The one part of wedding planning that’s been left in the cold

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Click photo to download. Caption: Relationship expert Mira Kirshenbaum discusses cold feet, and how to overcome it. Credit: Courtesy, Mira Kirshenbaum.

The dress, the menu, the band—all these are natural parts of planning a wedding. They’re also spoken about freely, with brides gladly sharing ideas, tips, and concerns.

Yet there is another, equally natural part of wedding planning that has been forced into the shadows. A topic that has become taboo, or almost shameful: cold feet.

Yet, forever is a long time, and “for better or worse” a serious commitment—so it’s only natural to feel some angst before you take the big step. To shed some light on these concerns, JointMedia News Service spoke with relationship expert Mira Kirshenbaum.

JNS: What, in your experience, are the primary reasons for cold feet?

MK: There are three main reasons for cold feet. 1) The sense that “maybe I could do better. The person I’m with is perfectly OK, but I’d hoped to find someone more beautiful, richer, more glamorous, nicer, etc.” 2) There’s not a good fit. “We may be well matched in some areas, but there are other ways that I’m starting to see more and more clearly in which we’re not well matched at all.” 3) “I don’t trust him. Not because of him himself necessarily but because I’ve been so badly hurt in the past it’s hard to believe I won’t be badly hurt again in the future.” I have a whole chapter in my new book, I Love You but I Don’t Trust You, on dealing with mistrust based on previous relationships.  

JNS: Which concerns do you think are legitimate, and which aren’t? As in, how do you tell the difference between a real problem or common doubts/cold feet?

MK: All these reasons for cold feet might be legitimate. The difficulty is distinguishing between a good reason to put on the brakes and bad reasons you’re just using to drive yourself crazy. Take reason 1) above. Maybe you’re just settling. But maybe you’re unrealistic or feel way too entitled. I think it’s hard enough to find “perfectly OK,” and if you find that you should be happy. As for reason 2), if there really isn’t a good fit in a key area, run like the wind. The bad fit today will be a reason for divorce tomorrow. And as for reason 3), if there’s good reason not to trust him, be very careful. But if this is about the past, get help. 

JNS: Do you believe in soul mates?

MK: I believe it is important to god for us to be happy, and that he sees marriage as an important part of our happiness. So it’s inconceivable that there is only one soul mate for each of us. It would be too cruel to stack the odds against us so badly. The problem is that with so many people who are right for us, we so often make bad choices. It’s like food shopping. The supermarket is filled with tasty nutritious food, but we so often make bad food choices.  

JNS: Often, people will get married, and a few years later realize they’re with the wrong person. They will say something like, “I wish I saw the signs.” What are some of these signs? Why are we often blind to them and how can we be more alert to them?

MK: Actually, it’s not so common for someone to say, “I wish I saw the signs.” Much more often, people say, “I saw the signs; I just wish I’d acted on them.” This is another way of saying that the biggest sign you’re with the wrong person is your sense that something is wrong. TAKE THAT SERIOUSLY. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go forward. It just means that before you go forward you should check out carefully and take very seriously what’s giving you pause. 

JNS: What would you say to someone experiencing cold feet? What should they do?

MK: First, list your fears. Second, go through them one at a time very carefully. For each fear, ask if it’s well founded and if it’s about something important. It if turns out that what you’re afraid of is important and well founded, stop everything until you can explore your options and figure out what’s best for you. 

 JNS: How can you get over cold feet?

MK: If you work through your fears one by one and see how they either evaporate when exposed to the light, or else turn into issues you can work through, the cold feet will go away. 

Mira Kirshenbaum has an international reputation as a therapist for individuals, couples, and families. She is co-founder and clinical director of The Chestnut Hill Institute. A sought-after speaker, Mira is the author of nine award-winning books, some national and international bestsellers.

Posted on February 13, 2012 and filed under Jewish Life, Special Sections, Wedding.