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In preparation for our marriage, my fiancé and I had met the requirements of the “engagement encounter” weekend and the meeting with the priest.

We even read a book on keeping a Catholic marriage strong. We knew this vocation was difficult and that many people failed because they didn’t have a clear understanding of the sacrament, but that wasn’t going to happen to us. Our love was one for the ages. We were different.

Having quelled the minor anxiety I experienced just before my wedding, I sailed through the ceremony and into my honeymoon stress-free. A few weeks later, however, I was anxious again. It was worse this time. I noticed I was not happy in my new marriage. Not miserable, just not happy.

That brought anxiety, and then a sort of depression. It was crazy. How could this have happened? Had I rushed into things? Had I made an error in judgment that would now ruin two lives? Just what was I thinking?

A couple of weeks after the honeymoon I was waking up every morning in a near panic. During the day, if my wife mentioned anything that reminded me of the permanence of the situation, I would feel myself closing off and pulling away.

If she mentioned changing her name, I felt a sinking feeling in my chest. If she mentioned so much as painting a wall, I was immediately on edge.

I turned to my parents for advice. As I was wringing my hands and opening up to them, my dad exclaimed, “You’re not special!” His response makes sense now, but at the time I was in too much of a state of panic to grasp what he was saying.

His generation expected marriage to be difficult. They knew life was not always a breeze. I knew that marriage (and life in general) meant sacrifice, but I really did think I was different. I thought that those feelings of joy were going to last. I thought I would always feel excitement, or at least happiness, when my wife walked into the room. When that no longer happened, I began to question everything. I had no idea what was happening to me.

In any case, my parents didn’t think I had made a mistake, no matter how anxious I was. Neither did my parish priest, who also listened to me babble. Certainly my wife didn’t think our marriage had been a mistake. She had already been through a divorce and annulment; she knew what she was doing. I seemed to be the only one who worried about this. I was wracked with gut-wrenching anxiety, and everyone around me thought I was nuts. Clearly I was missing something.

Desperate for answers, I did the one thing they tell you never to do: I googled “marriage anxiety.” I read a number of articles that told me that if I was experiencing doubts (boy, howdy!) I should probably turn and run. But it was too late. I was already married.

It was disheartening to say the least. So I prayed. After a little more searching online I stumbled across the work of Sheryl Paul, a psychologist who specialized in wedding anxiety and author of the book The Conscious Bride. (Her site helped me a great deal, some parts of the site should be read with a grain of salt, but overall her approach is sound.)

She talked about transitions—switching jobs, buying a house, or moving—can be accompanied by grief because they are essentially death experiences. In the case of marriage, we are dying to our single self. That’s a pretty big transition.

Paul points out that our culture does not prepare people for transitions, and so we often find ourselves caught off guard. I was 45 and had never lived with anyone. I was used to having gobs of time to myself. I had carved out an existence that consisted largely of distraction and space and time alone, and when I engaged others, it was on my terms, at the time of my choosing.

We are told that our engagements and weddings should be “the happiest times of our lives,” and when we experience anxiety (which is natural and normal), we think something is wrong.

What is wrong is that we do not properly grieve the loss of our old life. We do not come to terms with the death of our old self, our old ways, and certain freedoms.

Burying those feelings are only a temporary solution. They will come roaring back, and when they do, they manifest themselves as anxiety or depression.

I had feelings of tension and irritability in the presence of my spouse. I felt apprehension in anticipation of having to be vulnerable or loving when I had no feelings that even came close to love. I knew I loved my wife. I knew that she and I were perfect for each other. I just didn’t feel it.

As I continued to read stories day after day that sounded just like mine, a more realistic picture of myself and of my marriage emerged. Eventually I realized that I had not prepared myself for the vocation of marriage. I had not begun to die to myself. I realized I had to face the fact that my entire life had changed.

In my next post, I’ll address how I came to grips with my new life and managed to overcome my anxiety.

Editor’s Note: Check back next week for the third post in a series about anxiety. Click here to read the first post, Wedding Day Anxiety: What If I Don’t Feel In Love?

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28 Comments

  1. Pat-5351 January 13, 2013

    I don’t know, maybe it is me, but I have found your series of blog articles on how anxious you are about getting married/ being married, very sad. Sure, people have complex emotions about the loss of being single and the concern about forever, and are entitled to feel whatever you feel, but if I were in this situation as the fiancee/wife, I would feel hurt that my husband was so freaked out about all this. If you are writing this so other guys will feel comforted “hey dude, I was freaking out too, it’s normal,” well that is great, but all in all I have found this series depressing and concerning. I sure hope my husband if I ever find one is much more sure and excited about what we are doing that what you are expressing. I will pray for you and your marriage.

