Feature Archive

Managing Pre-Wedding Jitters

Are your premarital jitters a sign something more serious is at issue?

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

My fiance, Noel, and I recently went to the mall to register for wedding gifts. I set my eyes on a fancy new blender, and he asked, "What's wrong with our blender?"

He also questioned me about the new dishes, the new towels, and the new pillows. Why did we need all this stuff when we already had it?

Then Noel grew quiet and sullen. I repeatedly asked him what was wrong, but he kept saying it wasn't the appropriate time to talk, that we'd discuss when we got home. Finally, after repeated questioning, he emphatically said, "We'll talk later. For now, I'll just tell you when I don't want something for the registry."

It's funny how concerns become magnified once one decides to get married. All of a sudden, the little things a person does or say mean so much more. If he leaves dishes in the sink now, does that mean he won't help me with the housework down the line? If I don't get along with some of his family and friends, does that mean we'll have trouble at future get-togethers?

Some people may call these types of thoughts premarital jitters. Many brides- and grooms-to-be have them. So to a certain extent, the engaged couple and society accepts them, and the wedding goes on as planned. Sometimes, however, the jitters may lead to postponement or cancellation of nuptials.

WebMD asked several relationship and mental health experts to determine the value of pre-wedding jitters. Are they healthy, purposeful fears, or anxieties gone awry? How much attention should be paid to them? And when do normal jitters turn into unhealthy ones?

The experts answered these questions and gave some advice on how to sort out the issues before the wedding day.

Good vs. Bad Anxiety

A little anxiety is normal and healthy, says Jerilyn Ross, MA, LICSW, president and CEO of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America and author of Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Phobias.

"Some anxiety helps us get out of harm's way," says Ross. "It helps us prepare, it helps us focus on doing something, to try harder. It forces us to take action."

For instance, a little worry about getting the wedding invitations out on time can motivate a person to choose the invitations, order them, and send them out in a timely manner.

"The kind of worry that gets you to plan, organize, and take concrete steps is great," says Ross.

Anxiety becomes extreme when a person begins to obsess about whether or not they are making the right decision about something or loses sleep over apprehension that the dress or wedding site may not be quite right. This type of fretting could affect family, social, and work life.

Yet extreme anxiety isn't totally abnormal when it comes to wedding planning. "We see those extremes all the time, because getting married is an extreme situation," says Ross. "It's something most people do, hopefully, once in their lifetime. It is a major decision and commitment."

If the worry becomes so overwhelming that it paralyzes a person, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. For example, a person may obsess about hand printing every single invitation and throw it out if a letter is imperfect.

Other signs of the disorder include avoiding or manipulating situations to avoid the anxiety. For instance, a person may be so worried about tripping while walking down the aisle that he or she refuses to go through with the ceremony. Or a person may suggest a honeymoon nearby because he or she is afraid of riding an airplane.

"When people become frightened by the anxiety itself and can't function in a normal healthy way, at that point, we would then look if the person has an anxiety disorder," says Ross, noting that anxiety disorders are real and treatable. If you suspect that you or a loved on has the disorder, it is best to consult with an anxiety specialist or a mental health professional.

Working as a Team

Outside of anxiety disorders, Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a marriage and family therapist in Denver, prefers not to look at pre-wedding jitters in terms of healthy or unhealthy. Jitters deserve consideration, she says. They don't just come out of the blue.

"Jitters, which are basically anxieties, come up because there is something going on that merits attention," says Heitler, who doesn't believe everyone experiences such anxiety. Couples with strong collaborative skills tend to do fine, she says. Those who lack such skills, however, may experience jitters -- even if the couple really loves each other.