If you’re engaged or newly married–or heck, even if you’ve been married for many years–you may experience marriage anxiety. Committing to spend the rest of your life with a person is not a small ask. Great news for you: in one way, that’s actually a good sign. It means that you truly grasp the seriousness of the commitment you’re weighing. When couples take the prospect of marriage lightly, it can mean they don’t anticipate the difficulties that lie ahead. The reality is that marriage is far from easy…but if done skillfully, it is worth it.
In this article, we’ll start by exploring one of the main causes of marriage anxiety: commitment phobia. After that, we’ll focus more on how to address marriage anxiety, whatever the cause. It’s normal to have fears around marriage, and when you understand where they are coming from and how to overcome them, you have the tools necessary to transmute those fears into a healthier and more resilient relationship with your partner.
You’ve probably heard this term before because it applies to many people. In fact, fear of commitment is so widespread that it has its own word: Gamophobia. Gamophobia is becoming even more common because of the sheer volume of opportunities available to us today–in every category. We have more choices regarding educational opportunities and jobs than our ancestors. We have greater mobility and flexibility to live in different places. We even have more choices when it comes to dating, especially with the advent of online dating apps and platforms. Our fear of missing out in the face of what can feel like limitless possibilities cause us to ask “what if” far more than those who came before us, and all of this breeds…you guessed it: fear of commitment. This fear is one of the top causes of marriage anxiety.
In many cases, gamophobia is so pronounced that it causes a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. These include:
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Avoiding married couples and weddings
- Muscle tension
- Avoidance and pushing people away, especially romantic partners
- Inability to deal with the anxiety that comes with the idea of commitment
- Feeling anxious when thinking about marriage
- Frequent breakups and/or short-lived relationships
- Lack of meaningful long-term romantic relationships
The causes of gamophobia are complex, multifaceted, and variable on a case-by-case basis. However, there are some causes and risk factors, such as:
- Having a family history of mental illness, particularly anxiety disorders
- Underlying mental health conditions
- Being the child of divorced parents
- Having experienced an emotional event or trauma related to marriage
Although not all marriage anxiety is caused by commitment phobia, it is something that many people experience. Additionally, diagnosable gamophobia is much less common than milder versions of commitment phobia.
Overcoming Marriage Anxiety
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to overcome or at least mitigate the fear of commitment and/or marriage. If your fear is mild to moderate, one or more of these strategies will likely help you. However, if your fear is more severe, it’s recommended to try couples therapy in order to decrease it.
Ask yourself, ‘what will change in our everyday lives if we get married?’ In all likelihood, if you’re even talking seriously about marriage, you are probably already pretty committed. You are likely living together and already sharing significant aspects of your lives. If you get married, is there a lot that will change on a day-to-day basis? If the answer is ‘no,’ recognizing this may make the concept of marriage seem a little bit less daunting.
Have realistic expectations. Some people may fear marriage because they have unrealistic ideas about what marriage has to be. For example, they may view marriage through a fairytale lens and feel ill-equipped to bring that fantasy to life. In reality, things like daily annoyances and relatively frequent small-scale conflicts are a normal part of any marriage, as are occasional big conflicts as well.
It’s not necessary (or even remotely realistic) to resolve all your conflicts prior to getting married. Instead, it’s much more important to learn how to argue in a way that is constructive rather than destructive to your relationship. Check out psychologist John Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work to learn more about how to argue well. It’s equally important to become a pro at repairing after there has been a conflict. Additionally, keep in mind that 69% of marital conflicts are actually unsolvable. With these tools in your toolkit alongside realistic expectations about what marriage is like, you can rest assured that you’re preparing yourself well for married life.
Get clear on your reason for getting married. Sometimes, fear around marriage stems from not really having a super clear understanding of what’s driving you towards tying the knot in the first place. When you understand exactly why you want to get married, assuming your reasons are sound, you can then feel more confident in your decision to do so.
There are a plethora of wrong reasons to get married. For instance, if you want to get married largely because you feel pressure to do so, then it might be best to step back and wait until you’re compelled to marry for other reasons. Many people feel pressure to get married. It can come from family, friends, pop culture, or society. It can simply be a byproduct of watching peers settle down and get married around a certain age. While it’s very human and valid to feel these pressures, they’re not a good reason to get married.
Another wrong reason to get married is fear of abandonment. If one person wants to get married and the other does not feel ready, they may agree to marry because they fear their partner will leave them. Alternatively, fear of abandonment may lead someone to seek out marriage as a way to reassure themselves that their partner will never leave them.
Money can also be an unhealthy motivator for getting married when it’s happening largely because one partner feels financially dependent on the other.
If, on the other hand, a couple wants to get married because they have shared goals and values, are compatible and enjoy spending time together, and want to take their commitment to the next level, these are great reasons. There are plenty of other great reasons as well. The point is to take time to reflect on and clarify your reasons so that you can:
a.) make sure your marriage anxiety isn’t stemming from an unhealthy reason for getting married, and
b.) feel more confident in your decision, which can help to calm marriage anxiety.
