Why Being Engaged Can Spark the Most Challenging Time in a Relationship

Being engaged is hyped up to be the most exciting time in your life. After all, you’re getting married! He or she is everything you ever wanted! You’re going to live happily ever after!

But it's not always smooth sailing. Engagements usually come with stressful wedding planning, and then there’s that daunting idea of being together—and stuck with each other’s familiesfor the rest of your lives looming at all times.

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That’s what happened to Sarah (not her real name), who was surprised to find that putting a ring on it could cause so much tension in her relationship. “About a month into the engagement, we were suddenly fighting a lot when we had never really fought before,” she says.

Sarah says their families’ involvement in the wedding planning was a big issue—namely, her fiancé's mom became the third wheel in their relationship. She invaded Sarah and her fiancé's alone time in order to talk about wedding details, picked out the cake without talking to them first, and cried when Sarah said she didn’t want to have her fiancé's cousin in her bridal party.

"About a month into the engagement, we were suddenly fighting a lot when we had never really fought before."

“I felt like his mom was being crazy and he couldn’t see where I was coming from, while he felt that my mom was having too much of a say in things,” she says. “Instead of keeping our annoyances between us, we shared them with our families, which was a huge mistake.”

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Sarah started to have second thoughts about the marriage. “I worried that his mom would be involved in every major decision we would have, including how to raise our future kids and where we would live,” she says. “And I also felt like he wasn’t on my side, since he didn’t seem to have the balls to tell her to back off.”

"Instead of keeping our annoyances between us, we shared them with our families, which was a huge mistake."

The couple’s fights about the wedding bled into other areas of their life to the point where Sarah says they were bickering over stupid little things, just for the sake of arguing.

While they’re rarely talked about, Sarah’s frustration and doubts aren’t unusual when you’re engaged, says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist.

“It is a time in a relationship when the expectations are heaped very high— by the world and by yourselves—as well as the recognition that you are signing up for ‘better or worse’ and forever,” she says. “Sadly, in our culture we are so much about the wedding that people lose sight of the actual commitment being made.” Trying to figure out a living situation, jobs, and other long-term future planning at the same time also puts couples under even more pressure, Durvasula says.

Families in particular can create tension, and Durvasula says it’s not uncommon for couples to find themselves taking sides.

"Sadly, in our culture we are so much about the wedding that people lose sight of the actual commitment being made."

So what can newly engaged couples do to prevent chaos and even a breakup during this time? “Start practicing the relationship mindfulness that will carry you through the better or worse,” Durvasula says. “Listen to each other, prioritize each other, and be present.”

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She says it’s also important to be honest about what the two of you want life to look like in the future—not just through the wedding. “This stuff does not just ‘work itself out,’ and communication, collaboration, commitment, and acceptance are the key tools that will make this marriage a success,” she says.

Sarah and her fiancé ended up going to premarital counseling, which she says was a huge help. “It really showed us where we were going wrong—mostly that we needed to learn to deal with issues on our own and present a united front to everyone else,” she says. “We still had some arguments after that and disagreed on things, but kept those between us.”

"This stuff does not just ‘work itself out,’ and communication, collaboration, commitment, and acceptance are the key tools that will make this marriage a success."

And, two years after their wedding, she says they continue to practice what they learned during their engagement. “That was probably one of the hardest things we’ve had to go through as a couple, but we really did learn to interact and fight better as a result,” she says.

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