Cold Feet Before the Wedding? Here’s How to Deal

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

You’ve hired the caterer, booked the venue, and spent hours curating a playlist that is danceable, family friendly, and that conveys the story of your love. You think you should be feeling excited for your wedding — you love your partner deeply and this is supposed to be the best day of your life! But instead you’re feeling nauseous, and considering possible escape routes à la Julia Roberts in “Runaway Bride.” 

If this is sounding familiar, then you, my friend, might have a case of cold feet before the wedding. It’s very normal, and something that premarital counselors even expect. When thoughtful, responsible people prepare to make the biggest commitment of their lives, they’re bound to feel some apprehension. It’s a vital life skill to be able to listen to the signals your emotional guidance system is sending you, and distinguish the helpful bits of information from the noise.

If you have cold feet, it’s time to explore what your feelings are telling you, and take meaningful action that allows you to proceed with confidence. 

Here’s a little secret that every marriage counselor knows: ALL relationships have perpetual problems that can never be fully resolved.

DR. Lisa marie bobby

(Psst… If you’d rather listen, I also recorded an episode of the “Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast” on this topic. You can find the episode in the player on this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen).

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Is It Normal to Have Doubts Before Getting Married?

It’s completely normal to have doubts before getting married. Marriage is a profound commitment and brings about substantial changes, not just in your relationship status but in your life’s trajectory. Doubts can stem from a few places — fear of the unknown, anxiety about making a lifelong commitment, or concerns about compatibility and shared life goals. These feelings don’t necessarily mean that you’re making a mistake; they can be a healthy part of the decision-making process, prompting you to reflect deeply on your relationship and what you want from your future together. It’s the thoughtful consideration of your “cold feet before the wedding” and the actions you take in response that create a strong foundation for your marriage — not the total absence of doubt.

Why Do You Have Cold Feet Before Your Wedding?

People experience anxiety before getting married for a handful of reasons. Getting clear about the cause of your cold feet can help you find the solution. 

First, your cold feet may be about the wedding itself, and the logistics of bringing two families together and throwing a large, expensive party. It’s a big event that requires a ton of planning and comes with sky-high cultural expectations attached. It would be weird if you weren’t feeling a little anxious about it. 

Other times, cold feet before your wedding can be about things that have happened in your past. If you’re the child of divorce, you may worry that relationships can’t really be safe and sustainable, having watched your parents’ marriage fall apart. If this isn’t the first time you’re getting married, it’s understandable to be worried about your new marriage not working out, especially if you’re dealing with the stress of blending your families. If you experienced a traumatic betrayal in a past relationship, you may find getting married a little scary because of lingering trust issues, no matter how loving and reliable your fiance has been. 

The final possibility is a little bit scary — sometimes, anxious feelings in the lead-up to your wedding day mean that there are parts of your relationship that you’re not so sure about. 

This is actually a positive thing, not a cause for alarm. Every couple has work to do, and the ways your relationship changes after getting engaged has a way of shining a light on that work. When you face your fears about getting married and confront the problems that are worrying you, you crack open the door to a deeper understanding of yourself, your partner, and your relationship. 

That’s how premarital counseling works — it gives engaged couples the space to explore their relationships, address their issues, and develop the skills to resolve problems that will inevitably arise between them in the future. This process not only makes relationships stronger and healthier, it increases your confidence in your own ability to create a lifetime of love. After a session or two of good premarital counseling, many anxious couples find that their cold feet are warming up.

How can you know which of these root causes applies to your case of cold feet? By tuning into your feelings and asking yourself some important questions. Such as, are these feelings familiar? Maybe you always tend to be a little anxious before a big event. Or, maybe you’ve felt this way at other times when you were scared about being hurt. If so, your cold feet might not have much to do with your current relationship at all. 

But, if your anxiety is focused on particular problems in your relationship and what they could mean for your marriage, it’s time to get clear about what those problems are and take proactive steps to address them. That’s what happy, successful couples do — they don’t ignore their problems, they treat them as opportunities to nurture their relationships with intention and care. 

Uncovering Your ‘Solvable Problems’

Here’s a little secret that every marriage counselor knows: All relationships have perpetual problems that can never be fully resolved. Knowing the difference between solvable problems and unsolvable problems will help you get clarity about the root cause of your cold feet and the path forward. 

Fundamental differences in personality, desires, needs, or values are unlikely to change over the course of your relationship, no matter how many times you discuss them (or shout about them). These differences will arise again and again in various forms, and that is actually okay — differences in a relationship can be a source of incredible strength, even if they sometimes cause conflict. 

What matters is that you recognize the parts of your relationship that are likely here to stay, including who your partner fundamentally is. As obvious as that might sound, people often expect a selfish, or untrustworthy, or narcissistic partner to become a different person once they get married or have a baby. Unfortunately, these people are bound for disappointment and, very often, divorce. 

If the “unsolvable problems” in your relationship are things you can accept and even appreciate about your partner, then you’re left with solvable relationship problems.

Here are a few examples of solvable issues that you can work on together, especially if you get help from a couples counselor:

These are common relationship issues can all be improved if you both are committed to working on them together. If you’re not sure where to begin, your premarital counselor can give you a road map — that’s why we’re here! They’ll help you have important conversations before commitment, uncover the things that you’re worried about, and get clear about what actions you can take to keep your relationship strong for years to come.

