scared of is that I’ll do all the work and I’ll still feel the same way.

    (I’m sorry for posting twice, by the way – the first one didn’t go through at first so feel free to delete that one.)

  • Sarah

    Hi Confused/Anxious. I’m sorry you’re going through this. It can be so hard to figure out just what’s going on when you’re feeling so stirred up. Your post reminds me so much of myself – thinking there’s someone else out there who would make me happier, that I could be more authentic with, blah blah blah (you know how it goes). In my case, I decided to postpone my wedding four weeks before we were supposed to get married this past August. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I did it for several different reasons, which I’m still trying to understand. This transition is so not over for me.

    One of the major reasons I decided to postpone was because I wasn’t happy with our relationship or with myself. We’ve been together since I was 22 (I’m 28 now; I actually was going through a major transition – graduating college – when we moved in together when I was 23 and looking back it was just bad timing – I wish I had found this information then). One of my repeating themes in talking with Sheryl was this longing to live alone, to have my own place. Now I think it’s more about having my own life rather than my own apartment. I didn’t know who I was and I what I actually wanted – it was sort of like I had been living on autopilot for so long, and even though I had doubts, it took getting engaged for me to realistically address what needed/needs to be addressed. We’re still living together and he’s been supportive, but it’s definitely taken a toll and I’m not really sure where we stand at this point. And it’s weird because now the thought of losing him is terrifying, but I now know what to do with that fear and how examine it, which makes it easier to connect with my truth.

    Another factor that went into postponing was because I hardly did any emotional work during the engagement. I just kept putting it off and putting it off out of sheer fear. The fear became so extreme that I had to do something, and I think postponing for me was the best decision. I was reading some of the old message board posts in one of the lessons from the e-course earlier today (I’m now trying to do the necessary emotional work because I want something out of this transition – regardless of what happens to the relationship) and someone posted a quote that read something like, “Make the choice that will teach you the lessons you need to learn.” Something along those lines. I cannot put into words what a learning experience this has been for me; it was the right choice for me, even though I still doubt my decision.

    Another thing I learned from the message board was to turn the microscope around and focus on myself. When I think about losing my partner, I am faced with the reality of my own life and how I’m not satisfied with where I’m at. I struggle greatly with over-focusing on him or thinking someone would be better for me and it keeps me from having to do the necessary work I need to do to be happy with me. I guess the short version would be was that I realized I didn’t love myself and, therefore, didn’t have access to the love for my partner. Does that make sense? It’s like I spent all my love on him and wasn’t taking care of myself, and when I take care of myself the love flows more freely.

    Anyway, I know this is super long, but I wanted to share my story and what I’ve learned. I would second what Sheryl says: do the work and the answers will come. It won’t be overnight and it might take a while. Something that helps me is reading through things and then taking a break to let things marinate (I get really obsessive so it’s helpful to step back for a couple days). Also, ask yourself about yourself: do you trust yourself? Are you happy with your life as an individual? What are you doing to take care of yourself (diet, exercise, alone time, etc.)?

  • I meant to write “Lesson 1” of the e-course, but Lesson 2 would be good for you, too : )

    Sarah: Very well said – all of it. The core of this work for many people is realizing the projection piece – that when you’re happy with yourself, you’re happy with your partner (provided it’s basically a good relationship). The conditioning in this culture is so deep that says, “My partner should “make me happy” and if I’m not happy there must be something wrong with the relationship. There must be someone better out there for me.” On that note, the interviews with Kevin and Jill in Lesson 7 would be great for both of you to read/listen to.

    Also, great point about this process taking time. You can’t rush through a transition, just like you can’t rush through the grieving process (which is so much of what a transition is a about). Grief has its own timetable and sometimes there’s only one thing that allows it to wash through to completion: time. So patience is necessary, and that can be so hard for most people. We want answers NOW!

  • NervousNelly

    Thank you so much, Sarah. You’re helping so much to feel I’m not so alone.

    That’s funny Sheryl, because after I redid Lesson 2, I went back and did some of the exercises from Lesson 1 as well. Lesson 2 is very helpful although I’m having a lot of trouble with the “Self” or “Rational” voices that answer my Critic voice. I literally get stuck and cannot find what they would say back. I have re-watched the Inner Bonding video…I’ll try more.