  2. Geraldine-837658 January 14, 2013

    I agree, you do need to die to yourself to be able to be the best you can be in your marriage. I sure hope I do get there by the time I get married.

  3. Rachael-729451 January 14, 2013

    Pat, you spoke my mind!

  4. Rob-593818 January 14, 2013

    This is why Jesus said have no creature before me, even your wife. You cannot rely on another person for your happiness. To love Jesus you have to die to yourself and what the world offers us as happiness mainly the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want..
    when you enter a marriage with this love of Jesus you will see the face of Christ in your wife and easily without anxiety die to yourself for her.

    The problem in our faithless society is we usually have two self centered people getting married than divorced after five years.

  5. Monica-730858 January 14, 2013

    I was relieved to finally get to the last line that says he was able to overcome this anxiety. Like Pat, reading these made me sad. I can appreciate the honesty put forth, and maybe it’s good not to pretend to be happy all of the time, but I would be absolutely horrified if my brand new husband wrote something like this, especially for thousands of people to read. I realize that all new marriages aren’t going to be daisies and rainbows all of the time but this kind of thing probably shouldn’t be so public and perhaps it should be kept between the spouses, God and a maybe a trusted priest and family. I could be wrong, maybe there are people on this site who need to read this so as to not freak out if they go through something similar, I just think it didn’t have to be quite so detailed and personal.

  6. Toni-710520 January 14, 2013

    Many more people that we think have many doubts but it seems as if we have to pretend everything is good. You are very courageus in writing your mind.

  7. Candace-587406 January 14, 2013

    I agree with Pat. It has been a fear of mine of give my love to a man in his 40s or older who has never been married. I always wonder if he can make the transition to sharing his world with another. I believe it takes less of your SELF, and more love and sacrifice to make your marriage work. I hope by the time the third section of this series has been posted, you have overcome your anxiety.

  8. Tammy-934978 January 14, 2013

    I would like to point out that you and your beloved together belonged to a “spiritual warfare” confraternity, correct? Why is is a bug surprise then that you became the victim of fiery darts of doubt? You and your new wife were creating a holy Catholic family – something that will cause challenge to the evil forces we battle with – OF COURSE a challenge would be thrown at you !

    Even though your story did sound sad, I think its an important side to tell lest anxious dating/engaged/newlyweds feel alone in their awkward adaptations to less pleasant aspects of the new relationship.

    I was widowed after a 26 year marriage (hence me being here) and Im perhaps more afraid of marriage than the young never-marrieds…I learned that to be married to someone is to suffer for them. I have yet to have my first date since my widowhood (please pray for the poor man God tasks with handling a woman who hasn’t had a date since Reagan was President). At this moment, I can imagine gentlemen wanting to share pleasant time with me, but in this exact moment I cant imagine a man deciding he is willing to suffer for me (and the author here kind of speaks well to this ).

  9. Lisa-727959 January 14, 2013

    Erik -

    How brave your comments are and your willingness to expose your intimate thoughts. Thank you for shedding some light on the transition from being single to being married. We are all different and have different experiences, but I have no doubt that what you have shared will help others. Please keep sharing :)

    Sincerely,

    Lisa Duffy

  10. Hannah-708610 January 14, 2013

    This is something I’ve wondered about, especially since I’m anxious sometimes and especially when facing big transitions. I appreciate knowing that this can happen and hearing how someone else got through it. It would be nice to hear your wife’s side as well. How did she deal with an anxious husband? Was she understanding or was it hard for her? Thanks again for baring your heart to all of us!

    • Erik-215414 January 14, 2013

      Hi Hannah – rest assured, anxiety around big transitions is normal and can be managed. As for my wife’s response to the situation, I will be writing about that in the next post. Thanks for reading!

  11. Erin-419365 January 14, 2013

    Erik, I appreciate your article very much. It points out, as you said, dealing with very monumental changes in our lives. As a 49 year old woman who has always been single and has always lived alone, I have never had to make a lot of accommodations for others, what I mean is that when I do, it is on my terms and when it is convenient for me. I can really relate to what you are saying about dying to self and sacrificing for others and how as singles, this is a huge change. Your honesty is disturbing and unsettling because it touches a very real issue that I think many of us tend to sidestep, but ultimately, I find your honesty extremely refreshing. I’m looking forward to your next article. God bless you and your wife.

