Your wedding is approaching, and of course, you’re excited! And it’s completely normal to experience an array of emotions, including some jitters (and not the good kind of butterflies). If you’re feeling some pre-marriage anxiety, you’re in good company. We all experience nervousness, worries, and anxiety when we transition from one chapter of our lives to another, and no matter how joyful the change is, it’s still a huge change. Experiencing anxiety or having worries doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong. In this article, we’ll dive in and talk about common triggers for pre-marriage anxiety – how it can show up, what it may mean, and how it can impact your relationship. From there we’ll share a few avenues for navigating it constructively.
Common Triggers of Pre-Marriage Anxiety
We know there are a few common things that can pique or exacerbate your pre-marriage anxiety.
Thinking of the Future and the Past
Life inevitably changes after marriage, and how exactly that looks is different for each couple. Uncertainty about life after the wedding day can (understandably!) trigger anxiety. On top of that, experiences from our past (especially negative ones) can surface during times of transition. Some may worry they’ll repeat past patterns or struggles, while others may have doubts about the success of their marriage based on past relationship “failures.”
In this day and age, social media has an immense impact on how we conceptualize what a wedding day should look like and the resulting marriage. There are pros and cons to this; for many of us, we can develop unrealistically high expectations. If your current reality isn’t what you believe it should be, it’s likely you’ll feel a whole host of nerves & worries. The more unrealistic our expectations, the more difficult it will be for your reality to match it no matter how wonderful it may actually be. Shut down some of the noise and focus on what really resonates with you; what do you define as a “good” marriage and what matters to you most in this partnership. This will help you nurture your relationship and shed some of the anxiety on your own terms, one step at a time.
Money, money, money. Remember the old adage that there are three things you shouldn’t talk about? Money, religion, and politics. Well, I’m here to tell you that avoiding the discussion about finances may help in the short term, but in the long run will likely be a major source of anxiety. Financial worries can be a source of pre-marriage anxiety, especially when compounded with the stress and expense of planning a wedding. Financial concerns are usually related either to worries about not having enough money, about having different money management styles and spending habits, or about differing financial goals. Finances are a major cause of marital conflict, so it’s important for spouses to see eye-to-eye financially, be aware in advance of any potential areas of disagreement, and agree on ways to compromise.
Managing (other people’s) Agendas
As soon as you announce your engagement, well wishes + expectations seem to come flying your way from all angles. Your family wants to know when you’ll have kids. Your friends want you to throw a giant wedding celebration. Many are well-intentioned (and some might be less so…), but the frequency or unsolicited nature of these expectations can be draining. They can cause you to second-guess yourself, or put you in situations where you have to defend your choices. Any of these situations are likely to increase your stress level over time.
Losing & Redefining Yourself
It’s natural for us all to hold different “roles” in our lives, and you’re on the precipice of adding a new role – wife/husband/partner. Not only can the unknown increase your anxiety, but balancing being a partner along with being a daughter/son, friend, coworker… it’s a new experience and will take some time to re-calibrate. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or stressed as you go through the process.
Effects of Pre-Marriage Anxiety
Now that we’ve identified several, common triggers, let’s talk about common ways it can impact your daily life. Being aware can allow you to notice them sooner and apply strategies to decrease the negative effects (more on that later).
Anxiety has a funny way of putting a lens on how we see and interpret the world around us. Pre-marriage anxiety is no exception and can taint the way you view things. It can cause you to misinterpret your partner’s behaviors or comments, and send your brain into overdrive imagining the worst-case scenarios. Heightened anxiety also makes it difficult to effectively communicate, even with your trusted loved ones. You may be hesitant to share your concerns because you’re worried about how it may be perceived and that does more damage than good. Letting all your worries sit alone in your head will increase the likelihood they grow until it come out in behaviors that strain or damage your relationship. Communicating early and often increases the likelihood that you and your partner are getting the most up-to-date “data” from each other, which allows you both to make the best decisions for yourself and your relationship.
