Your big day is approaching, and you should be elated…but instead, you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety. Most people are walking on air leading up to their weddings–right? Well, not always. Pre-marriage anxiety is a common obstacle that many people face as they approach their wedding day. While everyone’s situation is unique, there are numerous factors that may contribute to this anxiety. Here, I will delve into some of the most common causes of pre-marriage anxiety as well as provide professional insight into why this occurs and how to manage it effectively.
Fear of Commitment
Even though you love your partner dearly and imagine a future with them, the prospect of binding yourself to another person for life may be daunting. ‘Forever’ is a big word–especially since we live much longer now than when the institution of marriage was invented. Aside from our kids, there’s little else in our lives to which we commit for an entire lifetime, so it’s understandable that such a huge commitment causes apprehension once you’re staring it in the face.
Here’s one theory on the topic of commitment: People that have tattoos or are religious are much more comfortable with this concept. They have already committed to something “for life” and can wrap their heads around the concept that much easier. If you are afraid of commitment don’t worry, you are certainly not alone.
Regardless, talk with your partner about what you’re experiencing; simply getting your feelings out in the open is often enough to reduce their power over you. There is also a good chance your partner is nervous too, and that can help normalize these feelings. Also, remember that there’s a reason (probably at least a few) you’ve decided to commit to this person in particular.
Finances are a significant stressor in many relationships–that’s why it’s so important to get a prenup, which puts both of you on the same page about your financial roles and expectations in the marriage. The (potentially steep) cost of the wedding and the merging of financial assets, are common triggers for anxiety.
To combat money-related anxieties as well as set yourself up for future financial success as a couple, construct a well-thought-out budget. If necessary, seek financial advice from a finance professional relevant to whatever issue(s) you’re concerned about. For example, speak with a CPA if you’re worried about something related to managing your taxes as a married couple, or reach out to a financial advisor for long-range planning and investments. Taking the time to address your financial fears head-on will mitigate your concerns and decrease anxiety. It will also mean that both of you enter marriage with a clear understanding of your financial responsibilities.
In many cases, family expectations and dynamics play a leading role in pre-marriage anxiety. Perhaps your future mother-in-law wants to hold the reins of wedding planning-and she’s steering it in a direction you don’t like. Or maybe some of your partner’s family members aren’t as keen on you as your partner is, or vice versa. Or, you may be worried about blending your families and about the dynamics between the different members of your previously separate families–especially if either of you already have kids. Concerns related to family dynamics can weigh heavily on couples approaching the altar.
To address concerns related to family members crossing lines or attempting to control things they shouldn’t, set clear boundaries with anyone that is overstepping. That’s probably going to be about as enjoyable as walking on hot coals, but it’s better to set boundaries upfront, before an unwanted dynamic is already formed and becomes routine.
The good news is that setting healthy boundaries doesn’t have to mean a huge confrontation. It can be as easy as a simple “sorry, but that’s not going to work for me.”
If you’re worried about family relationships between parties who don’t get along, feel lukewarm about each other, or simply don’t know each other very well yet, try organizing an event designed to build connections, and invite them. For example, throw a game night at your house, get them to attend a local pub trivia night together, and assign them to the same team, or organize an icebreaker game (I recommend Vertellis) that gets them talking about deeper topics than small talk.
In today’s day and age, personal insecurities are all the rage amid social media content that makes it appear as though everyone else is looking and doing better than you. Sarcasm aside, insecurities about personal appearance, success, or worthiness sometimes become magnified during the engagement period, leading one partner to question why the other person even likes them at all. This dynamic can mean that one partner is called upon to provide frequent reassurance to the other, which can be alienating if the need becomes too pronounced.
Luckily, this brand of pre-wedding insecurity is actually a great opportunity to work on self-image and become more mindful about the negative self-talk you’re engaging in. I recommend reading this book about building self-esteem, and doing the activities included in it.
Differences in Values and Beliefs
Differences in religious beliefs, political views, or long-term goals are common causes of anxiety as couples contemplate a shared future. If you’re finding that any aspects of your worldviews are clashing and it’s causing conflict or even just distance or lack of understanding, sit down and have an intentional conversation in which you make a list of all the things about your conflicting viewpoints you actually have in common.
Shifting the focus to what you agree on rather than what points separate you takes some of the power away from areas of disagreement. This exercise can be done with religion, politics, or any other point of contention. I also suggest doing a perspective-taking exercise in which you do concentrate on differences–by jumping into your partner’s shoes and attempting to explore why they think and feel as they do, from their viewpoint, not yours.
Concerns About Intimacy
Worried about sexual compatibility and intimacy? You’re not alone. As you’ve probably discovered, intimacy in real life isn’t the same as in the movies; not everything flows freely, easily, and openly all the time. This is an area in which it’s very important to communicate openly with your partner.
You should also realize that many couples that are approaching getting married are not in the prime of their sexual relationship. Partnering up with one person for life is not an intuitive practice. It is normal to not feel like you and your partner have “hit your stride” in this part of your relationship. What matters is that you find ways to talk about it.
If you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk candidly with your partner about intimacy, start with meta-communication–talk about talking about it. In other words, open up a discussion about the fact that you feel inhibited in this area and strategize together about what you can do to grease the wheels of communication. Finally, if you’re not able to get past your inhibitions through dialogue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a sex therapist. This is a very important aspect of your bond as a couple, and having a healthy sex life is part of having a healthy marriage.
Moreover, these concerns should not stop you from getting married. If intimacy issues are causing pre-marriage anxiety, seek professional support rather than letting your apprehension continue to build unchecked.
Pressure of Perfection
The societal pressure to have a ‘perfect’ wedding, as well as the pressure you put on yourself, can easily create immense stress and anxiety. One great way to get a handle on all this is to plan your wedding and execute all the necessary steps well in advance, so that you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut off in the weeks leading up to the wedding.
However, you might still feel this type of pressure even if you’re throwing the most well-planned of weddings. Either way, remind yourself that every detail does not have to be perfect and that the only things that truly matter in the long run are that you and your spouse are both there and that you love each other.
When you look back on your wedding day in ten years, you’re not going to shudder about the fact that the florist was late and that the tables didn’t have any centerpieces (gasp), you’re going to recall the special moments with your spouse, your friends, and your family. While you’re in the planning and preparing process, understand that perfection is a myth, and focus on what truly matters to both you and your partner. Shifting your mindset in this way will relieve some of the pressure.
Chronic health conditions, mental health issues, or even concerns about future health can contribute to pre-marriage anxiety. Those with chronic health conditions, for example, often worry about the burden their condition may place on their partner or ask themselves whether their future spouse will be understanding and supportive in the long run. Additionally, chronic conditions often require ongoing medical care and medication, which can be financially stressful.
Moreover, chronic health conditions often necessitate lifestyle changes, and adapting to these changes within a marriage can cause anxiety. Couples may worry about how their daily routines and plans will need to be altered.
Mental health issues like anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar, or personality disorders can also contribute to pre-marriage anxiety. This is in part because, unfortunately, mental health issues still carry a stigma in most societies. One may be concerned about acceptance, understanding, and support from a partner.
People with mental health issues also sometimes worry about managing their conditions within the marriage, and about how fluctuations in their moods or symptoms may affect their relationship with their partner.
The fear of the future burden of health conditions affecting the marriage can understandably manifest as anxiety leading up to the wedding. This is another reason why it’s so important to seek support from medical professionals (whether mental health or otherwise) in managing symptoms and creating a long-term treatment plan so that storms are not weathered unprotected.
Career and Life Goals
If you and your partner have differing career paths and life goals, you might feel concerned about future compatibility. To combat this anxiety, make an extra effort to find common goals and make joint plans for how you plan to reach them together. You should also both get clear on which of your future plans are negotiable and which are non-negotiable, and how much you’re willing to compromise. Then, be prepared to make some concessions while planning your shared future. Some things are worth giving up for the sake of a long-term, loving, healthy relationship.
Unresolved Relationship Issues
Unresolved arguments or underlying conflicts cause anxiety for some as the wedding day approaches. To put things in perspective, read chapters eight through eleven of John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. These sections are about the fact that most conflicts in relationships are actually unsolvable, and it’s more important to learn how to manage conflicts than it is to solve them for good.
That said, it’s also valid that there may be some conflicts that you’re not sure how to overcome or manage effectively, and this can weigh heavily on a relationship and lead to its fair share of anxiety. If you’re struggling, seek support from a relationship therapist or counselor. They can offer a well-informed third-person perspective on your conflicts as well as teach you strategies for managing these conflicts in ways that bring you closer together rather than pushing you farther apart.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) About Causes of Pre-Marriage Anxiety
Let’s dive into some frequently asked questions about what causes anxiety before getting married.
Q: Can pre-marriage anxiety affect the marriage long-term?
A: If left unresolved, pre-marriage anxiety can spill over into the marriage, potentially causing long-term issues. However, addressing these anxieties before marriage strengthens the relationship when done skillfully.
Q: How should couples address financial concerns leading up to marriage?
A: Open dialogue about financial expectations, constructing a budget, and possibly seeking financial counseling are all ways for couples to successfully navigate financial concerns and alleviate money-related anxiety.
Q: Is professional therapy necessary for all couples experiencing pre-marriage anxiety?
A: Not all couples need therapy, but it is beneficial when anxiety is persistent or stems from deeper issues. Transparent communication and compassion go a long way in addressing most anxieties.
Q: What can be done about conflicting values or beliefs in a relationship?
A: Open and empathetic dialogue, compromise, and sometimes professional mediation help couples navigate conflicting values or beliefs and forge a shared vision for their future.
Q: How can couples deal with pressure from family or society?
A: By establishing clear boundaries, focusing on the couple’s needs and wishes, and seeking support from understanding friends or professionals.
The factors discussed above are only some of the causes of pre-marriage anxiety; your situation may be different. Trauma from past relationships, concerns about parenting, the prospect or reality of a long-distance relationship, and many other things can also lead to pre-marriage anxiety; it is a multifaceted issue with a huge range of contributing factors. By understanding and addressing these causes, couples can embark on their marital journey with a sense of lightness and confidence. Professional guidance in the form of couple’s therapy is a valuable resource in navigating the complex emotional landscape of relationships and marriage. The success of a marriage isn’t determined by the absence of anxiety, but by the willingness to face and overcome it and other challenges together.
Trevor White is a Marriage Therapist with a Private Practice in Seattle. He specializes in premarital counseling and developed a web-based premarital counseling video series called Launch to Land for couples to be able to access a low-cost and convenient therapy option as they approach their wedding. He also hosts a podcast called Marriage Stories where he interviews real married couples as they discuss their unique success stories in their marriages. When he is not doing therapy he loves playing volleyball, spending time with his wife and kids, and running with his Siberian Husky Athena.