There’s no doubt about it.
Marriage is a big step. Huge.
But yet, no-one talks about the overwhelm and its sheer magnitude. No one talks about the transition. We just talk about the frivolity and the perfect day.
Marriage is right up their with significant life events, such as moving house, having a child, experiencing death, a significant change in health or work and with any life event; comes change and transition and the emotional and psychological roller coaster that brings.
I wanted to write this post after being contacted by a reader recently, feeling completely overwhelmed with the prospect of marriage and also feeling incredibly guilty. Guilty about feeling anything but elated and let me tell you, you are not alone.
Let me put this out there. Marriage overwhelm, or pre-wedding jitters, isn’t about feeling worried you are marrying the wrong person, this isn’t about not loving them through your every being. It’s about change and the transition through that change.
Weddings are always depicted in a frivolous way, presented with much joy and abandonment attached to them. Therefore, you should be happy right? You have nothing to be overwhelmed, or anxious about right? Because getting married is 100% a positive thing? Because of this shallow perception of this life event, it can mean if you are feeling anything but excited and joyful it’s easy to bottle up any negative feelings, you can feel embarrassed, and most commonly guilty which makes many censor their feelings around this and not say anything at all, which others argue could be contributors to post-wedding depression
The wedding industry shines a spotlight on the “happily” but not a lot on the ever after. And the unknown can unsettle all of us.
It goes without saying, marriage for most, is a wonderful life event to celebrate, but that does not mean it doesn’t come with some of the pressure, some of the worry or fear around change. It doesn’t mean it can’t induce common mental health symptoms such as stress, low mood, anxiety (to name a few) that ANY life event can bring. The difference with the life event; getting married, is invariably we mask all of these feelings, and there lies the problem.
Some of the common contributors to the overwhelm of getting married:
The pressure of ‘Happily Ever After’ – suggests there is a permanent desired state in marriage: happiness.
With divorce rates creeping up in the UK again, for some even at a subconscious level there is a pressure to be ‘successful’ (whatever that means). To have a successful marriage, to be a good wife, to be a good husband. To run the household, to have regular sex, to have kids, to have a house, to clean as good as Kim and Aggie, to be a Michelin starred chef. The list goes on…
This can hit you like a tonne or bricks.
I remember it well. It caught me off guard the day before I got married. After having a plain sailing engagement it came as a huge surprise. Overwhelm, stress, anxiety, the change. A build up of pressure finally took centre stage. It hit my sister-in-law too, only hers was much earlier on and not long after her engagement. The barrage of when are you getting married questions = complete overwhelm, she didn’t want to wear her ring. At one point I remember us being worried she didn’t want to marry my brother and that wasn’t the case at all.
Marriage overwhelm can manifest in many weird, wonderful and unexpected ways, depending on our own resilience, what else is going on in our lives and put simply, our ability to cope with life events.
So there’s the commitment. Choosing to dedicate your life to one person, for the rest of your life, that decision isn’t taken lightly by many of us and when you take a moment to absorb that, for some that can feel pretty huge.
And there’s no escaping it, on any big event there is the pressure of the ‘perfect day’ that you build up to for months or years. A day where standards have been pitched and sold to you for decades through popular culture and tradition, so much so, you were probably not even aware of it. This pressure to look perfect, to execute a day with precision, to enter your guests, to be a master at pubic speaking, to have the picture perfect aesthetic. To have a magazine worthy wedding, to spend a certain amount of money. Yup, I know these are all familiar with you!
Loss & Identity
A double-edged sword.
I’m not just talking about if you decide to change your name, but how society views you. Being a Ms or a Miss is most definitely different to a Mrs.
Exploring your identity within your relationship – what does it mean now? What is my new role?
Losing one identity and gaining another.
From moving out of your family home. Mothers and fathers losing sons or daughters and then there’s your friends too.
And then friendships and family is a big one. Marriage can bring out the best in some people and the worst in others and also shines a spotlight on relationships that are no longer serving you. It can come as a surprise and letting go can be really hard.
There’s a form of ‘loss’ that absolutely takes place when you get married that people rarely talk about.
The test of a marriage or relationship really does get measured by your ability, individually and as a couple, to deal with conflict. Less so with each other, but more-so when family dynamics come into play. Do you deal with external conflict differently? If there is conflict in the family, whose side do you take? Where should your loyalty be?
Moving in, on top of getting married is a biggie. I am grateful that hubby and I moved in with each other and brought a house several years before marriage.
We place a lot of pressure on young couples, especially those that want to honour cultural or religious traditions and move in together post-marriage. In this sequence, there is enormous pressure which amalgamates not one, but three life events into one, getting married, moving home and financial change. Talk about pressure!
Getting married can see us hemorrhaging our bank accounts and very early on you will start to see the role money plays between you. You may have already started to share banking or earnings with your spouse, but if you haven’t that’s another adjustment, suddenly having to explain an expenditure, or ask for money, or consult on a purchase and that’s on top of experiencing each others financial spending habits. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Lets strip down the frolics and fancy.
Getting married is a contract.
A legally binding agreement between two people (that love each other).
None of us have really received the terms and conditions. We don’t know what life will bring. We’re all just figuring it out as we evolve as individuals and as a unit.
So know this. YES. There is absolutely an unspoken pressure to getting married which can present itself in many different ways.
If you are feeling the overwhelm and not engulfed in this euphoric wedding planning bubble that is often presented in the cultural message of getting married, you are not alone.
No this doesn’t happen to everyone who is engaged, but it happens to many.
Accept the feelings as they are. These are a completely normal response to transition and it does not mean you do not want to get married, or that you do not love your other half. Quite the contrary. It means you are working through a massive life event, processing, going through a transition and you just need time and understanding.
If the stress, fear, worry, overwhelm, guilt, (insert applicable) start to feel like it is taking over, reach out. Talk to someone. Don’t ignore these feelings, they won’t dissipate by ignoring them or burying your head in planning. Accept them and talk about them (sometimes simply owning and verbalising them can be half the battle) and do something about them now, so you can truly enter your wedding day with joy and proudly walk into marriage freely, with honesty and authenticity at your core.
Without change, there would be no butterflies
Header image: Guy Collier