Assuming the Worst
Worries begets worry. Pre-marriage anxieties can spiral out of control and intensify small insecurities or self-doubt. That may present itself as catastrophizing or thinking the worst has or will occur; constant doubts about your partner’s loyalty, about the state of the relationship, or other issues that may not be accurate. The catastrophizing may chip away at your relationship, leading to increased frustration and decreased trust.
Decision-Making Struggles and Conflict Avoidance
Anxiety can become all-consuming and takes up a significant amount of headspace. That mental fatigue makes cognitive tasks, such as decision-making, really difficult. And wedding planning is full of decisions. Difficulties making decisions lead to increased pressure as the clock ticks down, increasing your level of anxiety and feeding it back into a vicious cycle. Breaking the cycle with healthy coping strategies is key; avoidance is one strategy that is useful in the short term, but in the long run almost always creates more tension and bigger problems.
Wedding Planning Stress / Loss of Enjoyment
Pre-marriage anxiety is liable to heighten stress levels during the wedding planning process. More stress means more potential for disagreements, conflicts, or a feeling of being overwhelmed, impacting the overall experience.
Unfortunately, all these excessive worries can overshadow the joy and excitement of planning a wedding. In this case, instead of savoring the joy of organizing a celebration of love, fears and doubts become consuming and take away from the magic of the moment.
Coping Strategies for Pre-Marriage Anxiety
It’s not all bleak–here are tried and tested strategies for navigating pre-marriage nerves..
No need for spreadsheets or elaborate experiments, but data is power in combating any pre-marriage nerves (or any anxiety for that matter). Identify the thought or belief that is increasing your worries (e.g., “This wedding will never happen”), and look for any data that backs it up. Have you accomplished nothing or made no progress whatsoever in your wedding planning? More than likely, you’ll find data that helps to fight back those worst-case scenarios and helps guide you to a more valid worry. Remember, the goal isn’t to remove all worry or anxiety! It’s to get them to a manageable level; anxiety is still a normal & useful part of life.
Open and Honest Communication
Yeah, yeah, we know…this has been said so many times that it sounds cliche, despite its obvious necessity. However, it bears mentioning here because if you try to hide your anxiety from your future spouse, it’s likely to make things worse–but if you talk candidly about what you’re going through, the two of you have the chance to tackle the fears together instead of being invisibly divided by them. It’s also really great practice for marriage. Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty more uncomfortable conversations ahead of you!
Kidding aside, marriage is absolutely going to involve some discussions that will be outside of your comfort zone, and willing yourself to talk openly about the tricky stuff builds a habit that will sustain the two of you and your marriage over the long haul. So share your concerns, fears, and expectations with one another and attack them as a team.
Sit with the anxiety
A big part of managing anxiety is being able to experience the waves of physical discomfort anxiety brings – lightheadedness, churning feeling in your stomach, sweating/hot flashes, and increased heart rate to name a few. Avoidance provides almost instantaneous relief from these symptoms, but when you experience it next the same thing will occur and likely be a little more intense. Sitting with the anxiety and the physical sensations it brings up (no matter how uncomfortable) allows your body to habituate and understand there is no danger. That experience can help you the next time your anxiety is triggered. Now this isn’t a simple process; it takes time practice, and strategies to calm your body and mind. Check out the strategies below to utilize in these moments.
Letting your exercise routine slip in the wake of all the wedding planning tasks? It’s precisely that habit that may very well help you avoid the worst of the pre-wedding jitters. To really beat the nerves, opt for high-intensity exercise for short, intense bursts of time over longer endurance activities like jogging at a moderate pace for more time. Research shows that shorter high-intensity workouts are even better for beating anxiety.
Mindfulness and Meditation
You don’t have time to meditate amid all the organizational tasks on your plate, right? I’d like to introduce you to a rather annoying but surprisingly helpful Zen proverb: If you don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes, meditate for 40 minutes instead. Make time to learn (if you haven’t yet) and practice meditation and mindfulness-related activities. Why? These practices help you regulate your nervous system, which in turn calms your mind and helps you get a handle on anxieties.
