While at a recent fun dinner, some acquaintances and I were surprised to discover that three out of seven of us had been divorced. Some of us were remarried, some were freshly uncoupled, some were dating, and as the night got more and more dishy, one of the non-divorcees asked if any of us ever had a gut feeling from the start that the marriage was not going to work out. The three divorcees, bonded by our marital histories, looked at each other with dumb recognition. Yes, yes we'd all had reservations about getting married, tucked away in some tiny, shushed pit of our stomachs. We'd all been quietly scared of what we were about to do, and one by one we confessed our reasons for not listening to ourselves -- I thought it was too late to cancel, I thought that everyone felt scared and wrong on their wedding day, I thought marriage would be the thing to fix our relationship. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I imagine a lot of married and divorced people have insights to share about how they felt during their engagement.
Without further adieu, I address this post to the engaged people out there who are wondering if they're making the right decision.
So you're getting married?! That's exciting! Maybe you're planning a huge beautiful event, or maybe you're just having a small ceremony and going to dinner with your parents -- but no matter the size of the wedding, at some point it might start to feel like it's picking up a life of its own, steaming ahead no matter what. If you're wondering if you should be getting married, it's time for a gut check.
How do you know if what you're feeling is just pre-wedding jitters, which are totally natural, and not something more serious?
Take Away Distractions
No matter how busy you are, either planning your wedding or just going through your everyday life, it is more important than ever to take time for yourself. Not for manicures or video games, but to physically be with yourself. Set aside about 15 minutes a day that you just sit in a quiet, non-distracting place with your thoughts, and listen to yourself. What comes up? If things are nagging at you now, there is nothing that a party and some cake is going to correct, so instead of distracting yourself with wedding planning, give yourself time to respect any concerns you have about your marriage.
Put Your Emotions On Paper
How do you feel about being married to your fiancee? Quick, take a moment and write down every single emotion that you have when you think, not about your wedding day, but about being married. Take your time. When you're done, divide up those emotions into positive and negative ones, and check out your list. What themes do you notice? If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, have your fiancee do this exercise as well and talk about the emotions you both come up with. If my ex and I had done this, maybe we would have seen that we both had the same concerns that we were just getting married because it was the age that a lot of people got married.
Why Are You Getting Married?
Now, I don't mean this in a sense of "why does marriage exist as an institution?" It's a wonderful institution, one that should be enjoyed by all people. What I mean is what made you decide to get married to the person you're marrying at this point in your life? Are you getting married because he asked you? Are you getting married because you've been together a while and you're of "marrying age"? Are you getting married because you want to start building a life with your partner, and this is a huge step in that direction? A lot of people end up getting married more out of expectation than out of passion for each other, but if your options have ever been "we either get married or break up," be careful. Marriage should be a new addition you add to the house that is your relationship, not the structure you impose on the house once it's already built. This is not to say that marriages based on practicality can't be happy and wonderful, but merely to say that what you want, deep down, should never be pushed aside for what you're supposed to want.
How Is Your Relationship?
Take a snapshot of your relationship exactly as it is right now. Freeze. What you must expect is that your relationship will be, no matter how fancy the wedding ceremony or how great the honeymoon, exactly like this for the rest of your lives. No changes whatsoever. Is that something you're okay with, or is part of you convinced that the relationship will evolve once rings are involved? Because I can tell you now -- time evolves a relationship, living together evolves a relationship, and adding responsibilities evolves a relationship. Marriage, on its own, does not. It also does not fix relationships.
Of the divorcees I know, the number one question that we all wish someone had asked us as we went headlong into marriage was, "If you could walk away with absolutely no consequences, would you do it?" Think about it honestly. When I worked with children in the past, I would watch them throw these epic temper tantrums, and out of desperation one day I asked a kid who'd been yelling and crying for about 10 minutes if he was tired and wished he could stop and pretend he never started having a tantrum. He looked up at me through tears and nodded, so I told him his secret would be safe with me. He got up and walked into another room, where I found him playing quietly.
Sometimes we put so much effort into things we're doing, like dating or wedding planning, that we don't stop to think about whether or not we even want the results of that effort. Marriage, even a happy and successful one, can be extremely stressful, but that stress is worth it if you're marrying the best person for you. I write this not in an effort to stop people from getting married, but merely to encourage people to take marriage incredibly seriously. There is nothing you can't walk away from, but if you think leaving a fiancee is hard, try leaving a spouse. Keep asking yourself questions and giving yourself gut checks to make sure you're making a decision that is best for you and best for your relationship.
We would love to hear your own stories of thoughts you had as you were preparing to walk down the aisle -- were you terrified, were you excited, were you trying not to think about it, and how did that correlate with the success of the relationship? Tell us in the comments!