Are you experiencing cold feet before your wedding? Maybe you're re-thinking your choice of a partner or questioning if you even want to get married at all. You might even be nervous that you won't be able to commit to being with one person for the rest of your life. Whatever the reason for your pre-wedding jitters, know that this is entirely normal: Many people have some level of cold feet before their wedding. But just because it's normal doesn't mean you can ignore these feelings; it's important to deal with them before you walk down the aisle.
What Does "Cold Feet" Mean?
"Cold feet" is a term characterized by a feeling of uncertainty around moving forward with your wedding.
For help, we turned to Jocelyn Charnas, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. She works with individuals and couples in all stages of relationships, and she even earned the term "the wedding doctor" for her work with those who are engaged. "I think of cold feet as an umbrella term for the fears, doubts, and anxieties we have as we anticipate getting married," she explains. "An experience of anxiety and uncertainty is normal as we plan for this very important life transition, but too much fear and doubt can be very unsettling." Ahead, she walks us through what to do if you have cold feet and when to pay closer attention to these feelings of uncertainty.
Meet the Expert
Jocelyn Charnas is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City who specializes in working with couples and individuals who are engaged.
Signs of Cold Feet
It is normal to have many types of feelings before your wedding, including anxiety, so you might be wondering if you have cold feet. Charnas says having cold feet can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Some people have overt doubts about their future, "like the questioning of whether [it] is the right person, the right time," she explains. You might be thinking about if you want to get married at all or if you could possibly commit to somebody for the rest of your life. You may even take steps to explore breaking off the wedding.
Some signs of having cold feet are a little less overt, adds Charnas. In many people, cold feet can manifest as intense anxiety around wedding planning. If you are breaking down in tears over which flavor of wedding cake to choose or where to go on a honeymoon, it might be less about the details of your wedding and more about your fears of getting married. Some people take it out on their partners when they have cold feet. If you're fighting with him or her more often or start to find the person you love annoying, that could be a sign. You might also be having nightmares or lose your sex drive.
Why People Get Cold Feet
One reason you might have cold feet is because getting married is a big deal. "A healthy dose of uncertainty and anxiety can mean we are taking this decision very, very seriously, as it should be taken," offers Charnas. "If we aren’t nervous before a big job interview, that could be a signal that we’re not all that invested in getting the job. I think about marriage in the same way; we should be a bit nervous, we should exercise critical thinking, we should explore it from all angles."
Media depictions of marriage only make this worse, admits Charnas. "There is a misconception, which I think is furthered by media and Hollywood depictions of engagement and marriage that you should 'just know.' That’s a lovely concept, but in the real world, it's okay to have some uncertainty. The trick is to vocalize it and try to work through it, rather than suppress it."
How to Deal With Cold Feet
One of the simplest and most effective ways to deal with cold feet is to talk about it, advises Charnas. "In my work with engaged couples, I can feel the sense of relief in the room when I give them the green light to vocalize their fears and doubts. Whether or not you seek the help of a therapist or religious counselor, I encourage couples to take the time to talk about the things they fear."
The good news about talking about having cold feet with your partner is you might even walk away from the conversation feeling more confident that this is your person and you can handle anything going forward. "If you can view your partner’s fears from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than from a position of defensiveness, you are already practicing healthy marriage behaviors!" exclaims Charnas.
She also reminds us that having cold feet is normal. You don't have to think anything is wrong with you. "The most important thing to remember is that a certain degree of pre-wedding anxiety is a normal part of the tremendous life transition that is marriage," she assures. "Getting in touch with your own fears and uncertainties and being a good listener for those of your partner is a great starting point for a healthy and joyous union."
When Cold Feet Are a Sign That You Shouldn't Get Married
Sure, you can remind yourself that everyone has pre-wedding anxiety and cold feet is normal, but in the back of your brain, you might be wondering if your cold feet are telling you something serious. Maybe this isn't the person for you or maybe you aren't ready to get married? Charnas says one of the only times cold feet signifies something is deeply wrong is if you try to articulate your fears to your partner and it doesn't go well. "One potential red flag for me is if a member of the couple is unable or unwilling to vocalize their anxieties and/or hear their partner’s fears," she says. "This lack of communication can mean that perhaps the relationship is not yet ready for this next step." But even then it doesn't mean you need to break up right away; it just means you might need to work on your communication skills.
Another thing to look out for is if your anxiety is so crippling it affects other parts of your life including work, school, or self-care. "Too much anxiety, to a level that is paralyzing or widely disruptive to other areas of one's life, can be a sign of a deeper issue within the relationship."