In our happy-face addicted culture, we carry a strong taboo around talking about difficult feelings, and nowhere is this more apparent than with a wedding and everything that surrounds it.
From the moment of the proposal through the honeymoon, you're expected to fly high on the wings of blissful, unblemished ecstasy. And if your reality is anything less than that, you're told that something is wrong.
Nothing is wrong! Getting married is one of the most tumultuous transitions we endure as humans. As with all transitions, it's nothing short of a death experience, meaning that the old identity of being single needs to be shed in order for the new one to take root in healthy soil.
For this to happen, we need to allow room for the difficult feelings that arise in the face of loss. We allow for grief and fear around life transitions like moving or even having a baby, but when it comes to the wedding the slightest whisper of anxiety is met with horror.
When women and men arrive on my virtual doorstep after absorbing the cultural message that their stressful engagements are signs that they're making a mistake, they breathe an enormous sign of relief to learn otherwise.
This is what I tell them in a nutshell:
1. It’s OK not to feel ecstatic at the proposal.
The sadness (and sometimes panic) that accompanies a proposal comes as a great surprise, for these feelings are in diametric opposition to how we're conditioned we're "supposed" to feel.
I was the one pushing the proposal. But within a few hours of him popping the question, I had to lock myself in the bathroom because I couldn't stop crying! What's wrong?
Again, nothing's wrong. When we say yes to one person we say no to a million other possibilities and pathways. For many people, the proposal initiates their saying goodbye to and grieving the life they're leaving behind.
2. Doubt does NOT mean don’t.
Healthy doubt is a sign that you’re an introspective, thoughtful, intelligent person considering making a lifetime commitment. As Tara Brach says, “Like investigation, healthy doubt arises from the urge to know what is true — it challenges assumptions or the status quo in service of healing and freedom.”
3. This may not be the happiest time of your life.
In fact, you may feel like you’re dying, because a part of you is dying. Just as a caterpillar cannot become a butterfly without completely shedding its identity as a caterpillar, in order to grow into the new lifestyle and identity as a married person, you must shed the old identity as single.
Because this clashes with our cultural message of happy happy happy, when the sense of loss and death hit an engaged person, the automatic response is to assume something is wrong. Once again, nothing is wrong. When a client shares with me that she feels like she’s dying, I smile and say, “Good. You’re right on track."
4. Turning into bridezilla is a sign that you're feeling out-of-control inside.
Our culture will encourage you to project all of your anxiety, doubt, sadness, and overwhelm onto the planning. This sends you the implicit message that if you plan the perfect wedding, you will bypass any out-of-control feelings within you.
You can't bypass these feelings. You can avoid them by staying successfully busy for the duration of the planning, but eventually, when you're lying on a beach in Hawaii, they will come crashing over you. Then you'll be hit with post-partum depression.
It's so much better to deal with the difficult feelings during your engagement so that you can show up for your wedding day feeling present and sink into the transition of your first year without unaddressed grief weighing you down.
5. A perfect wedding doesn't translate into a perfect marriage.
There's an implicit message — fueled by a $70 billion industry — that says that a perfect wedding will guarantee a successful marriage. The converse belief is that if you cut corners and skimp on your wedding, your marriage will fail.
There is only one thing that matters on your wedding day: that the two of you show up and remain as present within yourselves and connected to each other as you can. It's not about perfect flowers, music, photography, or weather; it's about honoring your commitment to nurture your relationship through a lifetime. There isn't a dress in the world that can solidify that commitment for you.
6. You're not the only one in transition.
You're not the only one grieving and battling fear; everyone who is deeply connected to you is also enduring their own transition. We have fathers letting go of their "little girls," mothers remembering their own weddings and cutting ties with sons, girlfriends feeling like they're losing their friend to this man, and siblings wondering where they now fit in.
When we can name what's really happening for people emotionally, we can avoid the unnecessary conflicts that often erupt in the weeks leading up to the wedding.
7. Expect loss.
It's a strange law of nature: with every gain comes a loss, and I can't tell you how many clients I've worked with who have endured a painful loss during their engagement.
If you do experience a loss prior to your wedding, you won't have to assume that the universe is out to get you, but can understand that this is just the way it goes for many people.
8. You may lose a friend or two.
Likewise, when we're in transition, we're shedding aspects of ourselves and our lives that are no longer serving us. For many people this means that a friendship that has lost its luster falls away.
This is never fun, and always requires a grieving process, but as transitions illuminate weak points and structures in our life, it makes sense that our friendships would fall under this microscope.
9. Post-wedding blues are normal.
What comes up must go down. You've been planning for this one day for months, years, or even a lifetime, and as with any large event, there's a natural deflation that occurs afterwards.
But this isn't any event; it's your wedding. You've walked through an important threshold of adult life and once all of the excitement dies down and the family and friends go home, you're left with the empty, disoriented, lonely space that defines the liminal — or in-between zone — of a transition: you're no longer single but not fully comfortable with marriage and it's normal to feel vulnerable and confused for a few weeks or months while your butterfly wings dry out and you learn to fly.
And now, the most important point that nobody tells you about getting married:
10. The more you let yourself feel the difficult feelings before your wedding, the more joyous you'll feel on your wedding day and the healthier foundation you will lay for your first year of marriage.
Many of the points enumerated above may sound somber and depressing, but there's essential psychological truth underling these principles: pain and joy live in the same chamber of the heart, so when you squash the pain you limit the joy.
If you want to feel alive, present, and joyful on your wedding day, you must be willing to surrender to the underworld that many people — although not all — fall into during their engagement.
You can resist it only for so long before it bites you and pulls you down. It's so much better to face it head on: grieve the losses, feel the fear, address your anxiety and doubt — so that you can clear them out and embrace the joyous day that your wedding is meant to be.