Of course, reasons for getting married are not always binary. For instance, you might fear abandonment AND have shared values. It’s up to each individual to take a brutally honest look at their motivations and tease apart exactly to what extent unhealthy reasons are influencing their motivation to get married.
Gain confidence. Marriage anxiety can stem from a lack of confidence in your ability to navigate marriage successfully. If this is the case, there are a number of tools you can use to build confidence while also gaining skills that will help you to have a successful marriage.
Many couples choose to go to premarital counseling. This helps them to see their blind spots, work through uncomfortable issues in a safe space with the assistance of a professional, and assess their readiness for marriage. If they discover that they’re not ready, a premarital counselor can also provide direction that helps them to prepare themselves well and make their relationship more resilient.
Some couples also find that reading books about marriage together can be helpful. It’s important to read current literature from reputable sources–think marriage and family therapists and relationship researchers. It’s also important to select a wide range of sources so that you can gain a well-rounded understanding and form your own educated opinions.
You might also ask married friends and family questions, like “what do you wish you had known about marriage before you got married?” or “what do you love about your marriage?” Getting advice from peers can also give you skills and perspective that can help you gain confidence in your own ability to have a happy marriage.
Figure out what’s scaring you. What aspect(s) of marriage is/are giving you anxiety? Is it the idea of the wedding itself? Lots of people aren’t comfortable with the thought of being surrounded by friends and family while they go through one of life’s most intimate rituals. If that’s you, talk to your partner about getting married in a small ceremony.
Similarly, the long planning process leading up to a wedding can cause pre-wedding jitters and even full-blown marriage anxiety as a result of how stressful it can be. If wedding planning is giving you anxiety, create a self-care routine that decreases stress–and stick to it.
On the other hand, perhaps what’s scaring you is a lingering point of disagreement (or five) that’s scaring you. Or perhaps it’s an unspoken fear about an unhealthy power dynamic in the relationship that could feel more serious when you merge your lives and assets by getting married. Maybe you love your partner and think your relationship is strong but just feel that it’s just too soon to get married. Or maybe it really is the looming specter of committing to spending the rest of your life with one person. Whatever the case, it’s important to figure out what exactly is scaring you. Only then can you address it and decide confidently on the best path forward.
Attend weddings and anniversaries. Especially if someone is the child of divorced parents or otherwise has reason to view marriage in a negative way, they might not want to get married because they’re afraid it won’t work out. This is totally understandable; many people have grown up surrounded by dysfunctional examples of marriage–in their families, in society, and on tv. Going to weddings and anniversary parties can help to loosen some of the negative conditioning around marriage because events like this provide examples of people happy with their relationships. Attending anniversary gatherings for happy couples who have been together for more than 30 years can be a particularly impactful way to see real-life examples of couples whose relationships are still thriving after a long time. It’s also a great learning opportunity. Ask them what their secret is!
Get a prenup. A prenup is useful in overcoming marriage anxiety for a variety of reasons. First, if you’re someone who worries, ‘what if it doesn’t work out?’ then a prenup is great because it helps you make a contingency plan for that big what-if. Having a plan can help you put your worries to bed.
Second, a prenup can help correct some of the other underlying factors behind marriage anxiety–many of which are valid concerns. For example, one or both people may be worried about losing some of their assets. And in many cases, their parents are worried about keeping inheritance in the family. A prenup can address these concerns by providing clear demarcations for what’s his, what’s hers, and what’s theirs.
There are plenty of other financial concerns that could cause marriage anxiety, as well. One partner might spend more liberally, while the other focuses on saving and investing. One person might make a lot more money than the other, which can give rise to an uncomfortable and unhealthy power dynamic or financial dependency. Or perhaps partners simply have different financial goals regarding how much wealth they want to amass and by when or about how to use their hard-earned money. The process of drafting a prenup opens up communication about financial topics that might feel taboo to discuss in everyday life, and it helps with setting expectations and making agreements and compromises. Many couples even choose to put some of their non-financial terms down in lifestyle clauses, such as pet ownership clauses and no-cheating clauses.
If you’re considering a prenuptial agreement, check out HelloPrenup. Our online platform guides you through the different clauses you might include (or not) in your prenup. It allows you and your partner to create your own personalized prenup from the comfort of your home. Here’s how it works.
It’s important to note that there are some more extreme situations in which you shouldn’t try to get over the fear of marriage or commitment. Being in a relationship that is mandated or encouraged by your family or social surroundings can also lead to marriage anxiety, and rightly so. For example, some people find themselves facing arranged marriages that they didn’t choose for themselves. Others (particularly LGBTQ+ folks) may feel pressure to mask their true identities by entering into disingenuous marriages. In cases like these, marriage anxiety is not something to overcome but something to lean into in order to ask the hard question, “do I really want to get married to this person, and what are my alternatives if not?” Committing to someone you don’t really feel compatible with or in love with is not a healthy thing to do.
Aside from extenuating circumstances, marriage anxiety can and should be confronted and addressed. Follow the tips above to overcome your marriage anxiety and strengthen your relationship in the process.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]