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Dating Advice #116 - Distant Attitude

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Are cold feet a sign of a genuine problem -- or just cold feet?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

My fiancee and I have been together for about a year and a half. This has been a great courtship. We started off on the right foot by discussing any problems that presented themselves early on. I asked her to marry me, and from that point she has been immersed in wedding planning, bought the dress, etc...

I just returned from a two-week trip to find her attitude a bit distant. She now says she is having cold feet. She is unsure of exactly what she is feeling, whether it is not loving me the same, or just looking at all the failed marriages out there. This is my soul mate and we have never hit any major problems.

How to deal with such a blow? I want to give her the time and space to figure this out. What would be the best direction to take while not pressuring this subject on her?


Dear Gary,

Believe it or not, you and your fiancee are going through a very common experience. Many engaged people develop cold feet. For most of them, that's all it is -- unspecified anxiety about the future. Sometimes, they'll even focus on a physical characteristic or personal quality in their intended and decide that it suddenly bothers them. For many, it is simply an unconscious way of binding their anxiety.

Other engaged people may start to question their feelings for the other. When these worries are accompanied by concern that the divorce rate is so high, it's usually an indication that general anxiety is the "culprit" and that the problem is not with the couple's relationship.

Through our years of working with singles, we have learned that the older a person is, the more likely they are to have feelings of doubt during engagement. Most of the time, this is because they are anxious. With the right amount of reassurance they can enjoy their wedding and have a happy marriage.

There are times, however, that an engaged person worries because there really is something wrong with the relationship, or because their partner has a serious flaw that makes them worry about the likelihood that the marriage can be happy and enduring. We'd never encourage someone to go through with a wedding if their relationship had serious problems.

Our book, "In The Beginning - How to survive your engagement and build a great marriage" (Targum Press), was written precisely because we see dozens of anxious engaged people each year, and we have developed ways to help them realize how they can have a good courtship that leads to a great marriage. We wanted to give singles some guidelines to evaluate the health of their courtship, and understand if their unsure feelings are the product of the jitters, or a warning that they're finally coming to terms with the fact that something is really wrong.

"In The Beginning" also addresses a number of other very common concerns that arise during engagement and the first year of marriage, and we believe it can be a great tool to help couples survive the adjustments of marriage and build a strong lifelong foundation.

Here are three suggestions from the book that you should find helpful:

(1) Your fiancee should find a happily married friend, relative or mentor whose judgment she trusts, and talk to them about her feelings. She can use the friend's perspective as a frame of reference to work through what she is experiencing. This is not the time to consult with someone who has never been married, or someone whose marriage experience wasn't good.

Sometimes, a nervous bride or groom-to-be needs more than a one-time outpouring of emotional support from their married "mentor." Some people will have periodic episodes of anxiety, and some need their hands held for most of the engagement period. All of this is normal. Do you know what else is normal? The anxiety we're talking about usually disappears immediately after the marriage ceremony, or pretty soon thereafter.

We also find it helpful for someone who is worried about the high divorce rate to focus on marriages that succeed. More than half of all marriages do last. A happily married friend will help your fiancee become more optimistic about your future together.

(2) Your fiancee should ask herself the following questions:

- Do we have similar values, and compatible long term and short-term goals?

- Do we respect each other?

- Does each of us admire qualities in our partner?

- Are each of us attracted to the other?

- Has the emotional bond between us developed to a level that we can confide in each other, trust each other, and rely on each other for emotional support?

- Do we feel affection for each other?

- Do my trusted friends and relatives whose opinions I value like the person I plan to marry?

If your fiancee can answer "yes" to each of these questions, then you have a healthy and caring relationship that can lead to a wonderful marriage. Chances are, then, that her real problem is anxiety.

(3) Your fiancee needs to understand that the quality of a courtship, and the likelihood that it will lead to a successful marriage, has little to do with the emotions she may feel at any particular point in time. Emotions vary from day to day and moment to moment. Anxiety and other feelings can color our perception of a situation. "Passing the test" that we described above is a much better indicator of the depth and strength of your relationship, than are the feelings that your fiancee is now experiencing.

For you, the best thing to do right now is to express your love for her, offer your emotional support, and let her know that you've found some information that might help her sort out her feelings. You can give her a copy of this letter and offer her a copy of our book. We recommend that you read it as well. Another excellent resource is Harville Hendricks' "Keeping the Love You Find."

If your fiancee decides that your relationship is worth keeping (and we hope she does), then we're certain you'll be on your way to building a long-lasting, loving and satisfying life together.

With best wishes,

Rosie & Sherry

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