    I’m really wondering if postponing the wedding might be a good idea, because, yes, time is really the main element here, but I’m running out of it and I think that’s putting an enormous amount of pressure on me. It’s true – I do want answers NOW! So I can move on with things and plan the rest of the wedding. We’re running out of time and we’re at a standstill – I can’t bring myself to do anything and my FI certainly isn’t motivated to plan with me freaking out like this.

  • Postponing is a good option for some people, but for others it just prolongs the anxiety – especially when the central question is about making a mistake. It might sound strange, but once the wedding occurs and there’s no option anymore (without much more work and heartache), a significant amount of anxiety is relieved for most people because the decision has been made.

    It’s great to watch the Inner Bonding video many times, as well as the one for connecting with your Higher Guidance. Remember, it’s all about learning, and you’re definitely doing that!

  • KD

    Oh Sarah, thank you for sharing your story. I am in a very similar boat (the similarities are uncanny).

    Sheryl makes a very good point that many in the anxieties that previous posters have noted are things that can be worked out before the wedding, and postponing is not necessary. In fact, postponing can be detrimental (you prolong anxiety and hurt your partner), However, sometimes, perhaps like you and me, we still have issues to work out within us and with our partner before we can approach marriage with an open mind and heart. I’m still coming to terms with what are my personal fears and what have to do directly with my partner. And, I am also a typically impatient person, so this process has been strenuous… lots of time and hard work!!!

    Best of luck to anyone doing the work. As Sheryl has said, it is SO worth it.

  • NervousNelly

    Sarah, I just reread your last post and I cannot believe how similarly I feel. I can’t thank you enough for sharing that.

    I, too, have gotten pretty obsessive about things. I’ve always been like that but now I’m focusing on marriage and my partner — and now this site, and the work. Although even with the work, I’m constantly thinking, “Am I doing it right?” What shocks (and scares) me is that I’m NOT obsessing about the wedding. I can’t even think about it. You’d think I’d put all my energy into every little detail but it just makes me sad to think about it.

    Can I ask you – do you feel better at all having made the decision to postpone? I know, as Sheryl and KD have said, it can make it harder, but my FI actually suggested it this morning, and considering it has instantly made me feel a little better. I can’t tell if this is good (meaning that I do love him and it’s just the impending wedding/deadline that’s making me nuts) or if it’s bad because I feel a little relieved (we haven’t decided anything yet – just discussed it.)

    Sarah, would you be ok with exchanging emails through Sheryl? I would love to talk with you more but feel back about hijacking this post!

  • Sarah

    Hi NervousNelly. I’d be happy to talk with you. I do just want to say, though, that our situations are not exactly the same and just because I postponed doesn’t mean that’s what you should or shouldn’t do. Perhaps I’m assuming a lot here, and I apologize if this is more my stuff than yours, but knowing how I compare myself to people I’m assuming you might do the same (again, I apologize if this isn’t the case)and working through the “stuff” and making your own decision can be so empowering, even if you doubt it.

    I’m still certainly struggling with my decision – when I start working on myself and thinking about what I want from life (just me, separate from anyone; I’d never done that before so this is where I need to be) things between my partner and me begin to improve. Then I start exploring marriage (mind you the wound hasn’t fully, maybe not even partially, healed from postponing) and am on the verge of a panic attack for days. It’s extremely confusing; I don’t know if I’m scared because I want to be with him or I’m scared because I don’t. Some days I feel guilty for feeling happy in life while knowing I hurt him. Other days I’m not sure this is the relationship for me and I want out. It’s messy and is taking time. But the more work I do on myself the more open I feel to receiving the lessons I’m meant to learn at this stage. For a while after postponing I starting exploring spirituality and it felt like a hole had been filled in my heart. And then I fell back into my old patterns. This process has been more difficult than anything I’ve ever done, but returning to life as I have known it is not an option, either for me or my partner. He knows how important this transition is for me, for our relationship even at the potential loss of it, and I (embarrassingly) have to make myself feel grateful for that (gratitude has never been a natural mindset for me) and continue to push through, while giving myself a break once and a while to let things sit. I also have a habit of living life in my head, so forcing myself to live “out loud” as I say is actually really exciting. I struggle with the decision to stay or go, and I’m trying to think this is my lesson now – to learn more about myself and grow within a relationship. Especially considering how relationships often serve as mirrors, I’m given more chances to learn about myself, and I will admit that some days it’s more than I can take. I feel on the verge of something, and I’m trying to just get used to sitting in this strange place. I’m so scared that I’ll never know what to do, that I’ll be stuck here forever.

