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Dating Maze #236 -  Pre-Wedding Jitters
Dating Advice 236

Dating Maze #236 - Pre-Wedding Jitters

With two weeks to go, she's still wondering, "Is this the one?"

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

My wedding date is getting closer and closer. I am what you might consider to be an older single, and I have been waiting for this my entire life. However, instead of being excited I am at times numb, anxious, and nervous. I am beginning to focus on my fiance's flaws and not the positive traits that attracted him to me. Then I keep wondering, "Is this the one?"

Everyone tells me that it's normal to be scared. However, I see brides who are overcome with joy and ease. I am not that person. My fear resonates with doubts about what I am doing.

To focus on the positive side, I do care for the man I am engaged to, and when we are together, we become very connected.

How do I know that this is the right thing and I am just afraid? Or maybe we do not have that special something to be married? The wedding is scheduled in two weeks. Any advice would be appreciated -- quick!


Dear Suzanne,

Pre-wedding jitters are one of society's best-kept secrets; no one lets engaged people know that they may experience feelings of panic, soul-searching, doubt, ambivalence, and even anguish, and that this is perfectly normal. These feelings are especially common among "older" singles, who have an amount of life experience under their belt before they decide to marry.

It's important for you and anyone else who experiences these "pre-wedding jitters" to understand that these feelings, their intensity, and even their frequency have nothing to do with the quality of your relationship with your future spouse and your ability to have a happy and enduring marriage.

These bouts of anxiety are often accompanied by an assortment of other feelings. One of the most common is focusing on some of the other person's habits or character traits that were never a real issue in the past. Suddenly, they become magnified. "I never realized how shrill her voice was before... how large his nose was... how intense he gets at times... that her laugh is really irritating. I don't think I can take it!" The person may also at times experience physical symptoms that mimic a panic attack. In truth, the voice/nose/intensity/laugh are not the issue. They've just become a way the person binds the anxiety he or she is experiencing, by unconsciously focusing on something that is close to the surface.

Frankly, these anxious feelings shouldn't surprise anyone. The period of engagement is a stressful time, even though the engaged couple are confident they've chosen the right partners. There's a wedding to plan -- arranging for a caterer, hall, band, invitations, florist, photographer, videographer, officiating rabbi, guest lists, invitations, travel arrangements, etc. On top of all this are the logistics of where to live, how to furnish your new home, and whether either of you will be relocating and/or changing jobs. Each of these can be stressful, and the combination of stressors creates feelings of anxiety even for people who ordinarily deal well with pressure-filled situations.

The problem, as we mentioned, is that people often wonder why they seem to be the only bride or groom who feels this way. They think that everyone else is flying through their engagements on a cloud. We promise you that they aren't. While some people feel tranquil in the weeks leading up to their weddings, many engaged people experience jitters and simply hide these feelings from everyone -- even their closest friends and relatives. And they secretly think, "Is something wrong with me? Aren't I supposed to be happy all the time?"

Once a nervous bride or groom understands that it is normal to feel anxious, and that these feelings are not a "sign" that something is wrong, they begin to lessen their anxiety. One way is to ask themselves what's really troubling them. Perhaps they're becoming overwhelmed by the details of planning the wedding or setting up a new home. If that's the issue, it would be a good idea (if you haven't done so already) to delegate some of the work to friends or family members who've offered to help.

Some people wonder about being able to get along with their future in-laws, or worry about the way they and their future spouse have been resolving disagreements. They may need reassurance that most engaged couples deal with issues like these, and that there are many successful ways to do so. Others may have trouble pinpointing their concerns, because they may be the type of person who worries about uncertainty. They can figure out a strategy that can help them worry less, such as distracting themselves with an activity they enjoy, or forcing themselves to substitute comforting thoughts for the anxious ones.

Cold Feet Exercise

There's also an exercise that can help people with "cold feet" reassure themselves that they are in fact marrying the right person. It's the same exercise that we suggest to people who are trying to decide whether or not to get engaged. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are we traveling in similar directions in life, and do we have compatible goals for ourselves as individuals and as a couple?
  • Are our values and our world views compatible?
  • Do I believe the other person is a fine, emotionally stable person, who will be a good spouse?

Also, ask if you have developed the following important qualities in your relationship:

  • Can we accept each other's good points as well as flaws, without having a hidden agenda to change the other person after we're married?
  • Do we have affection for each other (some people will call this feeling love, others will say that they really like the person they're marrying)?
  • Do we feel emotionally connected to each other?
  • Do we have mutual respect and admiration?
  • Are we physically attracted to each other?

People who answer "yes" to each of these questions can be reassured that they have chosen the right person to marry and that their relationship has a strong foundation to build upon after marriage. Many people tell us that this exercise -- plus some of the coping ideas we've suggested -- help them look forward to their ultimate goal of marriage during their bouts of pre-wedding jitters.

Many people find it helpful to enlist a trusted, happily married friend or relative "hold their hand" and provide ongoing emotional support during their engagement. In fact, in Jewish tradition the bride and groom are each accompanied by a friend who acts as their "shomer" (guardian) for 24 hours prior to the wedding, and one of his or her roles is to provide emotional support.

Confirming Suspicions

Much of this advice can be found in our book called In The Beginning -- How to Survive Your Engagement and Build a Great Marriage ( Our book also addresses another scenario that bears mentioning. Some people experience second thoughts because there is a serious problem in their relationship. Although your letter was a short one and only gave us a limited amount of information, we got the sense that you did not have second thoughts about the man you are about to marry.

However, for the sake of some of our readers, we'd like to briefly discuss what happens when someone suspects that they have made the wrong choice in a future life partner. Sometimes, they realize that one of them has changed goals during the engagement, and their views of the future may no longer be compatible. There are times that a dater ignores red flags about the other person during the courtship, and finally has the courage to acknowledge them as the wedding date nears. Or, a person can reveal a character trait during engagement -- such as controlling tendencies, a difficult temper, or a tendency to acquiesce to a parent's unreasonable demands -- that wasn't apparent while the couple was dating. Furthermore, someone who felt pressured into becoming engaged may review the exercise we described earlier in this column and realize, "I can't answer ‘yes' to most of those questions. I don't think this is the right person for me."

All of these concerns are legitimate ones that can't be dismissed with the adage, "Oh, it's just cold feet," or, "At your age, this may be your last chance." The engaged person needs to acknowledge what is truly bothering them. Then, they must decide if there is a way they can come to terms with the issue, and whether they and their fiance can resolve it in a favorable way. If they can't, their wisest course of action is not to marry someone who is wrong for them.

We usually recommend that when someone has these concerns, the couple talk about these issues together to see if they can -- or can't -- resolve them. It's also a good idea to seek advice from a knowledgeable, trusted person who is experienced in dealing with relationships, such as a rabbi who has successfully worked with couples in the past, a wise friend or relative, or a marriage counselor or therapist. The advisor should be a person who will really listen to the engaged person's concerns and help think things through.

In addition, we believe that the advisor should refuse to decide whether or not the wedding will take place. It is the engaged person, and only the engaged person, who can make the ultimate decision whether to continue with the planned marriage or to end the engagement.

So, while this last piece of advice doesn't apply to you, we wanted to include it in our column. We hope that your wedding is a joyous one, and that most, if not all, of your pre-wedding anxiety will be gone once you are married. Mazel tov!

Rosie & Sherry

July 28, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 15

(15) Anonymous, August 12, 2007 9:37 PM

Listen to your gut

I'm sorry about your broken engagement. It is very painful to go through this. If you had a gut feeling, you had good reason to end things. Better a broken engagement than a divorce. If she withheld vital information until after engagement, she can't be trusted. She refuses to take you back; you did the right thing.

(14) Anonymous, August 12, 2007 7:33 PM

Be Honest With Yourself

Be completely honest with yourself AND have confidence in yourself. This is absolutely CRUCIAL.

Suzanne, from what you have chosen to share, it seems to me like this could be a very good relationship. It's scary, especially when when you've been waiting your whole life and you are "an older single". It is a wonderful thing to have somebody in your life who you are connected to in a postive way.

You have to trust yourself- about any good or any bad that you see. You know your place in your relationship far more than anyone else could possibly know it. I really hope that your relationship is as wonderful as the relationship of connectedness that I am envisioning for you, based on your description.

I have to share my story, though, because we are constantly told to seek out aytzah/guidance, and I cannot sit back and listen to or just read that advice without responding.

Here's what happened to me:
I was involved in a serious shidduch/ relationship. Everything mentioned in this article that could cause a person to have 2nd thoughts happened in our relationship. My ex-partner's life/religious goals changed drastically over the time we were together. Extremely controlling tendencies became ever-more apparent. It became increasingly obvious that we had values that were polar opposites(I cannot tolerate racism, for 1.).

I looked for guidance in what I thought were all the right places. Rabbis, Rebbetzins, relationship counselors, "friends". A few people who it turns out recognized a serious problem never came out and made it clear to me while the relationship was going on. They saw, but said little to nothing- even when I asked. I saw the red flags, but I was giving the benefit of the doubt (I really wanted it to work out), and I was struggling to understand the truth of my situation. I needed one of those people to spell it out for me. But I think that they were not necessarily, absolutely, 100% sure, and, since it would mean the breakup of a frum couple heading towards marriage, they thought it was better not to be so clear about what they were perceiving (just my take on their responses). Oddly enough, they were very clear after the break-up that they had seen it. Would they have pasted on huge smiles and cheered "Mazel tov!" at our wedding??? How could they watch such a relationship unfold???

"Friends" who knew us both seemed too afraid of hearing or believing lashon hara/bad speech about others to do the mitzvah of helping me/offering me comfort/guidance. ...And it WASN'T even Lashon HaRa!!...But "friends"/community members wouldn't talk to me about it. Most brushed off my discomfort as cold feet before I was ever given the chance to explain details that would have been serious red flags to any un-biased person.

In any event, finally things became horribly clear, and I could no longer hide from myself what I finally knew without a doubt. I couldn't wait for anyone who I looked up to or respected to acknowledge the situation for me.

I am so furtunate that, for me, it's over. I acknowledged it for myself.

I cannot sit back while people are being given the advice to look to others for guidance. Guidance IS of course a good thing, but, chances are, you won't get it- even if you beg.

We know our own situations. Being afraid of a major life change that you actually really do want IS normal. If it's good-even though it's also scary (in a normal way)- I say "Go for it!" It's worth it, I'm sure. Being in a truly frightening situation is a very different story. If THAT'S what's scary, acknowledge it, and leave.

By the way, I have spoken to others who have experienced similar situations as my own,and I see a trend of it taking months before the 1st hint of any serious red flags.

Suzanne, I know that I have taken this in a different direction than you had intended, but I want you to trust yourself. That is my best advice for you and everyone else out there looking for their match.

(13) Anonymous, August 8, 2007 10:46 AM

danger of anxiety

I very recently lost a lovely young lady over pre-wedding anxiety. We were scheduled to marry on 8/5. Following an upsurge in anxiety- focused on strong "gut" intuition but also supported by several recently revealed facts and experiences- I called it off in mid-June. In despair the next day, I begged my ex-fiancee' to forgive me and take me back; she refused. To this day (and I am still in pain), I am in doubt whether my anxiety and action were fully justified; however, my ex-fiancee's completely unforgiving response and refusal to even consider my pleas does seem to support my concerns.

(12) Anonymous, August 3, 2007 8:13 AM

Ialso had cold feet- and people warned me not

to marry my ex husband and I did not listen they all wanted me to marry another guy who I dropped for my exhusband, and I never listened. I used my heart not my head to guide me big mistake i paid for it with a bad marriage that ended 8 yrs ago, and suffted 13 years marriage I can't get back. So follow your head not your heart!

(11) Rachel, August 2, 2007 9:25 AM

25 years ago, I had jitters too

In the days before my wedding, I almost panicked and called it off. My parents reassured me that my feelings were normal.
That was 25 years, 2 children, 6 homes, 19 jobs, 1 graduate degree, 2 serious illnesses of parents, 1 death of a parent, 1 death of a sibling, 1 critical illness of a spouse ago.
I've always been moved to hear the words recited by the bride and groom and non-Jewish weddings: "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." And as we prepare to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, I'm so glad I listened to my parents (who were celebrating THEIR silver anniversary that same year) and not to my own inexperience and fears.
So to all those jittery brides and grooms -- unless what you're seeing as the Big Day approaches is something really wrong (e.g. violence, a substance abuse problem), calm down, know you're feelings are normal, and know that a wonderful future can lie ahead, provided you both put in 100%. It ain't easy -- but nothing worthwhile ever is. And the benefits of a long, challenging, but caring and happy marriage are extraordinary.

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