Source: Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi/Pexels
The dress is picked, the RSVPs are counted, and the rings are glimmering with hopes of a happily ever after—your wedding day has arrived.
Although a wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, for many brides feeling down and depressed are common experiences after the big day. Media and cultural pressure to have the “perfect day” results in many brides experiencing profound sadness or depression following their nuptials. In fact, over half of the new brides interviewed by Professors Laura Stafford and Allison Scott1 reported feeling sad, depressed, or let down in the weeks and months following their weddings. In another study, Scott and Stafford found that 12 percent of new brides experienced meaningful or clinical levels of depression six months after their wedding2,
Unfortunately, depression is often associated with marital dissatisfaction and instability. Depression in the early years of marriage can lay a foundation for dysfunctional relational patterns3 and is a strong predictor of divorce4,
Stafford and Scott identified several characteristics that separated “blue brides” from “happy brides.” First, compared to happy brides, blue brides often centered themselves in wedding planning and on the wedding day (eg, a Bridezilla). Second, blue brides often experienced uncertainty, or questions, about the relationship. For example, some blue brides wondered if they had made the right decision to marry their partner, whereas others struggled with relationship expectations as a married couple. Finally, blue brides often focused more on the wedding day than their upcoming marriage1,
Although these characteristics were experienced by “blue brides,” there are steps you can take to buffer yourself from post-wedding blues, even if you share some of the experiences “blue brides” reported.
Drawing on the research, I’ve identified four strategies that you can use to help reduce or avoid the post-wedding blues:
- Identify and discuss uncertainty.
- Embrace a “we” vs. “me” mindset.
- Center celebrating with community.
- Focus on the marriage, not the wedding.
Over the next four weeks, I will dive in-depth into each of these strategies. This week, we start with tip number one.
Identify and discuss uncertainty
Getting married is a big turning point in a relationship, no matter how long you have been together. Shifting from dating (or cohabiting) to legally married can be daunting and elicit uncertainty, or questions, no matter how excited about and confident you are in your union.
Additionally, messaging from society and family, along with your previous experiences (including past relationships or relationships you have observed) might fill you with questions or doubts about post-wedding life. Did your parents have a blissful union and you’re afraid yours won’t live up to that? Did your best friend confide in you that they had second thoughts after saying “I do” and you’re worried you might feel the same? Or are you unsure who “married you” is? Whatever the uncertainty is, it’s important to understand that it’s okay to have questions.
Uncertainties are normal during big transitions like marriage. In fact, married couples experience an array of questions, including doubts about their own involvement in the relationship (eg, How do I feel about our marriage?), the marriage itself (eg, How we should behave around each other?), and the influence of outsiders, like in-laws, on their bond (eg, Will my in-laws influence our decision-making?)5, Unfortunately, unaddressed uncertainty can negatively impact your marriage. Research shows that uncertainty is linked to relational dissatisfaction and post-nuptial depression2, 5, Therefore, it’s important to talk to your partner or a trusted other about your uncertainties.
The first step, however, is identifying and articulating your uncertainties, Sometimes uncertainty can make us feel anxious and obscure precise language or identification of our specific concerns. Being able to articulate and label your uncertainty gives you and your partner a better chance of being able to appropriately address your worries.
For instance, instead of saying “I’m just unsure of how I’m supposed to act after we’re married,” dig a little deeper to understand what the specific uncertainty is. Are you worried that you’ll have to stop doing things you enjoyed before you were married, like going on solo vacations? Are you concerned about you and your partner’s expectations for household labor, intimacy, or finances? Or are you worried that your identity needs to change now that you are a spouse?
Identifying and labeling what your uncertainties are is the first step in normalizing and managing them. Making a list of your concerns, big or small, can also be helpful when you move on to the next step: talking through your uncertainties,
One way to help manage uncertainty is to talk about it with a trusted other, ideally your partner. Research shows that discussing uncertainty can enhance relational closeness as well as provide an opportunity to develop rules and expectations for your relationships6, The very act of disclosing your uncertainties to your partner in an open and safe environment can be cathartic.
By disclosing your own uncertainties, you might find that your partner has similar concerns about the wedding or post-wedding life. Or that they have unique uncertainties that you can help calm. Further, discussing your uncertainties allows you to discuss your own expectations for what you want your marriage to look like.
Although you can talk about your uncertainties at any time, setting aside time to talk about uncertainties about the wedding or marriage will allow you and your partner to focus on one another and give the conversation and your (and/or their) concerns the attention they deserve.
When discussing your uncertainties, follow the advice of John and Julie Gottman and use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. “You” statements often come across as criticism and often lead to defensiveness, which curbs productive conversations. Instead, use “I” statements to center your own experiences and feelings without blaming your partner.
For instance, instead of, “You probably won’t want me to go on solo vacations anymore once we’re married,” try, “I’m worried I won’t be able to take solo vacations anymore after we’re married “
Marriage is exciting, but also a big transition, and having questions is completely natural. Knowing how to effectively communicate about uncertainty can help you and your partner successfully navigate the change from “me” to a legal “we.”