Working through solvable problems not only helps you feel better about getting married, it’s an investment in your future — continuing to grow together to become the best partners you can be is the secret to creating a strong, close, satisfying marriage. 

Exploring Your Expectations

There’s another common culprit that can give engaged couples cold feet: Their expectations for their relationship, partner, wedding, or marriage. 

Some people expect that, if they’re in a happy, loving relationship, they should never fight with their partner. Or they should never feel disappointed by them. Or they should never feel lonely in their relationship. Or that they should have the best wedding day ever and feel nothing but joy when they think about it. 

Even if you consciously reject these expectations, there may be a part of your mind that buys into them. Healthy relationships do involve loving, happy feelings, but they also involve a lot of other feelings. A wedding is indeed exciting and joyous, but also overwhelming and stressful and kind of scary. Life is a mixed bag, and if a part of you believes that it’s not supposed to be that way, then you’re bound to feel like something is wrong when you’re having an experience that couldn’t be more normal. Challenging unrealistic expectations will help you feel more calm and confident about getting married.

Getting Help with Cold Feet Before Your Wedding 

If you are having cold feet before your wedding, premarital counseling can help. Not with platitudes about how great weddings are, but with expert guidance and real tools that will help you lay the foundation for a strong marriage. Premarital counseling is valuable, meaningful, and also a lot of fun. It will warm up your cold feet, and it will bring you and your partner closer together. 

If you’re interested in working with an experienced premarital counselor on our team for private premarital counseling, I invite you to schedule a free consultation, or enroll in the next premarital counseling class at Growing Self. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — You can find more articles and podcast episodes on this topic in our premarital collection

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Cold Feet Before the Wedding? Here’s How to Deal

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Low Island with their song “Into the Blue.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. On today’s show, getting married is a beautiful, joyful experience. And it is also very common for engaged couples to feel a little nervous and freaked out leading up to the wedding. Sometimes even having cold feet. What do you do if you’re doubting whether or not this is the right decision? That’s what we’re talking about on today’s episode. 

Today, we’re talking about something that is a lot more common than you might think, which is getting cold feet before your wedding. If you’re someone who wants to be married someday, you’ve probably imagined having this beautiful wedding day that’s full of love and joy. And it’s all happy and great. And we think that that’s maybe how we’re supposed to feel on our wedding day and leading up to it, right? It’s like the best day of your life. 

You should be so happy. And there are so many elements of weddings that are all that. But as someone who has done quite a bit of premarital counseling over the past decade or so and has talked to so many people. I can tell you that many, if not most engaged people sometimes have mixed feelings about this whole thing. 

They can sometimes feel nervous and ask themselves, am I doing the right thing? Should we be getting married? And this is true even in the context of really healthy, strong relationships with couples who are destined to have a lifetime of love together. So, I just want to say as you prepare for a wedding if you’re engaged, it’s super common to have some questions. And even a little bit of self doubt about whether or not you’re making the right decision. If this is the right person, if this is the right time, even if you want to get married. 

And it can be really hard to sort out these feelings and what they’re trying to tell you. Because our culture tells us that getting married is supposed to be this perfect fairytale experience. Like there’s just no space to even have some of these questions, think some of these thoughts, right? But they’re real, and they’re worth discussing. And that is what we are going to be doing on today’s podcast. To talk about what to do if you have cold feet before your wedding. It’s super important that we’re listening to feelings, getting clarity about the relationship. 

And really, listening to things that should be listened to and solving solvable problems. To help us with this, I could think of no better guest than my dear friend and colleague Miss Brenda, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist on our team here at Growing Self. And she is also the instructor of our Lifetime of Love Premarital class. And in addition to that, she also specializes in doing private premarital counseling with couples from all over the world. She has a ton of expertise and insight into the premarital experience. And today she’s here to share her wisdom and guidance with you. Thank you, Brenda.

Brenda F.: Thanks, Lisa. I’ll try to share some guidance. 

Lisa: Well I’ve really just talked to you up so it’s gonna have to be written. I’m just kidding. Well, no. I mean, you’re such an expert in this area with your experience with a class and with all of the premarital couples that you’ve worked with. And so I know that you have so much valuable guidance for couples who are dealing with this. And first of all, let’s just talk about the reality, like to normalize this experience is probably the most helpful thing of all. How common do you think it is for people to have some feelings like, is this really we’re doing the right thing? And why is that? Why is that true? 

Brenda: Well to be honest, I would hope everybody has that feeling a little bit because it is a huge decision in your life. So if you’re jumping in it’s kind of like they’ve done studies. Let’s say if you go to a job interview and you seem super relaxed, they think you don’t really care about getting this job. So if you come into this being like, I’m so chill, like I’ve been smoking pot all day. You may have not been realizing that this is a big deal. This is probably the biggest decision you’re going to make in your life. 

Lisa: Yeah

Brenda: So I do hope that you do think about it. And have some feelings of nervousness or anxiousness. Now I think it gets more nuanced to say what is cold feet? What is our anxiety, intuition and fear? What’s normal and what’s not?

Lisa: Yeah. I’m so glad you brought that. I really, really want to unpack all of those different things. Because like as you said, not just normal, but healthy and expected and appropriate and it would be weird if you weren’t feeling a little bit nervous. And like, sure this is the right thing. And so, that’s positive and healthy and good. And I want to unpack that a little bit more. That also, as you’re saying, there’s like nuances here. Like there are different kinds of feelings. There is normal, healthy, thoughtful, maybe is that a cold feet experience versus intuition? And was my emotional wisdom trying to tell me something important that I should listen to?

