What some of my family and friends know, but not too many other people know is that I really (like really) struggled when I was engaged.
Though I felt the normal stressors that come with wedding planning such as juggling constant to-do lists and navigating what, at the time, was the unfamiliar world of weddings, what I actually struggled with most is a thing I now know as relationship anxiety.
Thankfully, relationship anxiety doesn't strike everyone when they get engaged. It tends to hit people who have Type A, perfectionist tendencies, and unrealistic ideas about marriage. That was -- and, at times, still is -- me to a tee.
When Rick and I became engaged, I remember for weeks feeling the happiest I had ever been. Blissful. Elated. Jumping, dancing, and boogying on Cloud 9 happy. Then, almost as quickly as that feeling came, I soon found myself in what felt like a long, dark tunnel of despair.
During the day I would fixate on wedding planning details like the color of bridesmaids dresses, and at night I would constantly worry if I was going to be a good enough life partner for Rick. Or I worried if he was going to be a good enough partner for me. Truthfully, I obsessed about every thing that could go wrong if we got married.
One day in the midst of this overwhelming stress, we went for a drive to seek out some nature and take a walk in the woods as we did so often when we lived in the suburbs and nature wasn't close by.
And I remember on that cold, overcast spring day getting out of the car to go use the restroom in a bowling alley before we found a trail. As I crossed the street to the bowling alley, I felt light headed, woozy, and everything around me felt like it was shifting... surreal... fake in a way. I now realize I was experiencing the first signs of a panic attack.
Somehow I kept it together enough to make it into the bowling alley and back out. Inside the car again and feeling foggy and exhausted, I realized something was really wrong, and if I didn't address this fear about marriage, it might just kill me (or at least that's what it felt like). But I was so scared that if I dug down, I'd find out that I wasn't supposed to marry Rick.
It was through a Google search of "scared about getting married" that I found my way to Sheryl Paul's work. First, I read her book The Conscious Bride, which helped me realize I could form my own beliefs about marriage and weddings and didn't have to accept the fairy tale stories of childhood as truth. Then I enrolled in Sheryl's Conscious Weddings e-Course, and that's when things really started to change.
I realized that the consuming fear of marriage wasn't surprising given my Type A tendencies and my parents' not-all-that-fabulous divorce in my pre-teen years. I had no idea what a successful marriage looked like or how to be the perfect partner I so desperately wanted to be. No wonder I was scared sh*tless.
I also connected with a bunch of other engaged women redefining what the idea of marriage and a wedding meant for each of them, which was completely inspiring and empowering.
I learned that there is no such thing as a perfect partner, and it was up to me and Rick to figure out together how to be supportive, loving partners to one another.
I learned that -- like in life -- there will be unexpected things during our marriage and on our wedding day. And I could choose in advance how I would respond.
I learned to focus my attention during our wedding day on my family, my friends, and -- most importantly -- Rick and the incredibly beautiful leap of faith we were taking together, quite literally hand in hand.
And I learned the little details I was obsessing about, like bridesmaids dresses, truly, truly didn't matter.
It was this new understanding about marriage and weddings, that made my wedding day the happiest day of my life. I had learned how to let go of needing to control every little thing, and in the process found a deeper enjoyment of our wedding and new marriage.
Though that deep, all-consuming fear royally sucked in the first months of our engagement, I now appreciate it because it cracked open my life like a nut, releasing all sorts of possibilities for love and enjoyment that I never new existed.
As a result, I realized that despite my fear about finding out I wasn't supposed to marry Rick, I actually found my love for Rick -- and his for me -- was much deeper than I ever allowed myself to feel before. I found that no one is "supposed" to marry anyone. Love is the action of choosing someone day after day, year after year.
Though I don't think many of my clients have experienced relationship anxiety while engaged, thankfully, it has allowed me to understand their worries, stress, and fears about their wedding day at a deeper level. When someone says "Do you think I should redo the programs so they are tied with a ribbon and not stapled?" I can answer that question from my whole heart.
So my one piece of advice for couples that I've gained from this -- shall I say -- "intense" way of getting married and beautiful two-and-a-half years of marriage is this: When you let go of controlling every little detail on your wedding day and in your marriage, that is when the real magic, beauty, and joy unfolds. It's love that's found in letting go.