What to Do If You Get Cold Feet Before the Wedding
Cold feet before a wedding make for a great pop culture storyline, from Runaway Bride to Big in the Sex and the City movie. But, when they happen to you, it's unsettling. You might lose sleep worrying whether you're about to commit to forever with someone who's completely wrong for you, or maybe you're distracted at work, stressing over the seating chart—and whether your partner's tendency to load the dishwasher incorrectly is something you can actually live with.
Fortunately, most nerves before a wedding are totally normal, and wedding planners and therapists encounter cold feet every day. If you find yourself spiraling in the days and weeks before your wedding, here's what you need to know about how to handle cold feet and when to know if they might be indicative of something deeper.
In this article:
What Are Cold Feet?
Cold feet are feelings of uncertainty and fear over going through with an impending wedding. It's the sinking feeling that you are making a terrible decision and could end up marrying the wrong person.
"Someone may start to think about the ways that they aren't compatible with their partner or they may realize that they've offered to compromise things to keep the peace for now but they don't want to make those compromises long-term," says psychotherapist and author Amy Morin, LCSW.
What's the difference between prewedding jitters and cold feet?
Morin explains that prewedding jitters may include anxiety about the big life change that's on the horizon. It's butterflies in your stomach or a nagging case of nerves, but they're not paralyzing. Jitters are the expected reaction to any major tide change.
Cold feet, on the other hand, are something more debilitating. While they aren't necessarily indicative that it is the wrong decision, cold feet give you something to dig further into. Morin says, "Cold feet often involves looking at red flags that may have been previously ignored about why a relationship might not work."
Bridal coach Kara O'Brien Ghassabeh has a visualization trick she uses to help her clients differentiate normal jitters from a more serious case of cold feet. "I ask them to picture themselves on a high dive. You have a healthy dose of anxiety standing way up high about to take a jump," explains Ghassabeh. "If you look down and the water is clear and blue and you know it will feel great, you know the anxiety is worth it and you can move through it." However, she says if you look down and the water is a muddy brown and you feel uninspired to jump, that's your body telling you that you're not headed towards something good for you.
Signs of Cold Feet Before Your Wedding
Cold feet could manifest in obvious ways like fighting more often, nagging your partner over trivial things that typically wouldn't bother you, or having ominous dreams about the wedding.
Morin even sees couples try to postpone the wedding, but projecting the reason on something else. She says, "Couples with cold feet may look for excuses to delay the wedding by saying things like, 'Maybe we should postpone it since my grandmother can't attend due to her upcoming surgery.'"
However, not all signs are as clear. She's also seen couples push boundaries and test their partners in the weeks before a wedding. Perhaps they will backpedal on promises they made regarding the actual wedding day or stop attending religious services they'd agreed to participate in. These could be small tests to try to prove their partner is or isn't the one.
Is It Normal to Have Cold Feet Before Your Wedding?
A study from the Journal of Family Psychology reported that at least one person in 85% of couples experienced cold feet before the wedding. Morin reports that she sees it often and it's common for couples to raise questions and doubts as their wedding date approaches. When the reality of the wedding starts to set in during those final weeks, the decision to get married seems more serious and more final. It's normal to start to question any big decision, and this is no different.
Elizabeth Raley, owner at Elope to Savannah, sees these last minute cold feet come up—and go. She's had worried couples reach out in the weeks before their big day, ready to call everything off, only to change their minds and go through with a happy wedding.
However, there are cases where the feelings are not normal. Ghassabeh says, "A feeling of paralysis and aversion is a sign we need to push pause and not move forward with the wedding day."
How to Handle Cold Feet Before Your Wedding
If cold feet or pre-wedding jitters come up before your wedding, don't jump straight to worst case scenario thinking. First, go through a few steps to figure out why you're experiencing these feelings now and whether they are simply normal nerves or something larger.
Feeling nerves and anxiety around a wedding day is normal! Embrace those feelings, and normalize them. "Getting married will generate a range of emotions and cause some nervousness and doubt. That is your brain helping you make sure you are alert to the situation at hand and critically thinking through the scenarios," says Ghassabeh.
Talk about it.
Cold feet and pre-wedding jitters can be productive if you talk about them. Ghassabeh says, "Talk about feelings in depth with your partner and with a professional or trusted friend. Giving voice to the feelings and taking the time to determine the source of the anxiety is important."
She recommends moving from vague feelings of anxiety to concrete concerns and uncovering what specifically is driving them. "Are the feelings based on your parents divorce or not having the feeling of euphoria you see in the movies, or unresolved relationship topics around money or children or lifestyle? Or is it dreading being the center of attention on the day itself?," asks Ghassabeh. Digging into these hard-to-talk-about topics is important, especially before the big day.
Weigh whether it's the wedding or the partner.
Planning a wedding can be a high stakes situation! Sometimes the overwhelm gets to be too much and can cause cold feet. But the cold feet aren't necessarily because of the partner — they could be because of the stress of 300-person seating arrangements, pleasing multiple parents, and dealing with less-than-ideal family dynamics. "I've had couples tell us that they were planning a large wedding, and the planning and pressure from their family and friends was jeopardizing their relationship. They decided to cut all of that out and elope," says Raley.
Decide if it's something bigger.
Sometimes, the cold feet are indicative of a bigger issue, and, in those cases, it's important to consider all options. Morin says, "Sometimes when people recognize they still have a choice, they instantly feel better. Some people feel trapped because they convince themselves that once the invitations are sent, they have to get married no matter what."
She reminds people, if their cold feet truly feel like there's something wrong on a deeper level, they can always cancel the wedding.