Are you ready for marriage?
November 14, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I want to get married. Help me get over my fear of marriage.

I have been with my boyfriend for three years. We love each other and want to get married. I often happily imagine having babies with him and doing fun stuff together as we get older. I know I want him around until I die.

Nonetheless, the idea of actually getting married petrifies me. It makes sense for us to get married soon, for various reasons, but when I imagine doing it I get a sick fear feeling in my stomach. I'm a naturally anxious-about-change person (recently reduced to complete panic at the prospect of picking out new paint colors) so it makes sense that making this huge leap scares me. My parents also had a horrible marriage and divorce, which was really emotionally damaging to me as a child.

Of course I have been to a therapist to discuss all this, but either I didn't go for long enough, or I need a different approach. Does anyone have any advice about getting over this kind of fear? Are there good books about this topic (preferably not aimed at men, though I know I'm in the traditionally "male" position here).

I would appreciate no comments along the lines of "if you're not ready now he's not the right guy." I don't believe in there being "the" guy but he is right for me.
posted by chaiminda to Human Relations (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When you went to the therapist, was "all this" the marriage thing, or generally the anxiety regarding change? Because I think this is an anxiety problem first and a marriage problem second. I think learning to cope with the anxiety would give you enough bandwidth to process the actual question with clarity.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Think of it this way: if you already know you want him around until you die and are treating your relationship accordingly, you are already acting like a married person. That certainty and the actions to back it up are what makes the commitment, more than anything your marriage certificate might say. When my guy and I knew we both felt this way, and it was clearly reflected in our relationship and the life we were building together, getting married was an easy decision. We already felt married; the rest was just making it official and having a great party to celebrate.
posted by anonnymoose at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are there specific things, such as certain daily life scenarios or relationship dynamics, in particular that scare you? In my opinion it's hard to know how to answer this question without knowing more about your specific fears.
posted by Dansaman at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2012

Do you live together right now?

If so, marriage isn't going to be a huge change, really. You'll still wake up every morning beside the man you love, there will just be a piece of paper (and some rings) that makes it official.

If not then yeah, it will be a big change, and I'd suggest livin'-in-sin for a while to make sure you're ready for it.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:38 PM on November 14, 2012

Dansaman, there's nothing that scares me that makes any sense. It's more like we'll have a tiny squabble and I'll think "WELL THAT'S THAT THEN THIS CANNOT BE" for a few minutes until I remember that we're adults and we're not perfect. This does lend credence to the "deal with the anxiety first" idea.

And yes, we already live together and nothing would really change except that I'd have better health insurance.
posted by chaiminda at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2012

I hear you on the squabble thing. If anything, for us, knowing that we have both made a big promise to work problems out together and a promise not to call things off when things get tough has really helped us to keep fights in proper perspective. It's easier to laugh off the small stuff when you know you're in it for the long haul, and we've gotten better at working out the not-so-small stuff as a team because, well, dammit, we're married, and that's what married people do.
posted by anonnymoose at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's more like we'll have a tiny squabble and I'll think "WELL THAT'S THAT THEN THIS CANNOT BE" for a few minutes

I was the same way for the first several years of my current (14-year) relationship. If we had a fight I wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything else for days. Once, he was picking me up from work and I got delayed inside so he had to wait awhile in the car...I had a full-fledged panic attack when I got in the car because I was SO SURE he was going to be mad at me, when he was just sitting there reading a book.

It took repeated, lengthy conversations about the future of our relationship for me to finally understand that he had no plans to run off on me. It was like there was a switch in my brain that had to be flipped: one setting was "fighting = breakup" and the other setting was "fighting = identify the problem and find a solution." This was at least 3 years into our relationship, by the way. It just took me that long to really understand the whole "in it together" thing.

Ultimately this is very similar to anonnymoose's response. It's hard for me to tell if you're afraid that your boyfriend will run off, or that you will. I think you guys need to talk some more about this.
posted by cabingirl at 3:15 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

One good thing about marriage is that, just like any other relationship, if it doesn't work out you can end it. I know some people view marriage a sacred thing, but I prefer to look at my relationship as the sacred thing, not the piece of paper that entitles us to file our taxes together. Nothing is going to change for you in a day-to-day way after you have the ceremony.
posted by something something at 3:17 PM on November 14, 2012

One good thing about marriage is that, just like any other relationship, if it doesn't work out you can end it.