    So, some days I feel better, others I wish I would’ve have just gone through with it, especially when things are going well. Maybe that says a lot about my expectations for marriage – that I only want it when it’s good, that since our relationship is unfulfilling sometimes (or is it most of the time? Ahhh!) that somehow means it’s not right for me. I kick myself for thinking I made a mistake, that I just postponed out of fear. I knew before postponing that things would’ve worked out between us, but there was just a part of me that wasn’t ready. I think I have huge fears of intimacy, I know I do, and this also plays a part. It’s so complicated…

  • magda

    Hi everyone,
    I’m starting to learn that when I feel good about myself, when I focus on me, on things that I like to do, on the falls beliefs, it makes me want to be a loving partner to my fiance, and I actually get that “wow, I love him so much moments”. It’s really hard when you get flashbacks of how this fear overtook my life, and it just came forth through the transition in a very powerful way. So I’m trying to be happy in the moment, and when I get anxious, I calm myself down by not pressuring myself with what happiness, excitement, or feeling of love I should have. I just stay with this anxiety (and I know a lot of it has to do with grief over my entire life transitions, that I ran away from all my life) and I just invite the feeling of sadness in, and it works for me, I can actually rationalize my thoughts, I can explain to myself that things don’t happen overnight and if I can’t go through the sadness of any losses that happened in my life, I can’t have my happiness. Postponing the wedding crosses everyone’s mind, including mine, I had that conversation with Sheryl, but I honestly think, that I have to go through this transition, and work on me, and this is my one chance to make it right, and since it will be an ongoing process, and I have the right tools and the right man by my side, than I can just do take it day by day, without pressure, go through with my wedding, and still work on me afterwards, and making me happy, in which will only bring me closer to my fiance. Transitions never end, but if you learn the right was to go through them, than you can actually embrace them. Thank you Sheryl, you are so right, I’m the only one responsible for my joy and my pain, it’s about how I choose to deal with it, and we all do put all our joy and pain in our fiances hands, thinking that they are the ones who are suppose to save us, so wrong, they are suppose to balance us and we are suppose meet them half way, not them meeting us all the way, while we stand still, waiting for them to save us.

  • NervousNelly

    Sarah, you’re actually very right, I DO compare myself to others, and I do know that our situations are not the same. I think it just struck me as comforting to know that I’m not the only one ever in the world who is having these issues, and has been having doubts during the entire relationship. I have to make my own decisions, of course, I was just wondering how you felt now after having made that decision. I guess one of the main reasons I would have for postponing is that I JUST started doing this work and I feel like I need more time to process it before the wedding.

    Both Sarah, and Magda – your posts are very inspiring to me though, and makes me want to work even harder, seeing how you are making amazing progress with something so difficult.

  • NeedSomePerspective

    Hi Sheryl,

    I met my ex in my senior year of high school (he was 2 years younger) and we had very strong feelings for each other. I knew he was a catch back then, but he hadn’t grown into himself yet. When I went off to college, I kind of abandoned him. It was a new exciting time in my life, and I was excited for a change. I acted like I was too good for him, cut most communication, and really hurt him by doing this. He was in my group of friends still when I came home, and about a year after I started college, I realized that I had made a mistake and that I was in love with him. My feelings stuck for several years, but our timing just never worked out (plus he totally resented me)…. He was seeing someone, or I was seeing someone… plus I got a job where I travel a lot… but I never forgot him. I met my fiancé while I was working, and we have been together for 2 1/2 years. It was like you said that I knew after a short while that he was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He has all of the qualities of a good husband, a wonderful father, and true companion.I read your article, and I completely understand that the typical ex would not make a good husband or a life partner and they are an ex for a reason. But, I recently met my ex for a drink, and I definitely still have feelings for him. When I got engaged he called me and congratulated me, but said that deep down, he always thought we would be together. He was very mature about it, told me I would be a great wife to my fiancé, but that he was saddened by it all. I will always be his one that got away and he will be mine. He has a good heart and I just miss him. Maybe I am just getting older and realize that I will never get that time back when we were young and first met. I guess for me, what makes it harder, is that we never really gave it a real try now that we are adults. (High school was 8 years ago). My wedding is quickly approaching and I just need some perspective.

