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The decision to get married is one of the most life-altering decisions you’re ever going to make. The wedding itself can be a source of tremendous pressure. Not only are you making one of the biggest commitments of your life in front of friends and family, but there’s the added expense and the expectations around the event itself. Anytime we prepare to take on a major commitment, doubt will arise. It is the nature of the commitment that anything that’s not in alignment with it is going to come to the surface. So of course there are going to be some jitters about your decision in getting married!
The same is true for cold feet. If you’re walking into a major commitment and enough of you it’s not aligned with it, you’re going to be experiencing some cold feet. Having the jitters is simply a matter of fears and concerns coming to the top. Having cold feet, however, is more about you’ve agreed to something that you really don’t want to do.
Signs of cold feet in getting married are naturally going to be more intense than jitters. While jitters will always be in the background, cold feet will be emotionally oppressive. When experiencing cold feet, it won’t be unusual to be crying a good deal and not sure why. Panic attacks are not uncommon. Serious doubts about the intent of your future partner also will come up. Even though you’re having these feelings they may not seem obvious because very often we’re getting cold feet because rationally getting married seems like the right thing to do. It’s the other 80% of our unconscious mind that’s not quite buying it. As a result, these feelings will pop up out of nowhere and you may not be sure what’s driving them.
Wedding jitters and the other hand will show up as nervousness about outcomes. It might show up as restlessness or irritability. Along with nervousness, you may have a hard time sleeping. At times your concentration may be off. And naturally, you’re going to be obsessing over the details of getting married. These feelings are driven more by an expectation or commitment to the outcome of the wedding. Everybody wants to have an amazing wedding right? And so there’s going to be some attachment to that as an outcome, and it’s that attachment in getting married that drives the jitters.
Managing the jitters may be challenging, but a lot simpler than dealing with cold feet. It looks like understanding what’s driving them. You will want to think about what it is you could possibly be anxious about? After all, all of your friends and family are going to be getting together to support you right? Of course, that’s what we say about Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah. The fact of the matter is anytime family gets together we have the potential for conflict. Let’s get real conflict is something that families do best!
Whether your family is good at conflict or is conflict-avoidant, it is normal and natural to have concerns. Exploring these concerns and finding ways to manage them in advance will help with wedding jitters. I had a couple I worked with who were concerned about their father’s behavior at the reception. Their choices are to assign individuals in the family to watch over both of their fathers, do nothing, or let go of their vision for how their parents should be at their wedding.
Ideally, they will do all three. First, they’ll find someone to watch over their fathers and make sure they stay within social norms, secondarily they’ll let go of their expectations of how things should be, and then they will do nothing! Nothing except enjoy their wedding however it shows up for them. When you’re in the space of “it really doesn’t matter how other people behave”, everything will be smoother. Remember the wedding is about YOU (not your family, whether it rains, if the music stinks, etc.). It is about your commitment to one another, your love for one another, and the transition that the wedding represents for the two of you. The wedding itself is symbolic. The real work is being done between your ears.
On the other hand, if you’re having symptoms of cold feet, this is going to be more challenging. As we pointed out earlier you’re going to be having a more extreme emotional reaction. You’re going to want to ask yourself what is the basis of this reaction? It’s fully possible that your parents had a horrible marriage and on some level, you’re afraid that you’re doing the same thing.
Another possibility of course is that even though you love your partner you don’t feel like they are “the one”. If you have any doubts about whether they are “the one”, or whether you are really ready and do on, explore them in advance with a third party or even directly with your partner. If you still can’t resolve them, it’s better to put off the wedding than to follow through with the wedding just to please your partner and/or your family.
Alternatively, go for premarital counseling like the couple I described earlier. That will avail you of the opportunity to explore your feelings with a third party who’s willing to ask you the tough questions that your partner might be afraid to ask.
The starting point for wedding jitters or cold feet is always a conversation with your partner. If you don’t feel that you can talk to them about it, or that they won’t hear you, that’s probably an indicator that you might not be ready for a partnership right now. It could indicate that your partnership needs to develop and grow more first. If they’re willing to talk with you, and you’re willing to both talk about your feelings to get clarity on whether they’re jitters or cold feet, that’s going to indicate a high level of communication and a more mature relationship.
Again if talking to your partner stirs up strife in your relationship, this is a great opportunity to get some premarital counseling. If you’re not comfortable with a professional, think about going to your rabbi or pastor. The important thing is that you’re talking to someone else about the commitment and your feelings about it. It is normal and natural for this to be a difficult topic of conversation for partners coming up on a wedding. There’s a lot invested here!
The ability to talk about uncomfortable feelings is a trademark of a healthy relationship. Intimacy is founded on caring communication, trust, and empathy. If you’ve laid the foundation for a strong partnership, bringing up your own feelings whether they’re jitters or cold feet will open a door. In fact, you will only become closer through the act. If it leads to irreconcilable conflict, then the foundation is soft, and whether you’re experiencing jitters or cold feet, it’s probably unwise to move forward until you’ve established carrying communication that builds trust and empathy.
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