Engagement: Relief, Excitement, and Stress
I was engaged July 3rd, 2013 in Walla Walla, Washington. Chris had prepared the perfect engagement scenario; a romantic sunset in the Abeja Vineyard. It was a picturesque scene over looking the rolling hills when Chris got down on one knee and proposed. Of course I said yes! All I could feel was pure joy as we prepared for the next stage in life.
No one had told me how much work the engagement process would entail. Not only does the wedding planning itself take a lot work but how do you prepare for how the relationship will change? As a relationship therapist I thought I had this piece down. I know the essential details of what makes a good relationship last. But I was not prepared for the emotions of excitement and anxiety to coincide. I wondered why should I be feeling this, isn’t this what you wanted?
When I got engaged I was 34. I was used to being independent and I didn’t know what this next step would mean for me. I would have to move from a “me” to a “we” lifestyle. No longer were my needs of utmost importance but now I had to start thinking about what is “best for the relationship.” A phrase I often repeat in therapy to my couples that is not necessarily what is best for your partner or yourself individually. It is such a new way to think when our society promotes individuality over togetherness. I had so many questions in my head as I started the wedding planning process. Here are just a few of the thoughts:
- I will finally be part of the “club”. I will no longer be the single person who “doesn’t understand”
- Will I lose my independence or my sense of self?
- I am older, if I don’t have kids right away will I be able to?
- What if I don’t want children? Does this make me selfish?
- How do we stay firm in setting appropriate boundaries with extended family?
- I don’t want to change my last name, what will people think if I don’t?
- Weddings are so stressful to plan and cost so much money, is it worth it?
- Now I have the responsibility of meeting the needs of two families, can I do this and have time just for us?
- Is the excitement in my sex life going to end once I am married?
- Is it my responsibility to take care of the home? If I ask my husband to help will that affect his sense of being a man?
I started to feel that the impending marriage might force me into a societal role I did not want. Would my marriage be successful if I didn’t want the traditional family role? Our society still perpetuates the classic 1950’s traditional lifestyle adding that women should now have a full time job in addition to the tasks of the stay at home mothers of the past. Even for our men there is a lot of pressure to be it all. How do couples “do it all” and continue to connect? Society keeps perpetuating QUANTITY and not QUALITY. Are modern couples doomed? How do we not become one of the statistics of a “failed” marriage?
One of the things that I have learned through the engagement process is that you need to keep the communication open with your future spouse. Have the conversations on what you want for your marriage and relationship. Chris and I have had many of these conversations about expectations and the future. Too often in my therapy office couples only focus on the actual wedding and not the marriage. The key is being transparent in your expectations and focusing on all aspects of your future as couple. The ability for us to share our fears and desires of what the future will bring continues to strengthen our bond. For instance, we continue to go back and forth on the addition of children. In this process we both have created vulnerability; realizing that we are both terrified and excited of the prospect of children. Had we not had these discussions we both might think the other was not experiencing the same emotion and could have felt alone. Instead we both feel relieved that we are experiencing the same thing. This shared experience has helped us feel closer.
As I mentioned in my previous article there is no right path. I kept my last name, we planned most of our wedding ourselves, we are able to say “no” to extended family when we need to, and we get to decide when and if we have children (If our families had their way we would have one already). Being a newlywed I am in still in the process of figuring it out but if being a therapist has taught me anything it is that you get to decided what your storyline is. You have to ask yourself what path you want as only you and your spouse will know what is right for your relationship.