This is indeed true and may be comforting for you to think of, especially in light of your family history. However, there's also a flipside: when you're married, squabbles that used to lead to the "WELL THAT'S THAT THEN THIS CANNOT BE" thinking (in my experience) stop. Well, the squabbles don't stop, but that thinking does. Because when you're married, you've mutually decided to publicly and legally pledge to stay together. You can revoke that pledge, but it's a lot of work and lawyers and all that.

Before I got married, I wasn't sure what was going to change-- in fact, I asked Metafilter exactly that question, the answers to which might be helpful to you. A year in ( that makes me a total expert, right?) the biggest change I've noticed in our relationship is an ever-deepening sense of security. Sure, our marriage isn't perfect. But it's pretty damn good and the imperfect bits are easier to work through because no one's going anywhere.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:32 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Apart from the healthcare thing, why do you feel the need to ever get married? I mean, if this relationship works for you both, is there really any need to fix it? A domestic partnership can be just as loving as a marriage, and you can have kids just as easily out of wedlock as in it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:36 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, all I can do is share my experience. My parents had a horrible marriage. Really about as horrible as it can get (screaming, sometimes physical violence, insults) and it went on in this manner for decades after their divorce.

I've been married for four years and while no marriage is perfect, it's damned good. When our friends went to pre-marital counseling they were asked to give an example of a marriage they thought worked really well they used our marriage as their example. That's really one of the coolest things that's ever happened to me. Because for the longest time I thought I'd end up like my parents or I just wouldn't get married at all.

The thing that helped was to realize that my husband and I are not my parents. It's easy to say, but hard to internalize. But once that finally sunk in, it really made things better for me. You don't have to relive your parents example, you really don't.

Also, there are still lingering triggers from my parents marriage and I've just made my husband aware of them. My parents fought horribly about money and so money is a super, super sensitive topic with me. And so my husband has learned that it's necessary to tread very lightly when talking about money. So if you have triggers, try discussing them with your boyfriend.

Also I think this lady gives great advice. Rule ten is the most important one to me.

Have you thought about trying pre-marital counseling? It doesn't have to be religious and it's supposed to help with this kind of thing.
posted by bananafish at 4:00 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm with something something. I felt a little like a jerk because I've been conditioned to think marriage is the most important thing ever, but at one point, I realized that I am way more scared of having kids or buying a home than I am of marriage. I don't have the family issues you've had to deal with. And I know divorce sounds awful. But if you don't have kids or property or extenuating circumstances, I kind of think getting married really isn't that big of a deal. Don't get me wrong, I am crazy about my husband. But I saw marriage as a piece of paper. It doesn't change how much I love him. It just means things legally and socially.
posted by kat518 at 4:52 PM on November 14, 2012

Apart from the healthcare thing, why do you feel the need to ever get married? I mean, if this relationship works for you both, is there really any need to fix it? A domestic partnership can be just as loving as a marriage, and you can have kids just as easily out of wedlock as in it.

Yeah, this is my thought, too. You don't actually have to get married. Or you can get married in 10 or 20 years. I've been in a domestic partnership for 5-ish years at this point (we've been together 7 or 8) and it works just fine for us without getting married. If getting married makes more sense at some point down the road, whether in a couple or years or a couple of decades, we'll do it then. In the meantime, we know we're for keeps. That's what counts to us.

So do you feel you two have a loving partnership? Do you know, in your heart of hearts, that you're on the same team -- that you have his back and he has yours? Then maybe that's abundantly, wonderfully enough for you right now. It may be that the sociocultural message that YOU MUST GET MARRIED NOW TO BE HAPPY (to be immediately followed by YOU MUST HAVE A BABY NOW) just doesn't apply to you at the moment (or maybe not ever). Celebrate and cherish what you have the way you want.
posted by scody at 5:34 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just want to throw out there that "because my partner wants to" is a totally valid reason to get married when you are already sure you're in it for the long haul. I know a lot of people are happy/happier without the legal status of marriage, but if your partner isn't one of them, that in and of itself is a good reason to get married. Oh yeah, and the health insurance. But let's not assume that OP/OP's partner wants to get married because the TV told them to.

I would also echo what others have said about anxiety over small disagreements. Reports from pals indicate that those kinds of insecurities really can be helped by the knowledge that even a big disagreement isn't an instant dealbreaker anymore. That legal status makes it harder to end things, which creates a stronger incentive to work stuff out rather than running as soon as life gets hard, which it reliably does.