    • Certainly not all exes are jerks, but in your case you really have no idea if you would be a good match because you were never in a real relationship with each other. It’s so easy to idealize someone for whom there was always an element of unrequited love, an element of drama or longing. Once someone is “yours”, the longing is gone and, consequently, so is what we generally associated with “being in love.” It’s important that you grieve what never was and practice actively letting go of your ex. Write him a goodbye letter (that you don’t send), journal about it, cry, grieve – but let go. It’s the only way you will be able to start your marriage on a healthy foundation and give you and your fiancé the best chance for success.

  • NeedSomePerspective

    I knew even right after writing to you that I was just fooling myself. I reread what I had written and tried to view it from the outside… I started to sweat, I had a knot in my stomach… and it wasn’t for my ex…. it was for my fiancé… I think just putting my inner most thoughts out there made me realize what I already knew… If lost my fiancé, it would be one of the biggest mistakes I would ever make. You are absolutely right… I just have to grieve what never was and move the hell on with my wonderful life and my wonderful man! It is so true… once someone is “yours” there is no more longing… but that is true love… it is a deeper kind of love and understanding…I am so thankful for this website…Thank you Sheryl! My mind is so much more at ease…


    I’ve dated my fiancé for 3 years now. Prior to our relationship we dated on and off for 2 years. We get along great. Hes very respectful, loyal and so caring! We have a one year old son together that he fathers GREAT! We’re getting married in a month and lately I’ve been dreaming of two of my ex boyfriends. I’m confused to why. One of them we came to agree we were better off as friends. We didn’t have that “spark.”. My other ex boyfriend on the other had I believe was my first true love. We dated almost 4 years straight. Thr first two years we were unseperable he was very loving. We went everywhere togrther. Spent every holiday together. But after those two years We didn’t quite always get along. A lot of jealousy and fights started building up. He was very jealous and controlling. I couldn’t have girlfriends or go out. My fiancé is the complete opposite! Ive never been so happy. This is why I’m so confused as to why this is happening now that my wedding is so close. Makes me question if I’m doing the right thing.


    I’ve dated my fiancé for 3 years now. Prior to our relationship we dated on and off for 2 years. We get along great. Hes very respectful, loyal and so caring! We have a one year old son together that he fathers GREAT! We’re getting married in a month and lately I’ve been dreaming of two of my ex boyfriends. I’m confused to why. One of them we came to agree we were better off as friends. We didn’t have that “spark.”. My other ex boyfriend on the other had I believe was my first true love. We dated almost 4 years straight. Thr first two years we were unseperable he was very loving. We went everywhere togrther. Spent every holiday together. But after those two years We didn’t quite always get along. A lot of jealousy and fights started building up. He was very jealous and controlling. I couldn’t have girlfriends or go out. My fiancé is the complete opposite! Ive never been so happy. This is why I’m so confused as to why this is happening now that my wedding is so close. Makes me question if I’m doing the right thing.

    • If you read through as many other articles on this site as you can under the “Wedding/Marriage” category, you’ll have some insights about your ex and why he’s showing up in your mind right now – as well as learning that questioning if you’re doing the right thing is a very normal experience!

  • Susanna

    I was wondering if you do phone/long distance counseling, and if so, what you charge for your services? I am in need of some therapy and feel that you have such a handle on the things I go through and seem to have such good solutions. thanks.

  • neesh

    Hi sheryl could you please send me info on skype phone counseling I love how you are so in tune with this subject I feel a bit more relief from reading everyones posts but I really feel I need this on a regular basis and I would like to take the course as well. Thank you so much!