Also sometimes, and I’d love to get your take on this. Sometimes, in my experience at least, people worry about the marriage or moving forward because there are actually issues in the relationship that are not catastrophic. Maybe not necessarily a reason to not get married, but that they haven’t been addressed. And they are, as of yet unresolved issues. And because those issues are unresolved. Some people are like, is this a good idea? Whereas if those, you know, many of those are solvable problems. And if they were resolved, people would feel a lot more confident. So I want to tackle all of these with you.

Brenda: Okay, we’ll jump in. Because I have so many thoughts when you say that. I mean, I think it’s what Dr. Gottman saying we need to be more honest with couples to say 70% of their conflict is not going to go away. So it’s always this matter of, okay, what are the deal breakers? And what are you going to live with for the rest of your life? Can you live with this or not? So I think when people come in for premarital counseling, we’re going through 12 different areas of your life that kind of give you this snapshot of a picture to say, “Have you thought through this stuff? Are they solvable or not solvable problems? 

If you have different ideas about how to spend money, we can probably solve that. We can look into and figure out ways and negotiate. Do you need to learn how to communicate better? Do you not know how to get through conflict well? Those are tools, not personality issues. But the personality or character issues are saying, “Hey, we might go into this smorp” it means red flags. And like,”Does someone drink too much? And I don’t like it. But I think when we have kids it is going to change” You know?

Lisa: Oh, did I just laugh out loud? I didn’t mean to do that.

Brenda: The thinking, the bargaining. And so I think, what we’re always assessing to say, okay, what are things that is a normal issue that couples are going to have, at some point? Every couple at some point goes through a crisis. Well this is not the honeymoon anymore. This is not the romantic version of marriage. The romantic version of marriage gives us a great dopamine hit. But to be happy in relationships, you have to transition your brain and to be more concerned about getting your serotonin. And it’s called can-avoids I think is the correct word, you know, to say, can you be connected? Can you be in this relationship with all the good and the bad? 

Not the hope or something. The hope is something, it’s great. It gets us to the altar. It doesn’t keep us in the marriage. 

Lisa: Oh, that’s a good one. That’s like a bumper sticker right there. The hope gets us to the altar. It’s not what keeps us in the marriage. Yeah.

Brenda: We have to transition our brains. To say, what are we looking to get in this relationship is now what you got when you’re out dating. It’s a different game that we’re playing. I would say it’s a much more meaningful game. And it’s one that will give you happiness and satisfaction, fulfillment in the long run. But I also think it’s really good to be clear about what you need to transition for in your life. If you’re looking in marriage to always have excitement or wows in life, you’re gonna be disappointed a lot of times. 

If you’re looking for cozy slippers, and a warm blanket, you’re gonna get that a lot of times. And it is not to say that we don’t. I mean, we all know as therapists we want caretaking and desire. It’s not the same desire that goes away in relationships. But we have to transition in the same way. What does it take to be a person in a relationship day in and day out? To struggle with somebody else? And that’s gonna be full of rupture and disappointment and hope and joy and love, excitement, and unfulfilled need sometimes. 

And so, I’m big into expansiveness and say, “How much can you hold in a relationship?” So when people say and if they come and say, “Hey, I’m concerned” because sometimes what he does, really irritates me. That’s not a red flag. Yeah. 

Lisa: Yeah. Welcome.

Brenda: And it’s okay to get irritated. It’s okay. I mean, I’m fairly direct to say it’s okay to hate and love your partner within the same day. I’m big in dialectics from Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Say we can hold opposite emotions at the same time and we do especially with our partner a lot of times and that’s normal. You can want to run but you’re gonna stay put. I feel this is my kid, I need to get away. And then 20 minutes later you miss them. You mean like we have this all the time and that part’s normal. 

So when couples come in and they’re more concerned about those moments, I’m not concerned about the relationship. If couples come in, and they’re more concerned about it, their overall compatibility. Or again, kind of that hopeful thinking that if you would only do this or should only do that, you’re holding on to wishful thinking that I’ve seen people in relationships 10-12 years old still hoping for.

Lisa: Yeah. Which is not, not helpful. And you know, Brenda, I feel like I should add. And I hope that this is okay to mention and so my listeners know. I have been married now for, oh my gosh. What year is it? 26 years, two kids. And Brenda, you are such an experienced in Marriage and Family Therapy. But you have also been married a long time. You’re a mom of three. And so I just also want to put it into context. Like this isn’t just book learning, so to speak. This is your lived experience, too. Is that okay to share?

Brenda: Oh, sure. Yeah, I disclosed that. Because you know, it was clones we go through a parallel process of saying, “Hey, I wish I would have had premarital counseling before I got married.” I tell couples that. Because it would have saved me a lot of angst. When we’re disconnected, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the relationship. When you walked out and said, you need to go take a walk. It doesn’t mean you hate me. I mean, I’ve had my own anxious attachment issues. I see that with couples. 

And so, you know, being able to just normalize that to say yes. Sometimes things feel really bad, doesn’t mean they are really bad. It means that you’re coming to these junctures where you don’t know how to reach each other.

Lisa: Right? Well, even just that, like learning how to tell the difference between something that feels really bad, that’s not really bad. That is actually an important relationship skill. And I love what you said a minute ago about, that being married is such a different experience. It is such a different kind of relationship than dating someone. And that somebody who is so much fun to date and you’re having the best time and like your relationship is really built around very different things than the kinds of interactions and experiences that are required or that happen in a long term married kind of relationship. It is worth considering that transition. The relationship you have had with someone is going to need to evolve in very different ways in order to be a healthy, sustainable marriage.

