You’ve made the announcement, you’ve taken the photos, you’ve sent the invites, you’ve booked and reserved and planned—and then you realize that you just can’t do it. You don’t want to marry this person. Calling off an engagement can be terrifying, but can spare you heartache (and headaches) in the long run.
“Calling off an engagement is definitely a challenging announcement to make,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, tells Brides. “However, making the decision not to go through with a wedding because you have doubts is one of the bravest, smartest things a person can do. There are definitely people out there who have had grave doubts leading up to their wedding but feel too embarrassed, ashamed, or scared to actually call off their wedding. Most of the time, these people eventually get divorced. So a couple who realizes ahead of time that getting married is actually the wrong choice and takes the leap to cancel is making a wise, brave choice.”
Meet the Expert
Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, is a relationship therapist who has been working in private practice for over 20 years.
It may be brave, it may be right, but that doesn’t make it easy. Here’s what you need to keep in mind.
Express Your Doubts As Soon As You Have Them
First, don’t let the doubts linger. You need to talk to your partner as soon as possible. Because if you do need to call off the engagement, you’ll want to get that done as quickly as you can. “It’s much better to call it off sooner rather than later—for everyone involved,” Nikki Leigh, love coach and host of Ready for Love Radio, tells Brides. The longer you wait, the more people, time, and money will be involved. And the more planned things are, the more difficult they are to unravel. You don’t want to lose your nerve because you feel like you’ve waited too long and now it feels like you’re past the point of no return. Talk to your partner as soon as you can.
Some short-term pain and upset is worth it to stop you both from making a huge mistake. And the truth is, it’s your life—and you’re allowed to change your mind.
Hold Your Ground
It’s a huge decision, and one that’s really easy to talk yourself out of. But you need to think about the big picture. “Going through with the wedding when you know it’s not right or that you aren't committed to them and the relationship rarely, if ever, works out,” Leigh explains. Some short-term pain and upset is worth it to stop you both from making a huge mistake. And the truth is, it’s your life—and you’re allowed to change your mind. Maybe you could have seen the signs sooner and, yes, that would maybe have been easier. But, no matter when you realize, it’s the right decision. Remember that you’re saving both you and your partner from an unhappy marriage by being brave now.
Do It in Person
No matter how nervous you are about it, you owe it to this person to call off the engagement respectfully, and that means doing it in person. “My recommendation to call off an engagement is to be honest if you have serious doubts, and do NOT do it through a text or email,” Leigh says. “Respect the person and yourself enough to do it calmly and in person.”
Remember There Are Options
If you talk through your doubts, you might find that there are other options available. “And, you never know, they may be having the same doubts,” Leigh says. “Maybe you just need to postpone things or maybe you need to call things off completely. Too many times, you can get swept up in the engagement with family and friends and it takes on a life of its own—but you can't be afraid to slow things down or just stop things if you really feel it’s not the right thing for you and your fiancé.” If you talk to your partner openly and honestly, you may find that your reservations can be solved by just slowing things down or changing the way the wedding is organized. Although if you’re sure it needs to be canceled completely, that’s the only option.
Keep Things Vague When You Have To
Finally, many people worry about the public perception of calling off an engagement but remember this: You don’t owe them anything. You don’t owe anyone besides your fiancé any sort of explanation. “The best way to actually call of the engagement is to be direct and straightforward and not necessarily offer too many details to the general public,” Hartstein says. “Your closest friends and family likely have some idea of what’s going on, but you don’t owe extended family or acquaintances all that many private details. The best thing to do is let your guests know as soon as possible that the wedding is off. And it’s protocol to send back gifts.”
And remember, though it may seem like a huge scandal when you decide to do it, soon it will be a distant memory. “You might feel self-conscious or embarrassed about the turn of events, but you should remember that all gossip eventually gets old fast!” Harstein explains. “Some people might be shocked to find out about your broken engagement but truthfully, they ultimately have their own lives to live and their own dramas to participate in!” It won’t be breaking news for long.