  • Eleanor

    What if I am anxious about HIS ex? He was once in a very serious relationship that was heading towards engagement- his parents did not like her for him and he tells me he used that as an excuse until she left. He says if he was convinced his parents not liking her would not have stopped him from pursuing the relationship to the next level.

    On the other hand, I worry that because we rushed into this (we started dating about 2 months afterwards, and have been dating about 6 months), he may not have given himself the time to move on, but he seems determined to move our relationship forward (when we started dating he was serious about settling down from the get-go).

    I have been having some anxious moments myself, and have purchased your book which has helped me tremendously in understanding the actual wedding day… I know we can not know the future and must just put our faith in God, but am I just nervous about the future or missing a red flag? He tells me they are not in contact, and as far as I know he doesn’t check her facebook/email/whatever every day or even every week… He also tells me to trust him (meaning trust that he knows what he is feeling) and that he has been happiest with me or else we wouldn’t be at this stage.

    I have jealous tendencies but they have never been to this extreme. Maybe I am overreacting because of the seriousness of this commitment? All I know is that I am confused and would appreciate any insight.

    • Struggling with your partner’s ex is a very common issue, and a common thread on the e-course forum. Some of your jealousy will be healed over time as you see that your partner is truly committed to you, and that can’t be rushed. Try to be compassionate with yourself and keep reminding yourself that you have a choice: you can either trust him or not trust him, but nothing you can do will control his actions.

  • confused and scared

    thank God i found this site..i have been suffering alot of confusion and anxiety..and everytime i deal with one part another pops up..i get so frustrating and depressed i cry..these days i cant cry anymore…its like i imagine some things and then convince myself its true then start the confuse state all over again…i broke up with a guy that really like me because i never saw a future with him..i never had any love for him..but i cared about him because we were friends for a while and had developed a deep friendship..but he kept trying to get back together…and then i went back to my now boyfriend because we decided to give us another chance..now my boyfriend is hinting continuously about marriage and the anxiety kicked in hard..what if i dont love him enough..should i wait and date other people to see if i will find another guy?…my bf is amazing,he loves me,he is gentle…kind,playful,responsible and loving, but we are apart..in two diffrent countries..my ex on the other hand is in the same country as me…i see him often..i know i miss the friendship but everytime i feel like i miss him…a voice in my head keeps saying thats cos you love him….thats the only reason you get jealous when he gives another girl the same kind of attention he used to give you…you dont love your bf…am really scared..i know i don’t want to loose m boyfriend but why do i feel this way? please help…i need my sanity back..i would enroll in the e-course but i cant afford that right now…

  • confused and scared

    if i may add..i love my boyfriend…i cant wait to be his wife..if not for the devilish anxiety…

  • confused and scared

    suddenly the things i did not see in this ex i see and he does not annoy me as much as he used to…am now wondering if i should have been with him or its just a phase…he is equally really good to me,always there to help me,always wanting to take care of me…sometimes i wish he was a bad person that would have been easier to decide what to do..but he is not,i try to avoid him so he does not do anything sweet for me to add to my confusion..but he is everywhere,we live in the same town and street,,…i sometimes convince myself that if my bf was here,he would do the same for me so my ex being sweet is not so special..but it still gets to me…ok now am crying…

  • J

    I can relate to this post even though I am not engaged. I have a wonderful partner, who loves me for who I am and treats me extremely well, however the dreaded ame of the ex is always in my mind. I never had a relationship with this guy, it was only a casual relationship, saw him once a week 2 at the most and it was only ever about sex. At the time i was willing to drop him for someone I wanted to have a relationship with. I never had the deep and meaningful conversations with him like I do with my partner, the ex never knew anything about me. I can remember telling him when my birthday was and he saw me on my birthday however he didn’t remember it was. This ex had a girlfriend so he only used and abused me. However now I have thoughts about “what if he did care about me, what if he was meant to be my life partner? what if being with him would make me happy?” I feel so guilty thinking these thoughts as it is not fair on my partner, I know I love him. I just want the thoughts of “do I not love him, what if we are boring? What if we are not suppose to be together?” plus all the thoughts of the ex to stop rolling around in my head. I know this has nothing to do with the ex and all to do with my fear of loss however this doesn’t stop the thoughts. I am working my way through this however it is extremely frustrating and the thoughts are there every day and are interrupting my ability to focus on anything else. All I want is just to be happy and grateful to have the wonderful partner I have and to be able to enjoy the simple things in life without questioning every little thing.

