By Ashley Seeger for YourTango.com
Are you feeling anxious about your upcoming wedding? Sick to your stomach? Having bad dreams? Does the sight of the dress fill you with dread? Feeling like you may have made a mistake saying "yes" or proposing?
If you answered yes, you are experiencing pre-wedding jitters. This is your subconscious telling you that something is not right and you need to listen to it. It may be that you are nervous about your own ability to be a husband or wife, anxious that your fiancé can't be the spouse you need or both.
Having wedding jitters does not mean that the marriage is doomed or that it is time to call off the wedding. But all jitters mean that an intervention is needed. Something is making you anxious and you need to understand what it is.
We all have an internal compass that guides us in our life and when we go against it, there is a reaction. At first, you feel a gentle tugging at the back of your brain; something does not feel right. You feel "off." If you pay attention to this feeling, the cause or causes will slowly become clear. But if you don't pay attention, your subconscious will get louder and louder and the bad feelings begin to turn to physical symptoms — you may have bad dreams, difficulty sleeping, stomach issues, illness or even injuries.
I have worked with many brides and grooms who have had jitters and some that have had physical symptoms of anxiety and stress about their upcoming nuptials. The work is focused on finding the cause of their "jitters" so they can clearly see what action is needed.
I have outlined my own list of the main causes for wedding jitters. I hope it will help you to begin to understand where your anxiety comes from so that you can begin to take action and have the wedding and marriage you want.
1. The wedding day. Sometimes it is the wedding day itself that is the cause of anxiety. Having one's entire family together for a day or weekend can cause a great deal of anxiety especially when there are divorces, step-parents, estranged family members or just one particularly difficult family member. For other brides or grooms, wedding-day stress is about being in the spotlight.
One bride I know, who was anxious about being the center of attention, decided to get rid of the aisle at her wedding. She and her fiancé walked together into the middle of the cocktail reception and said their vows surrounded by friends and family. Your wedding does not have to be conventional -- you can set it up so that it works for you.
In all instances, I believe that getting support for your wedding day is essential. A counselor or wedding planner can help you create a plan for dealing with difficult family members and organize your day so that you feel safe and connected with your spouse.
2. Becoming a "wife" or "husband." Our parents' marriage is our blueprint for our own marriage. We learn from them how to argue, how to ask for our needs and how to negotiate power in an intimate relationship. Some of us did not get an ideal blueprint to follow; we come from broken homes, homes filled with anger, violence, shame or neglect or homes where there is little or no emotional intimacy.
Sometimes, when we become engaged, the fear that we will become just like our mom or dad is overwhelming. It is important to remember that you do not have to mirror your blueprint. You can choose any type of relationship you want. But, if you do not actively choose a different way of connecting or expressing anger, you will go on autopilot and fall back on familiar behaviors.
If this sounds like what you are feeling then what you need is to gain an understanding of your past so you can clearly define your future. Get support around understanding your own blueprint so you can then decide what you want to keep and what pieces of your parents' marriage you want to get rid of. Once you have this, you and your fiancé can openly discuss your plan, goals and dreams for the marriage.
3. What is the plan? Have you talked through the BIG items with your intended? A few of these big items include: do we want kids and when; where do we want to live; how much money do we plan to make; how will we budget; how much time will we spend with our extended families; who is staying home with the kids; how ambitious are we individually and how are we going to make room in the relationship for this ambition.
When you talk through all of these questions, a picture or plan for your marriage emerges. Many couples don't discuss their overall plan before they get married because they either don't know how to or because they already know there is a conflict and they don't know how to find a resolution.
If you have not discussed the big questions with your fiancé this may be a source of your wedding jitters. There can be the illusion that these conflicts will all "work themselves out." I will tell you from personal as well as professional experience that they don't. But I do know that your anxiety will be greatly relieved by beginning this conversation. Consider finding a workbook or a couples counselor who can guide you through this discussion, help you set goals for yourselves and teach you the communication skills you need to negotiate when your desires or needs differ.
4. Violence or the threat of violence. Violence is never OK. It is never, ever, ever, ever OK. If there has been violence, threats of violence or shaming or controlling behavior in your relationship, you need to seek the support of a therapist to better understand the dynamics of the abuse and why you choose to stay.
If you are questioning the relationship because there has been abusive behavior in the past, please listen to your instincts. Slow things down and find some support. Abuse rarely only occurs once. It is a pattern of behavior that cycles through wonderful times and then abusive or controlling times. It will happen again unless there is an intervention.
5. Addiction. Addiction is not just about alcohol or drugs. We can become addicted to food, shopping, sex, pornography and even to a relationship. Addictions wreak havoc in a relationship, especially with trust. In some ways, the addiction becomes a third person in the relationship.