Other Self-Care Activities
If you don’t have a self-care repertoire already, now is a great time to build one if you’re feeling some pre-marriage anxiety. Explore a range of practices and activities in order to find out what really works for you. Try not to focus only on activities where the main function is to distract (ahem mindless scrolling), but ones that can also encourage another value like adventure, learning something new, or even cleanliness. Walking in a new park, listening to your favorite music, trying a new recipe, journaling or crafting; remember the goal isn’t to be good at something, it’s to find something you enjoy doing and allows you to experience other emotions to combat the anxiety.
Seek Support from Friends and Family
Lean on your support network. Trusted family and friends can be a powerful way to alleviate pre-marriage anxiety. Talking to others, and getting outside of your own head can be cathartic, and hearing new perspectives can be super helpful. Many times, you hear that others have felt that same way or experienced something very similar, and you’ll know you’re not alone. If there are certain things that you don’t feel comfortable talking about with your future spouse just yet, trusted friends and family members are also there to help you prepare to bring up a difficult topic and talk through how to do so gracefully.
When your body is sick, you go to the doctor. If your emotional health needs a little TLC, you should act with the same care and concern. This is leading up to one of the most important days of your life, and if other strategies aren’t making a dent and/or you’re noticing the anxiety is significantly impacting your day-to-day life, it’s time to get more individualized support. See a counselor or psychotherapist in order to talk through and find specific ways to manage your pre-marriage anxiety. It’s worth it in order to be able to fully enjoy your big day along with the process leading up to it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Pre-Marriage Anxiety
Q: Is pre-marriage anxiety common?
A: Very. It’s a normal response to the life changes and commitments involved in marriage. However, despite its banality, it has the potential to wreak havoc on your relationship. Utilize the strategies listed above to avoid letting it spiral out of control.
Q: Can pre-marriage anxiety be resolved on its own?
A: In many cases, pre-marriage anxiety simply subsides over time as the individual gets more accustomed to the idea of marriage. However, seeking support and implementing coping strategies significantly helps in managing and alleviating anxiety well before it either runs its course or starts to cause bigger problems.
Q: How long does pre-marriage anxiety typically last?
A: Unfortunately, it depends on a whole host of factors that vary from individual to individual and circumstances. It can last from a few weeks to several months or more, depending on the underlying causes and the steps taken to address it. If you worry that you’ve been feeling the pre-wedding jitters for longer than you’re ‘supposed to,’ you can take some comfort in knowing that there is no ‘supposed to.’ That said, if this is you, do look into talking to a professional or taking some of the other strategies above more seriously.
Q: Should I be worried if my partner experiences pre-marriage anxiety?
A: When our loved ones are in distress, we want to do all we can to alleviate their pain. Enter from a place of love and curiosity; even if you are experiencing pre-marriage anxiety yourself, your partner may have a very different experience. Validation and support can be provided even if you may not fully understand their experiences or agree with how they react, but validating their emotional experience opens the door to figuring out how to address it together. Adding in a counselor or therapist can also be beneficial so you both can support each other but rely on the expertise of a professional service provider.
Q: Can pre-marriage anxiety affect the long-term success of a marriage?
A: While pre-marriage anxiety itself doesn’t determine the success of a marriage, unaddressed anxiety will likely strain the relationship. It’s highly suggested that you actively manage and resolve pre-marriage anxiety together.
The Bottom Line
Pre-marriage anxiety is a common experience, and it is crucial for the two of you to acknowledge and address any marriage-related worries and doubts in service of fostering a healthy and successful relationship for years to come. By understanding the effects of pre-marriage anxiety, both emotional and behavioral, you can more effectively work together to navigate this challenging phase and come out with an even stronger foundation on which to build the rest of your lives.
Dr. Vivian Oberling is the Founding Psychologist at Pace Groups. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist who has dedicated her career to improving the lives of clients across the lifespan. Background-wise, she’s been trained and worked in academic centers and hospitals (Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, Kaiser and Rady Children’s), and utilizes evidence-based treatments and research to enhance non-clinical, supportive services.