I don't...Dealing with the psychological effects of a postponed wedding
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
I gave comments to "Hitched" regarding cancellation of weddings during the first Lockdown - as we now dwell in the second, perhaps they still remain of support.
Please note this will deal with the psychologicial/emotional effects rather than the practical financial ones because unfortunately with those – each insurance provider is different as is each venue/supplier. BUT on that, it may be worth bearing in mind that if a supplier has gone bankrupt, unfortunately no amount of shouting is going to get your money back, and continually focusing on what may essentially be a lost cause, will keep you feeling lower for longer. (Further, research has shown that “venting” is NOT actually as helpful as people believe, as it keeps us in the stressful state for longer because we replay the situation. What is more helpful is channelling our energy in to doing what we can in the form of the next steps of action (which can include letters of complaint to the management – it is still recounting the situation, but with a purpose of resolution)), and the following tips.
HITCHED: Psychologically, why does having to move or postpone a major event like your wedding affect you so much?
Dr AT: Since the 60s psychological research has rated the major life events that trigger the most stress include:
- Getting married
- Moving Home
- Getting divorced
- Death of a loved one
It is not just the emotion which may be wrapped up in the situation, but the surrounding demands or pressures that also have to be dealt with – further to which sometimes moving home can be related to all three of the other life changes – adding to the worries.
With regards to getting married, especially at a late stage of postponement, there are a number of elements which need to be managed:
- Telling guests
- Venue and other supplier bookings (DJ, Cake, Flowers, Décor, suit hire – the list really is endless!)
- Deposits that have been paid out
- Honeymoon bookings or even things like moving house – which are affected as part of the knock on of cancellations.
In the case of covid-19 there is also a huge amount of uncertainty as to when things will change.
Because of that, as well, it becomes harder to negotiate with suppliers – and it is unclear how many will still be in business when some predictability can be achieved, compounded also be the problem that deposits may not be refundable, and insurance policies differ in their wording. Financial pressure on our mental wellbeing is not to be underestimated.
- Sometimes there are deeper psychological needs surrounding the choice of date that you may also need to address – perhaps it was important because of guests you wanted to have present; perhaps it is timed because of a birth – those elements cannot be easily “changed” when a “new normal” resumes.
…and of course you will have looked forward to it. (It’s like the feeling when we haven’t won the lottery yet, but in our minds we’ve spent the cheque.) Remember that you can still look forward to it.
HITCHED: How can you reconcile knowing how serious the wider coronavirus situation is and feeling so deeply sad about something that's affecting you personally? (i.e. avoid feelings of guilt for caring so much about something 'trivial' in comparison to those have fallen ill or lost loved ones themselves)
Dr AT: The most important thing you can do is to accept that you are allowed to feel sad. It is a huge disappointment, and for yourself, it is important to appreciate that. It is common, however, to feel “…with others dying I’m lucky to be alive…” and of course, this may also be a message that others use – those platitudes “Oh you’ve still got your health” and the #firstworldproblems hashtag sometimes serves to trivialise what you are feeling.
It must be noted that as a singular, whole and valuable human being you are allowed to feel sad – simply for yourself, and when such comments or statements serve to invalidate those feelings this can lead to bottling them up, which in turn can trigger more stress, anxiety and possibly even depression or other mental health issues.
(Note however, if you are posting about it on social media in order to generate sympathy, that is a different matter because there, consciously or not, you may be inviting opinion – but this is a very different situation and the goal is very different.)
But for yourself, and your spouse-to-be, you are allowed to feel sad. In fact, this is where your team work and your personal union and connection even without the wedding has a chance to shine. Be there for each other.
HITCHED: What's the best way to speak to someone about how difficult you've found having to move your wedding? At what stage is the 'grief' you're feeling normal, and when should you seek help?
Remember that you are dealing with an emotional loss, although it is one that, hopefully, at some point and to some extent can be recovered. But “Loss” is defined as having something and not having it anymore – and it also refers to the emotion of grief – a response to the absence of something that was of value.
The key stages of grief include:
SHOCK & DENIAL
PAIN & GUILT
"DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS
RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH
ACCEPTANCE & HOPE
It is natural to feel all of those emotions – they may come quickly, slowly, and at different times to your partner. It may be worth being aware that you and your partner may also have different reactions. For example, just because they are not showing their emotions in the way that you are, it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling them. Men do have a tendency to withdraw and women to express – and misunderstanding these responses as “You don’t care”, or “you care too much” can be unhelpful – take the time to observe and understand each other’s responses.
HITCHED: What coping strategies would you recommend for anyone who's had to cancel or postpone their wedding and is finding it difficult to cope?
Try not to:
- Numb the pain through ineffective self-medication (drugs/alcohol/even comfort eating)
- Be afraid to cry/show emotion/pretend to be ok with it
- Hold it all in
- Speak to people who are not compassionate – no matter how close! (But also remember – you don’t HAVE to talk about it)
- Hold onto regrets
- Keep too many “It would have been” thoughts – remember that you can “still have”.
- BE KIND TO YOURSELF – remember that sadness, like most things in life, is temporary, and while you might feel happy, a wave of sadness can hit you unexpectedly, or while feeling sad you may suddenly smile. Accept your sadness and remember it’s ok to be happy too. There’s no timeline – there’s not “should”.
- Also remember that it is a day – and your relationship is far more meaningful that that.
- Sometimes practicing gratitude – not in comparison to anything but simply for it’s own sake, can help.
- Allow yourself “24 hours of wallowing” without guilt
Other tips for expressing emotion in a healthy manner:
Write/Paint/Sing – find a way of expressing how you feel
Consider marking the day in some way – having a special meal, or watching a film that is meaningful to you, maybe even camp in your garden, or just find time to do something that you both love. (For our anniversary in Lockdown 1.0 – April 30th we had lunch via zoom with our “witnesses”).
Change your environment – This is very powerful, and just because you cannot do it physically doesn’t mean you cannot do it mentally. Consider switching off for 24 hours. Speak to people about non-wedding-related things. Watch something that makes you laugh.
If you are listening to someone about their cancelled wedding:
- You can say – I’m really sad for you/I don’t know what to say
- Respect how the person is choosing to deal with things
- Don’t say “I know it will feel…” even if you have been through something similar – as it really won’t be the same!!
- Offer practical help…perhaps – how about we have a wedding cake bake off?
- Remember to be there when the celebration planning can start again.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt