When my husband (Stephen) and I got engaged we knew we loved each other very much, we hoped for one another’s good, and we liked who we were together. But as soon as we got engaged our relationship experienced a shift. The stress of planning a wedding and joining two families together can be overwhelming. Add to it the stress of everyday life, planning a million details for the most perfect day of your life (so they say anyway) and looking at everything through the lens of “Do I really want to do this? with you? forever?,” and suddenly things get really real really fast. And because of the way our brains are wired for stress, we start reacting and reverting to old styles of relating and old ways of being that we don’t like and more than likely make our partners want to run for the hills. My husband and I know this from experience. We went through two broken engagements and a third that finally lasted. Here are 4 things we learned from our 3 engagements, that will help you not just make it to your wedding but start your marriage on the best foot possible.
1.) Slow Down. Sometimes the anxiety that comes with wedding planning feels like too much. The stress can weigh us down and activate our stress response system which can leave us reacting a whole lot more than it does relating. Slow down. Yes, a wedding is important but is it more important than your relationship with your partner? Set aside one evening a week to not talk about the wedding planning and logistics. Talk about how excited you are to be together and dream about the life you want to build as a couple.
2.) Be Honest About Your Fears. On the day I got engaged (the first time) I was elated, truly on top of the world. And then my brand new fiancé, exhausted from all the anxiety/excitement of the previous few weeks of planning, literally took a four hour nap right after I said, “Yes.” I pretended I understood and made myself believe I was ok with it. He had managed to pull out all the stops for an epic morning of hiking and popping the question beside a beautiful mountain lake, he had to be tired. No matter, the truth was I was terrified him sleeping meant he actually didn’t feel excited about me and us. Over the course of the next few weeks I unknowingly put every interaction through that filter and that fear grew and grew until one day I told him that I knew he didn’t really want to marry me and that I could tell he wasn’t excited about me. It all came crashing down and we both panicked about whether or not we really were good together and we started feeling like we might have made a mistake. I wish on our engagement day when I began to sense fear growing that I would have dug deep and been vulnerable with the safe person I knew Stephen to be and told him right then and there I was feeling deep fear. It would have let him in on what was happening in me and given him the opportunity to reflect right then on why he did fall to sleep like he did. If you are afraid just say it; it will come out anyway and some ways are more healthy than others.
3.) Be Honest About Your Hopes. After our second engagement was broken off, we were meeting with our therapist discussing what the parameters would be for proceeding with relationship as a now defunct engaged couple (again). In this moment, I realized fully and clearly that the one person I trusted to process the deepest, scariest, and most wildly wonderful parts of my self with was the person I was no longer engaged to. I realized more than anything I wanted to find a way back to each other. So I said that I still wanted to be married to Stephen. I didn’t let the fear of not getting what I wanted get in the way of hoping. In speaking the truth about my hope, it cleared up so much of the haze that had begun to cloud our future. Obviously, we were able to find our way back to each other and eleven years later we can both say our hopes have come true.
If engagement feels less dreamy than you hoped, know you are not alone. All the complexity you and your partner are feeling is normal. And as long as the person you are in relationship with is safe, even the complexity of emotions you are feeling can bring closer connection if you can share in an open and curious way. Ideally marriage is for forever and rather than wall up until this whole wedding thing is all over you can use this time of engagement to deepen connection. Happy engagement and cheers to a deeply connected ever after.