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Feeling Unsettled and Stressed About My Engagement

Dear Dr. Chani,

I have been engaged for a few months and the wedding date is set for a few weeks from now. Things have become pretty stressful through the engagement. I am getting increasingly anxious. I am not sure if I should call off the wedding, delay it, or just go through with it.

My fiance has a pleasant personality and we usually get along really well. We almost never argued when we were dating. All of sudden, when it came time to prepare for the wedding, I found out that he is more opinionated than I thought and I am no longer sure we are on the same page.

The first time it hit me that we have very different values is when we went shopping for our new home. I wanted to pick out a set of china dishes. He said he does not think that china is really practical and did not see a point in buying it. I thought it was an isolated incident and brushed it aside. But since then, I found out that he does not like to spend money on almost anything – to the point that I feel he is stingy.

Also, when we were dating he used to take more of an interest in me. I enjoy learning and going to Torah classes. I thought he really wanted to hear my Torah thoughts that I shared with him on dates. Yet, over the time we have been engaged, he seems less and less interested in hearing what I have to say. He sometimes cuts me off in the middle of our conversations and changes the topic. Sometimes he listens but he is not attentive.

We went to a rabbi who is also a marriage counselor to try to resolve our issues. The rabbi told us that china is not a big deal since you never end up using it anyway. He told us that we were a wonderful couple and we should be married already. I am not sure what to think, but our meeting with the rabbi did not make me feel any calmer.

Am I making something out of nothing or are these red flags that I did not notice until now? What should I do?

Sincerely,

Lara

Dear Lara,

It must be very difficult to prepare for your wedding while you are feeling confused about your relationship. You had hoped that your meeting with the rabbi/marriage counselor would bring you and your fiance closer together. Yet, you did not feel that your feelings were validated in the meeting. You were basically told to ignore your feelings. You were encouraged to get married despite how you feel.

It is critical to pay attention when your instincts are telling you that something is not right. Sometimes you may not even be fully aware of what is bothering you, but if you allow yourself to deal with your emotions, you can pursue ways to get clarity about what you feel and how to proceed.

It is exceedingly common for couples to feel stress during engagement. Many engaged couples feel an increase in stress and tension that they did not feel during dating. In fact, research demonstrates that many couples feel their relationship experiences stress during any transition. This is true for the transition from dating to engagement, engagement to marriage, the birth of a child, and any other significant life change. 

One reason for this increase in tension is that every stage of your relationship brings with it new experiences and emotions that can shift your sense of balance.  As you navigate life together, you learn more about one another and you may find differences in your opinions and perspectives that feel unsettling. It applies even more to the adjustments that come up as you grow to know each other at the beginning of your relationship when you do not yet have a long-standing connection to build on.

In your situation, you are increasingly concerned about the disparity of values between you and your fiance, values that you thought you shared. You have noticed that you seem to have a difference in your approach to money, and you sense that he is not as receptive to your interests, specifically your interest in Torah.

Sometimes issues are magnified and blown out of proportion when you draw your own conclusions. Although you have already discussed your concerns with your fiance, you might not have genuinely kept an open, inquiring mindset in your conversations. Try to get to know and understand his perspectives better. Keep an open mind and ask your fiance open-ended questions about his values and expectations. (Open-ended questions are ones that allow the responder to provide their own answer, as opposed to just “yes” or “no,” a number or amount, or a one-word answer.)

As you go through the conversation, your goal is not to agree with his feelings, but to understand him and his perspectives. You can ask questions like, “What was your feeling about money when you were growing up? What does money mean to you? What do you plan to use money for?” You can also ask, “How do you feel when I share Torah thoughts with you?,” and “What do you feel about our relationship at this point?” When your fiance answers your questions, listen carefully and ask follow-up questions until you understand him. Let him know what you heard him say by summarizing it to make sure you understood him correctly.

As you listen to your fiance, you may find that you no longer feel distant from him and your concerns dissipate. Yet, if you still feel unsettled, express to him what you have noticed and what is bothering you.

The way your fiance responds to those concerns will be very important. It demonstrates how he communicates and manages issues in your relationship. If he shrugs off your concerns, makes you doubt yourself, or if you are struggling to communicate, seek a therapist who can facilitate your conversations and teach you how to communicate better as a couple. If your fiance is not interested in bridging the gap and addressing your feelings, let him know you have serious doubts about getting married.

In fact, one of the ways you may feel calmer even if you discover you do have differences in your values is if you see that your fiance cares about your concerns and wants to work through them with you. While you will not always share the same opinions, perspectives, or expectations, you need to feel that you have the potential to communicate about them so that you can understand each other. If you are committed to working through your issues and making each other happy, you will find ways to manage your differences.

Hopefully, through the process of discussing your feelings with your fiance, you will gain clarity about your concerns and whether or not you want to move forward with your wedding.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

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