  • Louisa

    I can completely relate to what you’re thinking and feeling at the moment. I too am in a relationship with a fantastic guy who loves me dearly, and who is well grounded. Recently I’ve been finding my anxious thoughts returning (I thought I’d dealt with them about 12 months ago). I find myself having thoughts and even dreams about I guy I had a ‘relationship’ with a few years ago. It was at a time in my life when I was living a fairly wild life (no drugs and rock and roll….but pretty wild by my standards) and this guy was a part of that. However, for him it was all a game, but it was exciting all the same. I didn’t share any intimate thoughts and feelings with him, he didn’t make me laugh or feel safe and secure like my partner does, but still, I find myself thinking ‘what if’…..’what if it wasn’t a game for him, what if he did have feelings for me and I just pushed him away’……Yet when I am in a non-anxious state, I can see that ‘relationship’ for what it really was, a bit of unpredictable fun that was never going to be something long term. That doens’t make it any easier to deal with the anxious ‘what if..’ thoughts, but I’m working on that.
    All I know is that I am with an amazing man now and I don’t want to lose him. He may have his own little foibles, but heck, I’m faaaaaaar from perfect and he still loves me 🙂
    Hope it helps to know that somoene else is going through a similar issue.

  • J

    It definitely helps to know someone else is going through a similar situation and that I am not alone with these thoughts about an ex when I have a fantastic partner. I have been thinking about the ex for almost 2 months now and it is driving me crazy, really starting to frustrate me a it is making me question absolutely everything about my relationship with my partner. There was a reason why I didn’t have a relationship with the ex and that was because he doesn’t have the qualities to be a life long partner, it was only a bit of fun at the time. When i’m not anxious I can see it for what it was as well. I just can’t seem to be able to shake him and thoughts about him from my mind. All I know is I choose to love and be with my current partner who is absolutely wonderful and loves me for who I am. slowly but surely I will be able to work through my anxious thoughts.

  • Asia

    im so happy i read this because I’ve been experiencing thinking about my ex and i hate it ! . it makes me feel like a bad fiance and then i question if i love my fiance enough to marry him . when we first got together i was in heaven . i felt like it was ment to be then one day i started having doubts and i got really scared . i hope one day it gets better . but until then im going to just take each day at a time plus i realized if me and my fiance wasn’t ment to be then he wouldn’t have proposed . i guess it is fate but i just 2nd guess everything . honesty sometimes feel like im a mental case or something but now i know its normal when going thru the process before u get married .

  • FriendTroubles

    I think your insight makes a lot of sense. Im just not sure how to seperate myself from these uncomfortable, conflicting feeling as the ex in question is one of my best friends. We have been close for years and have had the on/off again fling. I realize this is all part of the process, but I am wondering if I must close the door on one of my closest friendships as a result of these jitters. We have had complicated reasons as to why it never worked, but I have always felt we were destined to be friends. However,these complicated feelings make me feel guilty, even though I shouldnt, and I fear I have to step back from my friendship. I just dont want to hurt my partner or my friend.I feel like Im betraying my partner.

  • Christine

    I am in the same situation. The new man im seeing just asked my dad for my hand. and I am thinking about my ex that I was with for 8 1/2 years (from 14 to 23 ) everyday. I am 24 now.

