Guest Blog Post by Psychologist Zach Raftery

 

After checking in with my 2020 couples this past fortnight, I can guarantee that ALL of them understand that there is a serious global issue far more important than their own wedding plans. ALL of them care about the health of their family and friends above all else. And yet, the day they’ve been dreaming of for a very long time – and the life plans built around that milestone – were seriously derailed, almost overnight. They’ve all described a range of feelings to me – from shock to disappointment and plenty in between. Then I checked in with one of my grooms, Zach, who happens to be a psychologist. Without any hint of drama, he quite accurately described this as a form of grief. His insights were so articulate that I asked him to write a blog post, as I knew it would be a relief for my other couples to hear that what they were experiencing was normal. Many thanks to Zach Raftery for agreeing to share his insights. Among Zach’s areas of interest are grief, loss, and adjustment to difficult life circumstances… so he’s pretty much perfect to author this article!

 

Wedding postponed? Path ahead unclear? 

How hard is it to get excited about planning a wedding when there is so much uncertainty ahead? A wedding is difficult enough to plan when there isn’t a massive global health pandemic boiling away in the background. But here you are – you’d likely already booked your venue, sent invitations, paid big non-refundable deposits, worked out your style, theme, decorations. Maybe you’d already forwarded time-sensitive assistance requests to family members, e.g. your future mother-in-law. Maybe you had your honeymoon all booked and paid for. Maybe you’ve even done an intensive few rounds of aisle-walk choreography with beloved (yet largely unwilling) nieces or nephews. You were just getting it together and feeling confident with how your plans were going.

And now the world has changed. You’re being told that you can’t have it the way you want it. At least, not yet – and you certainly can’t do it on your specially chosen date. The cancellation or postponement of your wedding alone would be bad enough – but then you are faced with feelings of guilt and shame for even wanting those things in the first place. Maybe you feel angry at yourself for being upset about losing your wedding date, because there are so many ‘bigger’ things going on in the world. People losing incomes, jobs, livelihoods, and even their lives.

“How dare I feel like this right now”. 

 “How dare I be upset about a wedding – when there are people who are really doing it tough right now”.  

“How selfish of me to be upset about this right now, when there is so much REAL loss happening in the world!”  

Guess what? You’ve actually experienced (or are in the process of experiencing) a really significant loss. You might feel as though you’re not allowed to feel sad or upset right now – but you are – you 100% are. You’ve lost confidence that booking something means you’ll be able to have it. You’ve lost happiness and excitement in looking forward to your date, which now either isn’t happening or is likely to not be happening. You’ve lost energy and time. You might feel as though you’ve lost some of your sanity. And then there are people saying “you can just get married some other time” – which is about as helpful and empathic to you right now as when people say “just go and find someone else” after a breakup. Thank you for the wonderful validation, friend! People might mean well, or might simply think they are being pragmatic, but often times it doesn’t come across that way. The way we as humans respond to loss is through the universal process of grief. But you might be feeling as though you’re not allowed to feel grief – because even that seems selfish with everything that is happening in the world right now.  

Kenneth Doka called this feeling disenfranchised grief: “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”. A wedding might be considered a luxury – a frivolity – a trivial night of fanciful enjoyment which can easily and should most definitely be cancelled or postponed – to those who aren’t faced with the prospect of having to reschedule their own. And yes, there are really good reasons why the wedding you want can’t happen right now. Our way of life has to change, at least for a little while, in order for us as a global community to get through this thing. BUT – in no way does that mean that you aren’t allowed to feel your feelings. You’ve experienced a loss. And now you’re grieving.  

You’re probably feeling a mixture of things – most likely some horrid cocktail of disappointment, frustration, shock, anger, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, confusion, sorrow, fear, heartbreak. You might have venues or vendors who are not particularly understanding – or who themselves are also experiencing a mixture of these overwhelming emotions. You might feel the pressure of families or guests hitting you with questions – “Hi, just wondering – what’s happening with your wedding?” and you might have no answers yet. You might be feeling like you’re in limbo – just waiting for the next few phases of lockdown before you are able to reschedule. Your venue might not be letting you shift things yet – in the fragile hope that things will improve in the coming weeks and months. Feeling as though there is so much out of your control right now is likely adding to your stress and magnifying it tenfold. 

 So, what can you do about it?                         

 

AIM FOR ‘RESULTS AF’

Remember your values – remember what is really important to you – and then sink your efforts into pursuing realistic goals in line with those values. For example, if you value compassion, find ways to put this into practice! If you value creativity, start working on some of those projects you’ve been putting off.

Engage in what you are doing – try to not get stuck in a neutral mode where you ‘check out’ from life.

Self-care. Look after yourself. Take time to do things that are just for you.

Unpack your concerns with trusted family, loved ones, or a psychologist. There’s only so long we can bottle things up before we pop.

Lean into your partner for support with this, and support them right back!

Take stock of resources that you can access to help you – both emotional and practical. For example, think about people in your life who you could ask for help, support, or advice. You might not want to burden your loved ones – but it’s during times of great difficulty that people get the opportunity to demonstrate their love for you.

Spend some time reminding yourself how much you love your partner, and all the reasons why there is no other person for you.

 

Acknowledge the way you are feeling and what you are thinking and let yourself feel things.

Focus on what is in your control, rather than getting stuck on or hooked by thoughts of things outside your control. For example, you probably can’t do much about the virus itself, nor can you change the policies of your venue or the government. So focus your energy on things you can control – your own actions, behaviours, and responses.

 

Big love and good vibes to all of you out there in these crazy times. We’ve got this!

 Zach Raftery

 www.zachraftery.com

 Helplessly Enamoured Fiancé and Brisbane-based Psychologist.

 Wedding date: August 2020 (maybe)

 Zach is a consultant psychologist with Lilley Place and sessional academic based in Brisbane, Australia. He has a bachelor’s degree in Psychological Science, a master’s degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Queensland, and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Griffith University. He is a full Member of the Australian Psychological Society (APS). His areas of interest include grief, loss and adjustment to difficult life circumstances.