Brenda: One thing about Esther Perel said. Sorry Lisa. I think she differentiated, what’s a love story versus a life story. Who do you have intense sometimes relationships with but they’d suck probably in a life story with, you know? And so, why would I do dating coaching? Or I mean, I see lots and lots of people go in through just relationship angst in the dating world sometimes. You know, and I say be picky. It’s okay to be picky. Because, again, what are the things you’re going to look at to say, who do I want to spend my life with? Who’s gonna have to create a home and a family and dreams and values and goals that are aligned with mine? 

And so all of us can let our emotions cloud our judgments. In DBT it talks about, how do you get into your wise brain? Where you use your logical brain and your emotion system, what’s the wisest choice for me? And I think that’s important in relationship. What’s the wise choice for me not today, or next week, but like in 5 years and 10 years. Who do I see being with? 

I’ll share a personal story of my therapist said to me. Many years, or 20 something years ago when I was dating my husband, I didn’t know if he wanted to commit, I didn’t know if he was having a cold feet because it seemed like he should have asked me to get married by a year. And he says, how would you feel if you didn’t get married? I said, I just be so sad because I see this life together that I think would be amazing. 

When I’m thinking back of who that person wasn’t who I am now, I still agree with that. That it wasn’t just this person I wanted to be with is that we wanted to go in the same direction in life. We wanted to have a big family and animals and travel the world. We wanted to share this and I just thought, if he decides not to choose me, he’s gonna be sad because we’re gonna have this great life. But I think part of that, is that you know lovers come face to face, friends come side by side. Are you looking at into the world to say, what do you want your life to look like together and is it aligned?

Lisa: But I think you’re talking about this experience of having cold feet, having doubts before getting married. And being able to filter through, and be able to make informed, thoughtful decisions. And being able to, kind of, differentiate what’s noise, what’s static, from what is real and substantial. And I love the way that you were talking about this wise mind part of yourself. Because I do think ultimately, that the punchline of this entire podcast is being able to tap into that wise mind space. 

So to help our listeners be able to do that, I’m wondering if one of the first things we can maybe talk about a little bit more depth is, the context is nice, lovely couple, strong relationship do have what it takes to be great partners for each other. And have just like you described, a wonderful life together with so many wonderful things, and family, and going in the same direction. So, this is our couple. And yet, one or maybe both of them, and It’s three months before the wedding day. And there’s this inner “beep” Is the right thing? Is this okay? 

What could be some of the normal reasons for that, in addition to what you already said. Which is just like thoughtful, responsible people take big decisions seriously. So there’s that. But what are some of the other things that can be going on in people that make them maybe worry or wonder a little more than others? Like one of the things that’s coming up in my mind, and there may be other variables that feel different for you. But if somebody’s own parents round up getting divorced, would that make them more worried or apprehensive going into a marriage? Are there other things that you kind of see playing into that?

Brenda: Yeah, that’s a good question. When I’m trying to think, what are the other variables? I think when I see people, I mean, I see a lot of premarital couples who have come from divorced families. And part of it is, I want to be proactive. I want to think through this stuff and talk through the stuff that are making them breaks. I mean, if we look at why people say they get divorced, I think the top one is incompatibility. But right after that is infidelity and finances, you know? And so, after that is pride, there’s addictions and domestic violence. I mean, there’s four or five other things. But I think there’s a lot of people who come from divorce, who are going to be naturally anxious. 

I think part of my thought always is, is this part of who you are? You know, is this your pattern? Or does this feel completely different? So like, if you’re starting to get anxious about this wedding or marriage, is this a familiar feeling for you? Meaning like, do you get anxious before a lot of things? What are your own patterns? And so how do we listen to how you’ve dealt with that in the past? And what’s coming up around this? Or does this feel completely like you’ve never had this? This is a deeper knowing. I mean, we talk about intuition. Intuition is a widely studied subject that I’m not going to do justice for right now. But I am going to say that part of that is experiences of life. Trusting when have you made bad decisions? And what did you learn from that? You know, what were your relationships like before this? What are you getting married for? What’s your real reason for getting married for now? 

If someone gives me an answer, I mean, Dr. Gottman teaches us this to say, “Listen to the story of why people get together because it will give you a good indication of the strength of the relationship.” If someone comes in and says to me, you know, they’re really good with money and my parents like them. I’m not going to be too swayed that they’re emotionally committed to this relationship. If they come in and say and they talk about their story in a way that I can tell they have a lot of admiration and respect for the other person. Even if they have lots of moments of frustration, at times, but overall I can tell, I think you feel it. 

You feel like, do I feel a warmth almost when they talk about each other that there’s still respect there. Even if there’s this alignment is not alignment on every single issue. So why does someone have cold feet when I’d say, Okay, what’s your own relationship with anxiety? You know, how do you experience anxiety in general? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this study, but they studied the brain scans of couples who had been married long term, and we said they were still satisfied. And they said the three common factors of these couples were they focused more on what was going right than what was going wrong. 

