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You don't have to dip your toes into ice water to feel cold feet. Cold feet — otherwise expertly defined as a little voice of doubt or worry that creeps into our consciousness as we're about to embark in a new venture or make a momentous change — happens to almost everyone when planning a wedding, including the most confident brides.
"Cold feet is a very common phenomena," says Lee Bowers, Ph.D., psychologist in Villanova, Pa., and author of Before the 'I Do's': Seven Essential Conversations. "Such big decisions are always a little scary, even if you know you've done your homework, covered your bases, and have made a good decision."
In some ways, cold feet can even be a good thing. Sharon Rivkin, Santa Rosa-based marriage counselor and author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy, explains that couples can benefit from a bout of cold feet because the experience "gives them pause to think and get conscious about the big decision, and not just get caught up in the fun of planning the wedding."
What isn't always common — and most certainly isn't good — are red flags, especially when they're ignored. "A 'red flag,'" Bowers explains, "is different than cold feet. It's something very specific that you wish were different about your partner or your relationship. No one wants to see a red flag ... so it's very tempting to dismiss a very legitimate red flag as cold feet."
If you're worried you're mixing up the two, here are a few red flags that shouldn't be confused for cold feet.
You need different amounts of personal space.
It could be cold feet convincing you that you'll end up in a co-dependent relationship. But if you crave more time with your friends or by yourself than your significant other, "it's important to make sure you can find a compromise you're both comfortable with before going forward," Bowers says.
One (or both) of you are noncommittal.
It's one thing to be indecisive over where you'll go for dinner. But when it comes to the big things, a couple should be able to commit — and stand by what they say. If you ignore this red flag, "you'll never know where you stand and, more importantly, you'll never be able to count on your partner to follow through on his word," Rivkin says.
You share different personal values.
In the whirlwind of love and passion, it can be easy to overlook our differences, dismissing any worry as cold feet about commitment and the future. But ask, "do you share similar values about religion, politics, gender roles, etc. or, maybe more importantly, can you truly be respectful of each other's differences and not try to change the other person?" Bowers says. "By the time we reach marriage age, these values are firmly established and unlikely to change significantly going forward."
Still confused? "Trust your gut and your inner voice," Rivkin says. "If you have doubts, don't sweep those feelings under the rug. Examine, examine, examine them. Don't let your fear dictate a choice that goes against your personal integrity."