I would also posit that no one is ever really "ready" for marriage, or for any of the truly important things that we choose or that happen to us. There are always reasons to wait, to avoid making a choice, to stay stagnant a while longer - but life is happening now, and it's not going to wait for you to be ready. You make yourself ready in the choosing.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:47 PM on November 14, 2012

I agree that working on the anxiety would probably help a lot. But I also wonder, is it marriage or a wedding that's scary. Because for me, getting married wasn't scary (though I was slightly worried I'd get divorced in four years the way my parents did), but a wedding with plans and standing up in front of everyone I knew, that was terrifying. So, does eloping also freak you out?
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:15 PM on November 14, 2012

Also worth keeping in mind—the relationship doesn't have to last "until you die" to be worthwhile. Endings/divorces are a fact of life and, while sad, they don't need to be hateful and bitter.
posted by she's not there at 9:22 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been married for the better part of a decade. Moments of doubt are natural to the human condition and don't go away for anyone. Even Mother Theresa had doubts about her faith, so for long-term couples to have some doubts about their relationship on occasion, especially after a blow-up? Normal as far as I'm concerned. In fact, I'm pretty sure that ze mizzez still looks over occasionally and says to herself, Is that guy still here??
posted by 1adam12 at 1:33 AM on November 15, 2012

Really appreciate the thoughtfulness of the answers here. Thank you all so much. I really needed to speak to some happily married adults (unfortunately most of my friends don't qualify).

To answer a few questions, in case anyone is reading:

We do need to get married relatively soon, for various reasons. But also because we want to! And domestic partnerships are not an option in this state - if we lived in Belgium or somewhere I can see not bothering to get married, but here it does make a huge difference financially.

Fear of having a wedding is a whole 'nother Ask! But that definitely is part of the anxiety.

Thanks again, folks! I am so happy I came to you for advice.
posted by chaiminda at 6:57 AM on November 15, 2012

I agree with the replies that suggest it's just a commemoration of something that's already happened.

Mil Millington once said, "If you don't have a funeral, you're still dead." If you don't have any sort of commemoration to mark your birthday, you're still a year older.

All of which might sound like an argument against getting married, but for me, it helps keep it in perspective: It's not a huge terrifying change. It's a party where your friends can come out and say YAY for you and your love.

So nothing's different except someone's got better insurance. It may help to think of it that way.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:13 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when you have a generalized anxiety, it's because there are things you think might go wrong, but you haven't articulated them. One way to get past it is to identify them, and then explain or observe why they are not valid fears. Drag fears into the light of day where they look silly. Then it's actually resolved and your brain can calm down.

For instance:
-Do you think you and/or your partner will let yourself go or start taking each other for granted?
-If you're on the hook for each other financially, will you start fighting about each other's spending decisions?
-Will you start to view each other as property and become domineering?
-Do you have unrealistic expectations about what marriage is supposed to improve, or that marriage will change your partner (or that he won't change), and you're afraid of disappoinment?
-Is it the awkward combination of romantic entanglements with legal and financial entanglements? ("The party of the first part may kiss the party of the second part. I now declare you liable for damages.")
-Is it that breaking up would mean finding a new place to live?
-Is it a fear of lawyers, legislators, and pastors controlling your intimate, private, personal relationships, and the government gets to sanction your private life?

When you just say it outright, you and your brain can have a good laugh.

Then, it might help to remind yourself of the reasons why marriage is a more attractive option for you than staying together forever in a committed unmarried cohabitation.
-Being respected by others.
-Throwing a party to celebrate your love in front of others.
-Reducing how much others tax you.
-Making others allow you to visit your children.
-Getting past others to your partner's hospital bed.
-Getting the respect and acknowledgement of others.

You might also wish to include reasons that are not legal, financial, or contractual:
-Feeling like you are more important to your partner than anyone else in the world.
-Feeling a connection to cultural tradition.

... or whatever your personal reasons may be. Good luck!
posted by matt_arnold at 11:33 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Getting married changes nothing, really. Having kids is the big thing to think about. Maybe that'll help kick the can on your anxiety so you can get health insurance and then get that anxiety treated.

You could also look up divorce law in your state, but I am someone whose anxiety decreases with greater research and knowledge. You might be different.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:24 PM on November 15, 2012

« Older Help me buy the best DSLR for my cash during Cyber...   |   Name my cat filter! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.