  • KTG

    I came across this site a few days ago and I am glad that I did. I could use some support and advice. I was recently in a yo- yo relationship for about 6 years with a guy from high school. He crushed on me on high school and at first I was scared so I pushed him away. He then ended up dating other people and I secretly wanted to be with him. When we graduated high school I finally got the chance. We had crazy passion and clicked very well. We were young and never committed to each other. He dated other people and so did I but we knew that we’d return to each other. This continued on for about 6 years and when we were good we were amazing. I know I loved him and I know he loved me. I could not stop ending it with him ( it was alwayse ending it- sometimes simply because I felt doubt and acted on it). He hurt me on the past and I convinced myself that no ” soul mate” would ever hurt their partner. After we broke up the last time we continued to hook up. Meanwhile, I was dating and so was he- I think we were both searching for something else out there. About a week after I last kissed me ex I met a new guy. I liked him automatically. We clicked and I just kept going with it. It all happened quite naturally and I was excited about this new guy. We’ve been together for almost a year now and he is 100% committed and loves me and treats me so well. He is mature and smart and loving. During the year we talked about buying a house and marriage and I did so excitedly- looking forward to the future. Throughout this year I would sometimes mention my ex ( never saw a problem with it) even to my boyfriend. He is okay with me mentioning my ex. He told me that he never felt anything but commitment from me so he wasn’t worried. Out of nowhere I started obsessing about my ex- wondering if I’m always going to think about him and wonder.

  • KTG

    So basically now I’m filled with dread and anxiety. I love my current boyfriend but I worry that I still love me ex as well. I feel extremely sad and confused with these feelings. A few months ago I was on cloud 9 and now I’m questioning everything about my relationship. I’m also cursing myself for never taking the time to grieves 6 year relationship.

  • greatwhitebuffalo

    Hi, so I have been having all theses dreams lately about my ex and I’m engaged and have been for almost a year. My ex was not a bad boy we had the most amazing chemistry and he made me laugh but then during his trip to college he cheated on me and I ended it. I told him I couldn’t date him bc of what he’d done but that I’d marry him one day. My fiance is reliable and hard working and loves me very much but we argue all the time which is something my ex and I never did. I was more in love with my ex but that is probably due to being so young and nieve at the time. Also as far as romance goea my fiance is worlds ahead of my ex. I feel really guilty for having theses feeling/dreams. Are they trying to tell me something or is it just anxiety??? Help!

    • It just means there’s more work for you to do around your ex: grieving, letting go, understanding what part of you he represents. When you approach the dreams with curiosity instead of panic you’ll learn what they’re trying to tell you.

  • BDol

    Thank you so much for this post. It was startling when I very suddenly began to have just the thoughts that you describe about a previous relationship, when I had never had a moment’s hesitation that my fiancé was the one I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. This has helped me understand and accept them as part of the transitional process.

  • Annexious

    I came upon this article after needing some answers on thoughts & dreams I’ve been having about my ex. I’ve been engaged for 4 months, but with him for about 4 years. My ex and I ended our 2 year relationship because he would never tell me he loved me, he never wanted to “give” in the relationship. It continuously crushed me that I spilled all my emotions to him to never have him reciprocate. After we broke up is when he came back around and basically begged me to give him another chance. At this point, I had already developed feelings for my current fiance who was reciprocating early on in the relationship (complete opposite of my ex), so I couldn’t go back to my ex. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I wasn’t jerk enough to completely reject him & I think part of me enjoyed him pursuing me. So we carried on with this back and forth game for months. Finally, he realized I wasn’t ever going back to him so he stopped pursuing. I have dreams of him still begging to be with me and me not sure about going back with him. I realize the bad outweighed the good with him. But why do I still have these dreams? I’m trying not to act on them (ie, send an email to him apologizing for the way things turned out). But part of me thinks this may help? I also don’t want to have to keep this from my fiance, he has a right to know, right?? HELP!

  • Brog84

    I have been with my lovely man for 2 years and got engaged 6 weeks ago. I was on cloud 9 for a week and then anxiety hit me hard. We saw my ex on a night out and ever since then I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It was a destructive relationship and not one I’d want to get back into, we don’t even talk now. I have thought about that relationship now and again but nothing particularly good. It has turned into some sort of obsession now. The guilt I feel is so bad I’m physically sick, shaking and can’t focus on anything else. I’ve created a distance between myself and my fiancé who is truly the nicest and caring man. I should be on top of the world but I’m constantly beating myself up and doubting everything. My fiancé is everything I’ve ever wanted.

  • Brog84

    Sheryl this makes a lot of sense to me and I thank you so much (all the way from Scotland!). I realise now that my physical and mental feelings of anxiety actually stem from me trying to rip down the protective barrier too quickly. This has made me feel so uncomfortable and in hindsight I should have taken more time. The mind is such a mystery! Your advice is such a god send xx

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