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Ready or Not

Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

The wedding is weeks away, and the star of the show is more anxious every day. Is this just cold feet, or should the wedding be called off?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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DECISIONS, DECISIONS Every kallah hopes that she has chosen a chassan with whom she will build a happy bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. When pre-wedding jitters cause her to second-guess her choice, simply knowing that her feelings are normal can help her examine the relationship more calmly

E lisheva called us in tears. Just three weeks ago, she was happily accepting mazel tovs at her vort, excited about the future she and Meir were planning together, and confident in their relationship.

Her excitement carried her through the next two weeks as they visited simchah halls, listened to bands, and discussed logistics with their families. This was nothing like the stressful wedding planning Elisheva’s friends had warned her about; she was actually enjoying the process, especially spending time with Meir.

Until the day Elisheva and her mother began the search for a wedding gown. The first dress she saw was elegant — off-white lace, beading and tulle, more magnificent than she’d imagined a dress could be. Elisheva nervously slipped it on and stared at her reflection as her mother and the seamstress straightened the train. Suddenly, a wave of fear passed through her. The seamstress, noticing the change in Elisheva’s expression, offered reassurance. “Lots of girls get overwhelmed the first time they see themselves in a wedding dress.”

“Please, get this off me,” Elisheva pleaded. “I can’t do this now. Let’s go home.”

On the ride home, Elisheva grew increasingly anxious. What’s wrong with me? she wondered. I don’t even know why I’m worrying.

When Meir called later that evening, he tried to cheer her up. He sounds like a hyena, she thought, and couldn’t shake the idea. What am I doing? How can I marry someone whose laugh grates on my nerves?

After a sleepless night, Elisheva tearfully explained to her mother what was happening.

“Honey, you’ve had a hard time with changes ever since you were little,” soothed her mother, embracing her. “I think that when you saw yourself in that amazing dress yesterday, you realized that your life is about to change and you got scared.”

Only partly convinced, Elisheva asked us if we thought her mother was right. And if she was, how could she get a handle on the anxiety?

Anxiety Is Normal

As dating mentors and psychotherapists, we see many kallos like Elisheva, who expect to be floating on a cloud of happiness as they plan their weddings and their future homes. Yet even when plans go smoothly, bouts of uneasiness and worry are to be expected. Many brides-to-be recognize when these are simply pre-wedding jitters, but others may become increasingly upset about their worrisome thoughts and feelings. Like with Elisheva, a certain trait or behavior of their chassan may suddenly begin to annoy them. That leads them to wonder, Maybe the engagement is a mistake, maybe he’s not the right one, maybe I’m not ready for this.

What’s behind these runaway thoughts and anxious feelings?

It may be the kallah’s nature to worry about upcoming events and unfamiliar experiences. Or, like Elisheva, she may struggle with transitions; perhaps she felt a similar sense of dread when she had to transfer to a new school or leave the familiarity of seminary or college.

She might subconsciously bind her anxiety to something concrete, like a laugh or a facial feature. Why am I not as happy as Ruchie or Sarah or my sister were when they were engaged? she wonders. Her confusion and anxiety seem to her to be a “sign” that something’s wrong, a potential reason to end her engagement.

It is possible that there is a sound reason for the niggling thoughts in her head. Maybe he really is a wrong choice for her. Thankfully, there are ways a kallah can differentiate between the normal anxiety many engaged women feel, and concerns that mean she should reexamine her situation.

“I’m only pretending to be happy and calm on the outside,” Esther explained to us. “Inside I feel like a bundle of nerves.”

Most kallos are relieved to learn that these anxious thoughts happen to many healthy engaged women (including those who appear happy), and nothing is wrong with them, their chassan, or their relationship. This reassurance can come from parents, a dating mentor, kallah teacher, or trusted married confidante — anyone who can help the young woman understand her feelings and help her process them so she can enjoy a smoother engagement.

So Why Am I Marrying Him?

The first step in getting past engagement jitters is restoring the kallah’s confidence in her relationship — helping her feel secure that she and her chassan are well-suited and that their relationship will be a good foundation for a healthy marriage.

It’s helpful to ask the bride-to-be the same questions she asked herself when she decided to become engaged. The person who serves as the kallah’s “hand-holder” can guide her through this process and help her focus and feel positive.

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