If your partner has an addiction, there is also the possibility that you feel like you are what holds this person together. Without you, you feel they would fall apart or perhaps become depressed or suicidal which may leave you feeling trapped. This is a very difficult way to begin a marriage.
If you are having doubts about getting married because there is an addiction or addictive behavior, then information is your most important intervention. AA and Smart Recovery are two wonderful organizations that provide information, literature, meetings and support groups. You will begin to understand what an addiction is, how to live with an addiction and how to be in a healthy relationship with an addict.
Many people who struggle with addictions are in rewarding, supportive and wonderful marriages. It does not mean that your relationship is doomed but it does mean that your relationship will have unique challenges. You need to be able to make an informed decision about the relationship. A psychotherapist or counselor who specializes in addiction is another great place to get information and support.
6. Difficult family relationships. When you get married you are creating a new family. In order for there to be room for this new family, you must first separate from your family of origin (your parents). This sounds easy as I type it but I have seen many couples where this step gets messy. Family dynamics and politics are complicated and unique.
If you are having doubts about your relationship because of messy, complicated family dynamics you need to make sure that you and your fiancé have strong communication skills. You cannot change anyone else's behavior, expectations or feelings but you can make sure that you and your spouse are a team. You need to be unified in your expectations, boundaries and message to others. A couples counselor is the best place to learn these skills and to come up with a plan of action to cope with the wedding day and every day after.
Problems will arise if your partner is not willing or able to do this very important step of individuating and creating a new family. It can be very lonely in a marriage where you don't feel that you are a central player; resentment and anger can build up quickly. Consider individual counseling so you can learn how to best ask for your needs from your partner and then couples counseling to help you both understand the need for boundaries and how to create them for yourselves.
7. Cheating. Is there a history of cheating in your relationship? It is devastating to have your trust betrayed and forgiveness and healing each take a long time. But trust can be rebuilt and relationships can be stronger after a betrayal. It makes sense for there to be anxiety about entering into a commitment when there has been an affair. The fear is that "once a cheater, always a cheater."
I don't believe this sentiment. But I do believe that you both need to understand what caused the opening in your relationship for this third person; was it something in your dynamic together or was it something solely within the person who cheated? A psychotherapist or couples counselor can help greatly with this process.
8. Sex. Sex is a complicated topic. It is central to an intimate relationship but it can feel almost impossible to talk about. Sex becomes an issue in a relationship when it is either too intense or there is no intensity at all. For some, it can be overwhelming to look at their current sex life and think that it might remain the same for the rest of their lives. Without open lines of communication and the skills to devise a plan, you begin to doubt whether you can stay committed forever.
Again, communication and knowledge that are the keys to alleviating this stress. You need to know what "married sex" is and how it differs from "new couple" sex. Don't walk away until you can learn and discover more about your own and your partner's sensuality. A couples counselor or sex therapist is a good place to begin. I also recommend the "Better Sex Video Series -- Sexplorations" by the Sinclair Institute to almost every couple I work with as a teaching tool about how to talk about sex.
9. Illness. It can be terrifying when you find out that someone you love dearly has an illness. You may be flooded with so many difficult questions: How long will we have? How bad will it get? Will I have to be the caretaker and if so what happens to my needs, dreams and desires? Will my children inherit this illness?
If you or your fiancé has an illness and you are questioning if the relationship can work, you need more information. A joint visit to the doctor's office can give you both a chance to ask questions and gather important information. Then a visit with a couples counselor can help you both fully express your fears and feelings and help you to listen empathically to the the other's feelings.
We all want to know how our stories will end and we want to know now. We want to know before the wedding if our marriage will last 50+ years. It is very scary to make any decision about the rest of our lives when we don't feel we have all the answers. And when we feel jittery or anxious about a big decision we usually ask family members for reassurance. We ask if these feeling are "normal" and if they had these before they married. They will usually tell us this is all normal, to go ahead with the wedding and reassure us that everything will be OK. This rarely gets rid of wedding jitters.
The very best thing that you can do to alleviate the jitters is to get more information and open the lines of communication with your fiancé. Beginning this conversation may not remove all the jitters but solutions and paths forward will emerge. Also, consider using a couples counselor or individual psychotherapist to help. The best outcome would be that you gain:
- The vision to know your needs.
- The ability to ask for your needs bluntly.
- The skills to express your feelings openly and be heard without judgment.
- The perspective to be able to see the truth of your relationship and not just the fantasy of its potential alone.
With these you will be able to choose your partner with confidence, plan your wedding with excitement and joy and have the marriage you want and need. If you have any questions please contact me at www.DCCouplesCounseling.com or through my YourTango Experts page.
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