  12. Tammy-934978 January 14, 2013

    I have a suggestion, although it is from a secular source, so take it or leave it… Dr Frank Pittman wrote a really good book called “Grow Up! How taking responsibility can make you a happy adult “. I bought it for my late husband who went through a time where he mourned his lost youth so intensely that he seemed to revert into a rebellious adolescence of sorts and that is a pattern I see all around me.

    Just look at a mens magazine and see what it tells you about what will make a 30/40 something man happy….it is all antithetical to responsible Catholic marriage. You know what you are supposed to feel, but society still gives us some messages that are so loud they are deafening and subliminally destroying.

    The book bravely addresses the “I’m married but Im not happy” issue and he boldly says “Marriage doesn’t make you happy, it makes you married”. Happiness is such a complex and ever-changing thing.

    My life experience taught me (through my late husband) that completely rethinking and rededicating whether to be married on a minute to minute basis will exhaust you so profoundly that you wont have the energy you need to simply function within it. THis lie is a tool of the devil to trick you into spinning around in your own head until you destroy the very thing you claimed to value. The way around that is to take the marriage as a given then work within it VALUING it like a precious treasure at every turn.

    • Eileen-88830 January 14, 2013

      Wow. YOU ARE SOMETHING ELSE. Way to go, girl. Best advice on this blog so far.

  13. Maggie-918313 January 14, 2013

    I think an important element may be missing. Gratitude.

    Reformation of one’s own viewpoint–really embracing what you just told God you’d do, that is making a total gift of yourself–is vital, but how can it be done well without a constant gratitude for the fruit of this gift?

  14. Lisa-933589 January 14, 2013

    Eric and CM gang..

    I’ve been away for awhile..a long while! First of all congrats Eric, to you & your bride Allison and your marriage! I wish you all the best, many blessings and will be praying for you both :)

    This topic is hot right now, as I have 4 young lady friends in my life right now (all beautiful, smart, devout Catholics) who just became engaged, one engagment broken ( and both hearts suffering), 2 discerning and one married a few months ago. The new bride has been feeling young and disillusioned ( only 22 yrs old) and I consider her like my daughter. She called me and told me she was wandering around Barnes and Noble and found this book on the shelf called “Fierce Women the Power of a Soft Warrior” it is written by a protestant author Kimberly Wagner and is geared for women. I picked up the book with a desire to support her, and WOW what an amazing perspective this book has. I consider it vital for any woman to read for preperation of her heart. The book speaks to the current culture creating strong (fierce) women and as a result men who are afraid. How this cycle perpetuates in really unhealthy ways. THe battle is great but Jesus already won, we can truly compliment each other, we were meant too :) But, we have to be conscious of the culture we live in and counter it for a healthy, strong marriage. As Catholics we have so many gifts and tools in our faith. We need to use every one!

    I worry to about how long I have been on my own. There are more and more of us that marry later. We need to remain teachable and cover each other in prayer and know that God is first and yes sacrifice is a biggie for any vocation- we are a gift to each other. This book gets into all of this.

    The general idea is that it’s really when you become engaged and even more so make it to the alter to take vows that you enter the battlefield. It gets into the role reversal that is going on right now and many other perils that marriages face including the author’s. She really drives the point home about having no illusions and the seriousness of the convenant, vows and sacredness of marriage. She like a good protestant uses scripture to back up her ideas and mariage prep. She is candid about how. Many of the young ladies though Catholic- are feeling pressure to move in, force push or rush. The guys are going along or encouraging move in or being more passive afraid to lead, and ladies dont always give enough room because they have been conditioned to take lead..it’s mess I tell you! They are all blessed and faithful..but we need to really prepare as the battle only amps up. If we both (men and women) stand on faith and prepare we are that much better off and even still as Eric and my young friend experienced, the battle amps up. Thats why God has got to be first and foremost.

    Also in this book each chapter presents some great questions and scriptures to meditate on. I have nothing to do with this book other than it is in keeping with all the concerns mentioned here and I did just mail 5 copies to the various girls around the US!

    I would like to read about what Allison thought about the article. I must admit I also thought it was sad, and maybe to be worked through in a more private manner. But then again, this is a very real conversation & issue in these times. We all need to help each other prepare our hearts as much as possible and support each other. We (ladies and gents) all have a part to play in this. I agree with Maggie constant gratitude for each day and the honor of our spouse redeemed through Jesus is the hope & strengh to lay down ones life for another. Whew…now God please help me!! :)

  15. Lisa-933589 January 15, 2013

    Erik, I am soryy! I spelled your name wrong! I could not find spell check or edit after the fact, sorry about the errors.

