We’ve all heard the funny phrase throughout the years—”getting cold feet”—which describes the nagging apprehension that often accompanies a commitment to spend the rest of your life with someone.
At this stage of your engagement, your mind may be moving a million miles a minute, and thinking about everything from dressing up on the big day and dealing with your new in-laws, to moving in together and beginning life anew with your beloved.
The reality is that any major life decision is bound to cause you to pause, consider . . . and reconsider. There’s a TON to think about as you approach this big milestone in your life, and getting cold feet is completely normal. However, there are some cases when “cold feet” are more like a yellow (or even red) traffic light that should cause you to stop, or at least slow down.
Let’s look at what is healthy—and what is cause for concern—when it comes to “cold feet”.
Healthy Causes of Cold Feet
There are many circumstances that may cause you to feel anxiety in the lead-up to your wedding.
>> You wonder or worry about what marriage will be like because you’ve never been married before. You simply “don’t know what you don’t know”, and this not knowing may create some nerves. It’s perfectly normal to question how your life is going to turn out after your “I do’s”. Some of that creates the kind of eager butterflies you probably have about meeting your chosen partner at the altar but it can also make you feel a bit queasy when you consider all the unknowns and things you simply can’t predict.
>> Your parents suffered a heartbreaking divorce and you’re worried that your fate is destined to be the same. With up to 50% of all marriages in the US still ending in divorce, one or both of you may have been impacted by your parents’ split and this traumatic experience often has lingering impacts. But this does not mean you are fated to suffer the same outcome!–and in fact, recent studies have refuted the commonly-accepted notion that children of divorced parents are divorced more often themselves. (The key factor appears to be the level of conflict children witness and not whether their parents divorce because of it). You can decide—as an individual and as a couple—not to repeat family dynamics and be the ones in your family who go the distance!
>> Wedding planning is much more stressful than you anticipated, causing you and your fiancé(e) to have disagreements in a way you’ve never dealt with before. Let’s face it: planning a wedding can make you CRAZY. (Thus, the modern emergence of the label “bridezilla”). It’s typical for you and your fiancé’ to have varied expectations for your big day, and negotiating these differences can be stressful. The important thing to consider here is not so much what you disagree on, but on how you work through it, because the general way you resolve conflict is what will follow you into your marriage. Abusive, threatening, defensive, or demeaning behavior during these disagreements is not only cause for concern, but action—before your nuptials.
>> You’re unsure about your how your families will get along or how you’ll fit into your future spouse’s family. Use of the terms “monsters-in-law” and “outlaws” to describe one’s new in-laws belies the unfortunate and ubiquitous nature of this problem. Your family undoubtedly has its own norms, rituals, and traditions which may run counter-culture to those of your partner’s family. The rare and special occasion when two families hit it off completely should be celebrated, but not expected. It’s much more likely that your families—if they haven’t met before the wedding—will be civil and friendly but not necessarily chums.
You probably already have intel on your fiancé’s family and how you’re likely to be welcomed by them (or not). However, this doesn’t mean that things can’t improve significantly after the wedding as they observe the care and commitment you share and the efforts you make to nurture a positive relationship with them. Give it time.
>> You want the perfect wedding and your anxiety is through the roof but you’re not sure if it’s about your special day or your fiancé. The tension you feel in this season of your life may be so high that it’s like a black hole where everything else gets sucked into it and you’re not able to distinguish what is wedding-related vs. what is going on in your relationship.
I often see this with premarital couples who are spending too much time worrying about the wedding and not enough time focusing on the months, years, and decades that will comprise their marriage. It’s essential here to re-prioritize, delegate, take a deep breath, and put first things first. Make a list of everything you’re generally concerned about, share it with a trusted friend or marriage coach (like me) and let them help you sort it out.
If any of the things above are at the root of your cold feet, please rest assured that it is NOT a sign that you’re marrying the wrong person!. The wedding is a ‘go’!
To help quell your anxieties in the meantime, here are a few tips.
Tip #1- Learn to separate excitement from anxiety. These are very similar emotions and create the same physical response in your body, such as a racing heartbeat, intrusive thoughts, and a tense stomach. Adopt a regular relaxation practice (such as yoga, prayer, or breathing exercises); within a short time, you will find it a life-saver.
Tip #2- Talk with your married friends and family to find out how they dealt with this phase of life. You’ll likely find that you’re in good company and that they have a lot of survival strategies to share.
Tip #3- Slow down and make sure you’re focusing as much time, if not more time, on your upcoming marriage as you are on the wedding. Your ceremony is one day. Your marriage is the rest of your life. Try to relish this short season of life which will never come again. And enjoy the anticipation and love you share with your spouse-to-be!
Tip #4- Understand that, while you and your fiancé will continue to grow and change after you marry, you will retain your essential nature and personality traits. Make sure you completely accept (and can forever live with) the person they are TODAY. Remember: “You can’t marry potential.” Acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, seeing them clearly, and confirming that you are cool with the “as-is” will give you peace of mind for the “will-be.”
Tip #5- Don’t neglect to get premarital coaching! A small percentage of couples seek it out, but 100% of couples who don’t get it wish they had! Premarital work helps you to “see around corners” so there aren’t as many surprises and ensures that you have the tools and skills necessary to navigate the challenges marriage brings. In other words, it will help you have a satisfying, successful union. What is six hours in the context of sixty years?
Now, let’s switch gears and look at some symptoms of cold feet that may be cause for concern.
Concerning Causes of Cold Feet
>> The experience of planning your wedding and honeymoon has revealed that the way your fiancé(e) deals with stress may be unhealthy. As mentioned above, wedding planning can bring out the worst in people, and that includes you and your fiancé. While a few brief and mild meltdowns are to be expected, you want to be on the lookout for destructive communication patterns or habits.
> Your family and friends are opposed to your tying the knot and there are some troubling themes. It takes wisdom and maturity to separate genuine warning signs from distractions others may insert to throw you off your game. While we’d all like to think our loved ones have our best interests at heart, they often have their own agendas and may not be happy about your marriage. (Or they may be happy about your marriage but consciously or unconsciously worried about what it portends for them).
Just as your friends and family know you well, your fiancé’s friends and family may know him better and have a longer track record with him than you do. It’s worth listening to any concerns they share and considering them carefully. Don’t be one of those people who says, after the fact, “Everyone told me not to marry him but I did it anyway.” In general, those closest to you should be happy about your union and be telling you how perfect they think you are for each other. If they’re not, you need to start asking questions.
Are you dealing with family DRAMA over your wedding? Here’s a great article on
How to Deal With Family Drama Before Your Wedding.
>> There is a destructive habit such as abuse or addiction in your existing relationship that you’ve ignored (and perhaps even hope will go away after the wedding). As someone once said, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” If your fiancé has promised to be someone after you marry that they haven’t been throughout your entire dating relationship, what makes you think they will stick with it? Have you allowed enough time to witness this dramatic change in their habits, personality, or character? As a coach, I believe people can and DO change, but this kind of change doesn’t happen without intention and effort (and, in many cases, professional help). If your spouse has cheated or been an addict in the past, you shouldn’t be surprised when it happens again in your marriage.
> You still don’t see eye-to-eye on a few major life issues. Instead, they’ve been put on the back burner, just waiting to be resolved after the wedding. If you’ve ever watched one of those marriage-based reality TV shows (like 90-Day Fiancé’), you’ve witnessed the tendency to completely ignore big issues. Even when couples know they have substantially different views, inevitably they persist, appearing to believe that these differences will somehow magically disappear.
Of course, they don’t, and both parties are heartbroken when these relationships don’t last. While you can’t plan out every detail of your lives, you shouldn’t move forward with a wedding until you and your fiancé agree generally on the big issues, like where you will live, who will work/not work and pay the bills, and whether or not you will have children (and when). If you decide to put these decisions off and deal with them later, you risk not being able to live easily with the outcome.
>> You are unsure about your fiance’s (or your) ability to remain monogamous for a lifetime. There are very few things today that still define marriage and separate it from other states of being, but one of them is the promise you’ll make at the altar to be sexually faithful to each other for a lifetime. If you already know that you or your fiancé’ struggle with being loyal, you should not get married. Period.
You’re honestly worried about whether you’re making the right decision—either about the person you’ve chosen or the timing of this big commitment. Maybe you feel rushed or pushed into it or wanted to keep up with friends who have all gotten married. Some people wait to get married until they meet certain criteria in their lives (e.g., a career, a home, etc.) and others are open to marriage as soon as they feel the right person crosses their path. The truth is that both the person you choose and the timing of your marriage are important factors in its success or failure.
Instead of obsessing over these two things, focus on whether or not YOU are the right person for your mate and are ready for this lifelong commitment. Who you are—and choose to be—in your future marriage will perhaps be the biggest determinant. If you are truly concerned about your readiness, the readiness of your fiancé, or the timing of your nuptials, consider taking a step back to examine your motivation for walking down the aisle. If you think about how you would feel if the wedding were called off and you experience a sense of relief, that’s a clue. It’s better to marry late than it is to marry wrong. Believe me.
Are you most worried about whether or not you’re marrying the right person? Check out
our recent blog called Look Before You Leap: 5 Signs You’re Marrying the Right Person.
Summary / Conclusion
The experience of having “cold feet”, while almost universal, should prompt you to consider whether what you’re feeling is reasonable and healthy or cause for concern and action. Working with a professional can help you explore areas of doubt or disagreement with your fiancé and help you decide to schedule, delay, or cancel your wedding. Being the right person in your marriage—and not just choosing the right person—is a crucial factor. It’s important to feel confident about your decision before committing to a lifelong union.
Are you struggling to make a decision about whether you, your fiance’, or the timing is right for marriage? We can help!