Getting engaged and planning a wedding is a time to celebrate your love and commitment. But as exciting and meaningful as it is, it’s also stressful. This can be hard to make sense of, especially since so few people are open about how difficult it can be. There’s an expectation that it will be the happiest time in your life. And when it’s not, it can be confusing, disappointing, and even a little bit shameful.
The truth is, there are some very real reasons why positive life events, like planning a wedding, can be stressful. That said, it’s absolutely possible to find ways to enjoy the process a little more and focus on what’s most important — your relationship and upcoming marriage.
Why is wedding planning so stressful?
1. It’s a big commitment.
Deciding to spend your life with someone is by far the most significant commitment of all. But the other major commitment is the time most couples spend preparing for the big day. Regardless of how long your engagement is, planning a wedding is a big investment of your time and energy. There is a seemingly endless number of decisions to be made: the venue, the guest list, THE dress. It doesn’t help that each step can be broken down into so many micro-decisions. Just when you think you’ve crossed one thing off your list, it’s on to the next — and it’s hard to feel like you’re actually making progress. It’s also easy to get lost in the tyranny of choice, which can make even the most decisive people feel confused and overwhelmed.
How to Handle It
It might be daunting, but it’s best to accept how much work planning a wedding really is. Come up with a detailed to-do list and timeline (see here and here as a starting point) and be realistic about what has to be done and how long it actually takes. Including the smaller steps that are easily discounted but add up over time will help you avoid surprises and delays (like reaching out to vendors — expect some phone tag). Don’t forget to also be realistic about how much progress you’ve actually made!
Hiring a planner can alleviate some of the burden, but they are typically expensive and not often a feasible option. That’s why it helps to identify a few key decisions (like say, the flowers, food, or photography) that you want to prioritize, not just in terms of your budget but in the amount of time you’re willing to spend thinking (or obsessing) about them. This will help you minimize the effort you spend on things that just aren’t as important while making sure your wedding still feels like you.
2. It’s expensive. Shockingly so.
Whether you’re having an elaborate affair, a more intimate gathering, or even an elopement, the cost of planning a wedding adds another non-negligible layer of stress. Once you’re over the initial sticker shock and figure out how you’re practically going to pay for everything, the stress isn’t necessarily gone. It’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable talking about finances, even with people you’re close to (like your partner). This is especially true if you have different ideas about how much you should spend or who should contribute. There can also be pressure to spend (or save) from your family members, the wedding industry, and society.
How to Handle It
At the very least, create a detailed budget, stick to it, and avoid spending beyond your means. It just isn’t worth the stress. Make sure everyone who’s paying for the wedding is on the same page. Being upfront about your budget with vendors will help you find people who understand and respect your limits. And remember that you don’t need to have a big wedding for it to be beautiful and meaningful!
A small shift in perspective can also make the stress more manageable. Being able to talk about finances isn’t just helpful during the wedding planning process, it’s an important part of a healthy marriage. Finances are one of the main issues couples argue about, and practicing more constructive ways of talking about money will make things easier to handle when life becomes increasingly complicated (and expensive).
3. You might surprise yourself
Before getting engaged, you maybe had expectations about what it would be like to plan your wedding or how you’d feel about your partner or marriage in general. For some people, things turn out exactly like they thought they would. But when our expectations and reality don’t match up, we might read into it and end up unnecessarily stressed (e.g., If you don’t cry when you try on your dress, is it the right one? What does it say about you or your relationship if you’re not enjoying the wedding planning process?). Important life events and transitions like getting married can also bring up other unexpected and scarier emotions and thoughts, like fears about divorce or the idea that you’ll only be intimate with one person.
How to Handle It
There isn’t just one way to feel when getting engaged and planning a wedding. We just typically only hear about the positives — the excitement, the gratitude, the love. People rarely talk about their disappointment, uncertainty, or stress because they’re confused or worried about being judged. The problem is, this perpetuates feelings of isolation and confusion about what it all means.