    • Lisa-933589 January 15, 2013

      sorry not soryy! Topic has me all in a spin! LOL

  16. Kristina-754565 January 15, 2013

    i liked your article, because i think alot of people think about marriage the same way. I think it is a realistic look at what may happen to one or both spouses in a relationship. Good to think about and pray about! thanks

    • Michael-891510 January 15, 2013

      My ex hit me with the” I’m not happy” scenario, but not until she ran to a lawyer to file for a divorce. I also had meddling in laws which didn’t help either

  17. John-930939 January 15, 2013

    I have been divorced for over 23 years and I still think about it. It was something I was forced into and not beng able to find someone does not help. I cannot afford to date someone which does not help to forget the past. I know what I want in a woman but have been unable to find her.

  18. Adrienne-113113 January 15, 2013

    As a 30-something, the biggest thing that causes me anxiety about vocation is not “am I called to this?” or “can I make a lifelong commitment?” but “am I too comfortable in my single life to give it up now, and how will I deal with it?” Of course I know the answer, that it’s never too late to die to self and grow in love and holiness, and that’s the whole point of living, and that’s what will bring us true joy, but it’s still a hard transition to face. I’m glad you’re writing about it because I need to hear more about it. Thanks. Looking forward to the next article.

  19. Paul-930069 January 16, 2013

    I found this article hilarious. Are we really so sensitive that ‘transitions can cause death experiences’? Seriously? There are people living in war torn countries, scrounging for some clean water and simple food, barely have enough clothes to keep them warm through winter and we’re babbling about ‘death experiences’ because we moved or got a new job? We live in one of the most prosperous countries ever to exist on the earth and you’re fretting over nerves from being married? Oh, the horror…….

    • Tammy-934978 January 17, 2013

      I think I get what you are saying. I read this and responded days ago and yet the ideas expressed here keep coming back to my mind.

      We live in a culture that worships the rights and preferences of the individual over almost anything. Really we collectively worship at the alter of “WANT” …want is everything or us. Ina new marriage there may very well be a time of adjustment where you dont get what you WANT and even though we Catholics who value marriage know what to say and what people expect us to say, in reality we really dont stop worshipping “want”.

      Its interesting that we say that we fully get that a Sacramental marriage is permanent and that we are willing to sacrifice for it, yet even a strong Catholic can be lured into questioning him or herself.

  20. Christine-812932 January 18, 2013

    Some of you have some very strong opinions- I’m wondering if you actually went to the site Erik was talking about? Just wondering… You should look at it. I found it to be very helpful- it is more than just a ‘death’ feeling in the transition- it isn’t just a ‘sad’ topic – and surely isn’t something we should hide from (only to discuss with a priest)! Anxiety is a very real thing- and if you haven’t suffered from it- be thankful! Being newly engaged and going through various emotions- some of which I was NOT expecting (anxiety!!) — I found this blog and the Conscious Transitions website to be very helpful – and hopeful! Our Lord would not have repeatedly told us to BE NOT AFRAID if there was no anxiety in life!!! He knew we would have moments of anxiety- some more than others! The site is not just about “Oh I won’t be single anymore….” It is about how we deal with the anxieties that come from our past- our brokeness- our lack of faith, etc. We are dealing with a generation of children of divorce. When you have suffered through your parents horrible marriage- you will most likely walk away with a little fear as you jump in faith into marriage. Is this a sad topic?? No, it’s real. And it is one of hope- it’s ok to feel anxiety. It’s ok to go through difficult emotions in a time that everyone says should be the ‘happiest day of your life’- it’s ok to question. And when all is said and done – bring these anxieties, fears, questions to Our Lord- he can handle it! And he can bring much good out of it.

    I am very grateful you were honest about this Erik- if anything it helped me.

    Sometimes I think people on CM are so filled with opinions – and their own ideas- that they don’t HEAR and understand where another is coming from.

  21. Meg-920823 May 21, 2013

    I am going to think about this for awhile. This is rather startling. I did not have these concerned feelings before my former marriage, however I should have. Thanks for the article.

  22. John-1000444 September 25, 2013

    This is interesting, definitely tough situation, obviously your wife knew what she was getting into with you lol. Sounds like a little more time dating would have been helpful.

  23. Val E. April 9, 2014

    I.Felt.dis.same.feeling.as.I.am.one.month.to.gettng.married….thanx.to.google.I.fell.better.knowing.its.not.an.odd.feeling

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