They knew how to have empathy for the other person, and they learned to contain their own anxiety, which I think is such an interesting thought. Because part of cold feet can be your own anxiety. And so I think part of it is in, what’s creating that feeling? We could go about this in different ways to say what are your thoughts that might be creating and contributing to that anxiety? Is it connected to the wedding? Or you’re nervous about the wedding. Are you are nervous about the money with the wedding? Are you nervous about who’s coming in? Are you nervous about your mother in-law and how she’s going to talk to your mom? If those are the issues, then I would say that’s really normal, you know? 

And how do you and your partner take a break sometimes from thinking about this and talking about it. Because it can become fairly obsessive with a lot of couples who are getting ready for marriage. Are you worried again about moments that you think, hey, I really don’t like my partner sometimes. There are moments when he snaps at me, he doesn’t pick up his socks, whatever the issue is. I’m not worried about that so much. I’m worried about more people who come in and say, I’m sure you’ve heard them many times. If only he did his own work, or if only she worked on this, then I think we’d have a good relationship. Again, I think that’s kind of future talk that there’s this hope that this person will change. Because what they’re saying to me is, I can’t live with who they are right now. And I’ve had to tell couples before, it might be helpful right now for you to just be honest. You can’t live with this. It’s much easier to disappoint someone in the moment and be married for them for 10 years, and then tell them like, “Hey, I’ve always been feeling this way.” 

And so, I think that’s some of the differentiation that I see. Is it kind of normal, hey, I’m not always going to love my partner. I’m not always going to feel in love with my partner. As we all know, love is a choice. We get into relationships and then we decide how we want to treat that person that keeps that love going. And that’s why I love Esther Perel’s line where she says, “Our partners are in loan to us”, with the option to renew every year like we have to choose every year. Can I still be in this? What do I need to do to keep showing up and be a loving, kind partner?

Lisa: Yeah. This is why I love talking with you, Brenda. You take it so much deeper. And I really appreciate that. And I heard you say that, that kind of normal garden variety cold feet, one of the things I heard you say is, it can actually be a huge strength. Even if you’re feeling nervous because your parents did get divorced or whatever. That actually creates a lot of motivation for couples to get into premarital counseling and do something about that. There’s like motivation to have a different outcome. 

And also, I really appreciated what you were saying about how many people have anxious tendencies anyway. They might think a lot about what they’re going to have for lunch, or change their outfit three times. And now you’re getting married. And so to be asking yourself, like self awareness. Is this kind of how you operate, as opposed to people really freaking themselves out? Like making a lot of meaning about, Oh, this must mean something about the relationship. 

So again, it’s like kind of sifting through all the noise. And what you’re really talking about is how to get at more substantial. And really important questions around like, is your intuition telling you something? Or is this worry linked to something that you should be thinking about a lot. And especially if it is related to anything, like the way this person currently is, is not tolerable or acceptable to me. So I’m kind of going into this marriage on the condition that XYZ is going to be different. Maybe I’m hoping it’s going to be different or whatever. But if you’re getting married to someone that you are not fundamentally happy with, or even, can accept fully exactly as they are, slow right down.

Brenda: Yeah, exactly. And I think you cut yourself loose. You said “happy with” because I think happiness is just an illusion.

Lisa: Yeah, I did. It’s not happy. That’s right. But I think too, you know? And if we could just talk about this really quickly, because I think older people, Brenda, grizzled Gen X’ers, like you and I exactly have worked through this. And I do think that sometimes younger people in their 20s or even early 30s, they may still be holding on to these expectations about what should be happening, that you should feel happy, you should feel in love. Those kinds of things that are I think oftentimes subconscious core beliefs that we don’t even know that we have. 

But that can create so much upset for people when their reality of being in a relationship with another human is different than that. And it can be really upsetting. People can think that there’s something wrong, right? So that’s why I caught myself because if you’re thinking that being, having subjective feelings of happiness, you know, most of the time, is maybe not. 

Brenda: That’s unrealistic, you know? And I think there’s stages of a relationship too. Where if I even examined my own relationship where you kind of start off someone in mash. You want to be out together all the time, you don’t have an exemption. But then you do get to hopefully this point of individuation. To say, I always feel, and I think this has been defined many times. What’s intimacy, intimacy being able to have hold on to who I am and still be connected to you, even if you’re a very different person. But, yeah, if we hold on to some illusion that we should be happier, I hear a lot of things like that this isn’t fair. Or I shouldn’t be treated this way. And you know, that’s a nuanced issue. 

Because obviously if it’s abusive. You shouldn’t be treated this way. If it feels fair consistently, and you’re always giving 90%. But there’s lots of times in relationships where it’s not fair. There’s lots of times I’m giving more, my husband’s giving more, someone’s sick, someone’s struggling with something, someone that has work demand, someone has a newborn baby. Life is not going to be fair. I mean, that’s a belief we hold on to, and fight all the time. Like, it should be fair, but it’s not. Talk to millions of people that life is not fair, most of the time. 

Lisa: Even differences around. What should be happening can be very culturally determined. I’ve worked with couples where one person is “giving” so much to their partner, which is very much rooted in their own love language, and the culture of their family. So they’re doing all of these things for their partner that their partner doesn’t even want them to do. And then the other person is like, getting really resentful that their partner is not reciprocating in the same way with no awareness. This is about you. And being able to understand what does love look like to your partner? And how are they actually showing you love in their language? So there’s so much to unpack here.

Brenda: One thing about the difference in my mind between intuition and anxiety.

Lisa: Oh, yeah, that’s exactly where I was gonna go. 

Brenda: Oh, perfect. Anxiety is noise. Intuition is calm. I had a girlfriend many years ago, she was debating if she wanted to get married to her husband. And so she took a weekend by herself. And she just went and meditated and was by the beach. And she came back, saying, Yes. This relationship is gonna be good enough. Like, it wasn’t the “Wow” feeling she was looking for. They loved each other. They’re still married. 

But the intuition was the calmness. I think anxiety is usually noise. As we know, anxiety is saying, what could happen? The what ifs? What if this? What if that? Accepting reality of what is right now and to say, is this okay? Is this good enough? Where all of us are dealing daily with it? Am I good enough? Am I a good enough mom and partner? Is this a good enough relationship? You know? And what does that look like? It means some days it’s messy. I may say, I love my husband and my husband loves me dearly. And yet, you could take snapshots of a relationship. And you’d be like, Wow. I don’t know where this relationship is going. Because we can get activated and I can walk out and slam the door. Because he said something that poke me. 

It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have those moments. It seems you keep coming back. I think the number one quality is, are you committed to working through this? And is this a partner you want to keep working through with?

Lisa: Well, I appreciate that. The difference between anxiety and intuition. And as you were talking, I was actually just thinking. I recently recorded another podcast with our colleagues, Brenda, Dr. Christie, and also Alejandra. And I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Alejandra yet. She’s brilliant. But we were talking about how to make difficult decisions. And that’s exactly what they were talking about. It’s just like the anxiety, but also the trap that people can fall into. When trying to make logical decisions, like pros, cons list kinds of decisions. There are these things that are in the check plus column, and there are these things in the check minus column. 

And they were talking about exactly the same thing that you are. Which is the difference that occurs when people can connect with us. Why is mind intuition very trustworthy? Logic doesn’t play into it, it’s coming from this deeper place inside that is trustworthy. And that it requires a lot of intention and stillness to invite that. Like you almost have to stop thinking in order to access that part of your brain. 

So I just wanted to say that and just refer our listeners to that podcast as well if they would like just to have more discussion on how to access that. But the other thing that I wanted to check in with you, I heard you talking about what is really important, what is something to listen to if you are having concerns. If your intuition is like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.” And what it’s really coming back to, is this person going to be like a good partner for me? Am I going to be a good partner for them through thick and thin when it comes to character stuff, value stuff, commitment, the ability to work through problems, like those big, big issues.

And I guess what I would be curious to hear is, how much of that could potentially be a solvable problem? If it was addressed in something like premarital counseling. I also heard you say a few minutes ago, like premarital counseling. If people come in different places in terms of sexual desire or attitudes around money. That is stuff that we can make cash out of all day and premarital counseling come on it like communication skills. But what in your experience is potentially a growth moment for a couple? Who’s like, I don’t know that I can actually accept you as you are, and be committed to this marriage under these circumstances. And I love and care about you enough that let’s see if we can do some growth work here. Versus this is not ever going to be different. 

And I know this is a big question. But I want to give people some guidance. Because if somebody just heard this and was like, Oh, crap. I actually am not cool with my wife. Or my future wife being a really emotionally unsafe communicator for me. And she is that way right now. So this is going to have to change, like, how much growth is possible?

Brenda: You know, that is such a big question. Here is kind of a general answer. I would say if you come from a background where there’s trauma where there was substance abuse. I mean, I could go through a whole list of things you experienced in your childhood of origin. If you’re hoping to have a different experience with your partner, but they’re exhibiting a lot of the same issues that you experienced as a child. I say go to a therapist. Because I think I can usually tell is that their partner is willing to have that different experience? Are they projecting on them that they’re gonna be just like their alcoholic dad? Or are they going to be just alcoholic? 

Lisa: Yeah, I hear you.

Brenda: Keeping them in a state. I mean, I’ve had some people like, their nervous system is activated so much. And their partner’s not willing to change their behaviors and is not that empathetic about it. That would be a break, I’d say. This person isn’t willing to give you that new experience. They’re too entrenched in their own behaviors. If they come in, and you kind of see that their partner really wants to give them a new experience, but their own belief system or self concept or projection is getting in the way. Then we address that to say, do you hear this? Do you hear he’s here right now? He does love you? Did you let that sink in? You know, I think that’s the nuanced part to say, how much is the person who’s saying I can’t live with it? Are they right? That they’re really feeling that this person can’t change? Is that accurate or not? I think a lot of times you need a therapist to be able to reflect back. Because other therapists have no emotional reaction in those moments. Like I’ve had people say, do you see how abusive he is?

Lisa: Yeah. Oh, totally. I hear exactly what you’re saying. They have these wounds. I mean, their normal to neutral behavior from a partner feels extremely hurtful and wounding. Because of their own filter, not necessarily something that the partner is even doing sometimes. And also, certainly the situations where a partner is being objectively cruel, unloving, emotionally unsafe, right? So to be able to feel that out.

Brenda: I have seen so many will keep fighting to get a new experience. To say, you know, and it’s like, I want my dad or my mom to just love me. And they chose someone, obviously, who is a lot like their mom or dad. And they keep having the same experience. But a lot of times that goes back to what are their beliefs? Do they really think they’re lovable? I don’t remember who said it. But can we rise above the opinion of ourselves? So do you think you’re lovable? Or do you think that even though you say you want that. You’re willing to live with this, you’re willing to live with continued emotional unavailability or abuse or someone who you have to tiptoe around because they drink way too much. That’s familiar and we’re drawn to familiar. Familiars or homeostasis and comfort. But if you’re telling me that’s not what you want, then you have to have the courage to step outside of it. And have a new experience with someone who can actually give it to you.

Lisa: Brenda, I know that this is a conversation about premarital couples and you are making a really strong argument to be doing a ton of work on yourself before you even start dating, right? I mean, and I know that that’s where we often take things with our “dating-coaching” clients. I think a lot of times, they’re talking about profiles and what to wear on a first date. And that’s completely fine. But I think where we’re going with that, in our practice is. Let’s talk about some of these really old deep patterns. And, you know, like old repetition compulsion kind of thing. Like choosing partners that give you the opportunity to potentially work through things with your abusive parent and that’s never gonna happen. But like, developing the self awareness, developing an awareness of these mental narratives around love ability. 

You know, I’ve had so many clients that the voices in their own heads, their own internal narrative about who they are, and their love ability is so much stronger than anything a potential partner could potentially say, like, it doesn’t even matter and to be working on that very deep level on yourself. Before even dating, much less getting married. That would be something to pay a lot of attention to. If you think your cold feet before the wedding could be related to your patterns, your emotional wellness.

Brenda: I work a lot, let’s just say. Are you attached to those feelings and thoughts? It’s hard for people to let go of. I’ve had people tied, one person walk out because again, I’m not lovable. And you’re not going to convince me otherwise. You know, so if you’re so attached to that thought or feeling, you know, that’s a whole other discussion of how to get past that for somebody. But we didn’t even get into attachment styles to have like what is what is called to look like for someone who is more avoidantly attached versus anxiously attached? You know, I don’t know many people who are avoidantly attached.

Lisa: Let’s do it.

Brenda: But not have a lot of cold feet. So an interesting attachment may be the opposite were you’re anxious.

Lisa: Because it elaborates.

Brenda: So that if you’re anxious, the thought is, is this person going to stay with me? Are they going to find someone better? Am I enough for this person? A lot of times obviously, an anxious person idealizes a relationship. And so that can be dangerous sometimes. Because they idealize a person and deny the parts that they don’t want to look at. Because they’re so anxious to get loved. And yet, they don’t believe they’re really lovable a lot of times, so they make it a self fulfilling prophecy. But I think an anxious person is going to be worried a lot of times. What’s your belief system around marriage and relationships? What did you hear from your own mom and from your aunts and your cousins and everyone about who men are? Or what or who women are, you know? 

And so how are you holding that to plug into your own anxiety about what you think really what it’s going to happen? I mean, there’s some people who think I’m going to be alone anyway, or someone’s going to leave me anyway. Of course, you’re gonna get cold feet? Many need a really secure partner who says, No. I’m here. I got you.

Lisa: And what about on the avoidant side of the spectrum?

Brenda: Well, my husband makes a joke that he doesn’t know many men who go run into an altar that they have to be convinced a lot of times. And so and that might be some of the avoidant in him, who that came out to say, what is it look like to be committed for the rest of your life? And usually, when I talk to men, a lot of times, there’s themes around that, am I going to be enough? Is someone gonna get bored of me? Do I know how to handle all this? Marriage and relationships and kids. But I think an avoidant person is always having to be kind of convinced is the relationship worth it to give up some of your freedom? Would I rather have my freedom? 

I see couples always doing kind of this dance of connection and independence. And I think an avoidant person is afraid they’re gonna lose that. They’re gonna lose the ability to be who they are, and do what they want. And they need to be with someone who can give them enough freedom. Who was still getting some connection. That it’s not an either or it’s not a black and white, you know? And that sometimes when an avoidant person has some space, they’re actually able to move towards you a little bit more. 

They don’t go completely far away. Because they don’t want to be so far away that you don’t see them, but they just want to be far enough away that they feel like they have independence.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s a great point. I really appreciate that, too. You know, each of those perspectives that cold feet can sometimes be related to attachment styles. And I think you’re very insightful and right on about that fear of loss, fear of feeling trapped. And people that I have worked with, who have been quite avoidant, will often be extremely perfectionistic when it comes to partners. And so just critical of their partners and picking people apart. I mean, well, she went to Harvard, and she speaks three languages. And she’s a CEO of her own business. But she’s not a senator. So, is she really good enough for me. That whole kind of thing. And again, like be aware of those old tendencies in yourself as opposed to making it be about the relationship necessarily. 

And so I think in this chapter of our conversation Brenda, a lot of my takeaways and I think for our listeners too. Is that, is the importance of doing a deep dive into your own experience of where this is coming from can be an enormous growth moment that can illuminate certainly realities of the relationship? But also a ton of opportunities for your own personal growth. And ultimately, your ability to be a good partner for someone in this relationship or another one. Because of this reflection and personal growth work.

Brenda: You’re never going to regret doing it personally because you have to do it at some point. I think some people don’t do it. But if they don’t do it before a relationship, you’re going to do it in a lot of pain within a relationship or out of that relationship bruise. if it ends in divorce, meaning you have to look at yourself at some point, to say, “Who am I in this?” You know, I mean, obviously, we all get intoxicated by blaming our partners for how we feel or what we can handle. But a lot of it’s saying, what’s my own part in this? You know, this is gonna be another podcast. I was just thinking about it. Let’s say, if it had to help people understand when it’s kind of normal behaviors. And when it’s a real personality disorder. When is it a real substance abuse disorder? Versus when is it just someone who sometimes drinks a little bit too much? 

Or when is it a narcissist? Versus someone who’s kind of selfish sometimes. I think we throw around language so much now. And a lot of people have a language of like, oh, he seems narcissistic, she seems this. But what is it? How do you know when it really is? I had a professor who said, you know it, when you see it. You don’t doubt yourself. But I think it would be helpful for a lot of people to say when is it really something big? And when is it just us being humans? And struggling and being imperfect?

Lisa: Do you have a couple of minutes to talk about some of those red flags just for the purpose of this conversation today around cold feet before a wedding? When is it probably a good idea to really not move forward?

Brenda: Well, you know, I work with a lot of people coming out of narcissistic relationships. And the two pieces that you see consistently with narcissist is they have a lack of empathy and then they blame you? The word of the year is gaslighting. Did they tell you what happened didn’t really happen? Do they say I’m sorry? You know, a narcissist. I don’t know many who say I’m sorry? Can they be accountable and responsible for how they show up in this relationship? If they can’t, if it continues they continue to put it on you. Then I would say, that’s a big red flag. 

You know, this may be not a red flag. But to say, who are they when no one else is looking? You know, how did they treat people in their life that don’t matter? There’s always the side of like, how do you cheat people? How do they cheat their family? Their friends? The person who’s waiting on them at the restaurant? How are they treating people? Do they seem entitled? Do they seem like they think they’re better than other people? Do they seem like they think they’re better and smarter than you a lot of times and that you’re the problem? You know, I think those are all red flags. What kind of person is this? 

I mean, that’s kind of just the narcissist system. And we could go into borderlines and bipolars. But you know, I think I see a lot of people obviously getting out of relationships with narcissists. Because it did escalate sometimes to violence. But a lot of times it’s emotional and psychological abuse. Saying, you’re the one who made me feel this way. You’re the problem. If you could only change this. If you could only do this better then I wouldn’t have to feel this way. I think those are big red flags.

Lisa: They really are. But also the kernel of hope in there too, is that you know, because you mentioned borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder. I think that it’s also worth saying that the red flag is somebody refusing to take responsibility, refusing to acknowledge the potential for destruction when those behaviors and ways of being are allowed to run rampant compared to somebody who is able to say, I am aware that this is a problem. And I am actively working on it. And even though it’s hard, they are going to therapy. They’re doing the work. They’re reading the books. They’re having the conversations. They’re trying. Because I do think that there is a path of growth potential. I mean, you know, some narcissists are actually irredeemable. But I think that there are opportunities. I do.

Brenda: There is a big spectrum. You can have narcissistic tendencies or do you have the full blown personality disorder, you know. If that is a full blown you’re probably not gonna change. If you have some tendencies but you’re open to looking at it and then you can work with that. So there’s more red flags, you know, that we could talk about. But that would be definitely a whole other podcast around.

Lisa: Okay. I’m gonna hold you to that. So then to recap. Cold feet before getting married is super ultra normal, can happen for a lot of reasons and can be very motivating. If you are worried about things. If there are things that you guys need to work through issues, that is fantastic. Get yourself into premarital counseling with Brenda or somebody like Brenda to work through those solvable problems. And also develop some realistic expectations around which of those problems are solvable and which of them aren’t. And be able to kind of work on those expectations. 

Additionally, other reasons why people can feel anxious going into a marriage is because their intuition is telling them about things that they should listen to in terms of their own emotional development. Maybe their own patterns and relationships, things that they might be projecting on their partner, unresolved stuff that’s going on in the dynamic things with a partner. And no matter what the ultimate outcome of that exploration is, in terms of, you know, should you get married or not? What is always incredibly valuable is to explore that. To understand that. To use it as an opportunity for growth, to understand yourself better, to understand your partner better, and be able to make really informed and thoughtful choices around. What are we looking at here? Is this a growth opportunity? Or is this evidence that maybe it would be best for both of us if we released each other with love.

Brenda: And this may sound counterintuitive. But I would also encourage people to if they have coffee, go to their partner to talk about it. And a therapist versus their friends and family. And I know as a woman, like it’s natural to want to go to girlfriends and talk. The hard part is every friend you have has their own bias about relationships and what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. And I think a lot of girlfriends do this because they want to be empowering, but it also actually can be destructive at the same time. Because they don’t know sometimes what’s normal and not to put up in a relationship. 

And you’ve now called your friends and families. Opinion of this partner, again, unless it’s real safety issues. Go to your partner, because it’s a good indication of can your partner hear this? Can your partner tolerate that we don’t always have warm fuzzy feelings in a relationship. You know, you’re gonna get good information of how does your partner respond. When you are having doubts or when you are scared about this. But I would encourage you to go to your partner first versus trying to offload on girlfriends. Because girlfriends do tend to tell you what they think you want to hear, sometimes not what you should hear. 

Lisa: Yeah, we have guy friends. I hear you. Even that in itself, is like such a litmus test, right? Because if you’re afraid to have that conversation with your partner, that’s good information. If you have that conversation with your partner, and they blow up at you, that’s good information. Do you know? This is actionable advice here, Brenda. I appreciate it. 

No problem. 

Well, this has been such a wonderful conversation, Brenda. Thank you so much for doing this with us today. 

Brenda: No, I love talking. Anytime. 
Lisa: Oh, good. Okay. We’re gonna have you back to talk about relationship red flags and how to tell the difference. And we’ll talk soon.

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