Getting married is a big decision and not something to be taken lightly. Often, the scarier, anxiety-provoking thoughts reflect the weight of this decision instead of your true feelings towards your partner or readiness to get married. As unpleasant as they might be, they’re actually a sign that you’re giving this monumental step the space and consideration it deserves! Instead of getting caught up in your worries, approach them from an open and non-judgmental place. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or anxious, there are resources available to help you through this exact process.
4. Expectations and emotions are running high
You’re probably not the only one who has high hopes for your wedding day. The people close to you might have their own ideas about who should be invited, where it should take place, how religious the ceremony should be, and their role in it. As good as their intentions usually are, family and friends can make the planning process more difficult, especially when your visions don’t line up perfectly. Worrying about letting someone down (like a friend who hopes to be a bridesmaid or relatives who expect to be invited) and dealing with actual or anticipated conflict can make the planning less enjoyable and make you feel like you have very little say in how the day goes.
How to Handle It
Pressure from family and friends usually comes from a good place. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make the stress any less real, and there will always be those who we feel like go out of their way to make situations about them.
We all have different comfort levels when it comes to how much we’re willing to compromise. Agreeing to include a cultural tradition or invite those cousins you haven’t spoken to in over a decade can be a really meaningful gesture. But it’s also important to recognize that no matter how accommodating you are, you’ll never be able to please everyone. At a certain point, it might be worth setting limits so that your wedding day actually feels like it’s yours. And don’t forget to recognize the moments when you are misreading a situation or making things bigger than they need to be (e.g., maybe that friend won’t be so disappointed after all). If you do give in to someone’s wishes, it can help to focus on what you’re getting out of it (even it’s just one less conflict to deal with).
5. Your relationship isn’t immune
After a while, the endless decisions, financial stress, and intense emotions can take a toll on your relationship. Feeling like your partner isn’t contributing enough or that they just don’t understand how difficult it is for you can exacerbate what is an already stressful situation. And so many couples say that they miss what things were like before they got engaged.
How to Handle It
You might want to bottle everything up because you’re worried about causing conflict or think it would be terrible to fight in the middle of your engagement. But that usually ends up making you feel further apart and misunderstood. Instead, talk about how you’re feeling, share what’s really stressing you and explain why, and let your partner know if there’s anything specific they can do to help. If you end up arguing, staying respectful and communicating effectively will help you come out of it feeling like a team. Make sure to keep some sense of normalcy throughout the planning process as well. Do the things you usually love doing together and talk about things that have nothing to do with your wedding.
6. Worrying about your actual wedding day
Sometimes, the biggest stress is not the planning, but concerns about your actual wedding day (e.g., worrying the day won’t go as planned or that you’ll feel uncomfortable being the center of attention). If you’ve found other parts of this process difficult, you might be especially worried that you’ll be stressed on the day itself.
How to Handle It
Focus on the things you can do to help you relax and appreciate the day. Come up with a routine for the morning of that will set the stage for the rest of the day, whether it’s listening to music, surrounding yourself with your closest friends, or having a quiet walk.
Throughout the day, pay attention to the things that are important to you and that you’re excited about (like those you prioritized on your to-do list). Make sure to sneak in a few quiet minutes together as a couple. If you start feeling stressed, try to be mindful by taking a few nice deep breaths and tuning in to the different things you can see, hear, and touch (or even smell and taste). Take care of your basic needs, like eating, drinking, and using the bathroom — no matter how many layers you have to sift through. And remember that everyone is there to support you.
Ultimately, don’t worry too much about things going wrong. Know that they will and that that’s okay. Really, it is! You won’t remember the little things that don’t go exactly as planned. And if you do, they’ll just become part of the story you tell about that day. What really sticks with you are hopefully beautiful memories and photographs, and a happy and healthy marriage — after all, that’s what it’s really about.