Stress: Get a Grip on Guilt

If guilt is consuming your life, you need to reassess what you are taking the blame for.

He's talking about the honeymoon benefits of Cancun versus St. Thomas, but the only trip on your mind is a big guilt trip. Ever since you started planning your wedding, you've had this nagging guilt: about ignoring your gal pals to plan, about how much cash this affair is costing dear old Dad, about having to cross your best friend from third grade off the guest list. If this sounds familiar, don't worry -- you're not the only to-be-wed wrestling with these dilemmas, especially if you're the bride.

Guilt can really get in the way of a good relationship (and a good time). And because women are more likely than men to feel guilty (women are socialized to "take care" of things -- and people -- and tend to blame themselves if things go awry or feelings are hurt), it's likely that many other brides-to-be feel the same way.

"Women have expectations and standards as they come into adulthood, from watching Martha Stewart make her own wrapping paper to having mothers who didn't work away from home full-time," says June Price Tangney, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. It makes sense that an impending wedding only magnifies that gender gap, leaving your groom wistfully worrying only about what SPF to pack for the honeymoon while you let every little decision eat away at you.

As much as we all like to think otherwise (and as much as we at The Knot are trying to change it), brides often play the larger role in wedding planning (and the wedding itself), so they've got more to be concerned about than their grooms. "The wedding thing as a whole is more important to women because the bride usually plays a larger role in the event," says Gail P. Robinson, Ph.D., past president of the American Counseling Association in Alexandria, Virginia.

Of course, it is your big day, and it's understandable if you cramp a few nights' sleep doing your best to make everyone happy. But if guilt is consuming your life, you need to reassess what you are taking the blame for. Prioritizing your concerns, what you can fix, and what you should just forget about will make the days from now until your wedding night run much more smoothly. Added bonus: Doing so can have a residual positive effect on the rest of your life. As Rabbi Harold S. Kushner says in his book, How Good Do We Have to Be? (Little, Brown & Co, 1996), no one is perfect -- and that includes you.

It's not easy to let guilt go and get on with things. "Guilt is one of the toughest things to shake," says Dr. Robinson. "It's all wrapped up in our sense of self."

Guilt is often tied to self-esteem, the need to be liked, the need to please others (parents, future in-laws, guests), and fear of rejection, says Patricia Averill, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Harris County Psychiatric Center in Houston.

Take guilt over a too-short guest list, for example. Before you start maxing out your credit cards to add more reception seats, sort out your motivations for doing so. Dr. Robinson suggests asking yourself if you feel guilty because you can't afford to spend what you think a "good" person would spend (and/or what people will expect), or whether you're merely disappointed because a shorter and less-expensive guest list means not being able to invite sorority sisters you haven't seen in years. If you realize it's the latter, make changes -- such as springing for a buffet instead of a seated dinner -- to accommodate more guests at a similar price. If it's a matter of how you'll be "seen," recognize that there are some acceptance issues going on here, and remember that the person you most need to please when it comes to your wedding is you. Others are important, but not at your own expense -- mental or otherwise.

Next, talk about it. If your to-be can't comprehend why your stomach is tied in knots over this stuff, try to articulate why having a large group of friends and family at the wedding is important to you and why you really want to find a way to have everyone you want there without breaking the bank. Ask him to help you brainstorm some solutions.

Once you've explained to your sweetie what's making you feel so bad and you've talked through some options together, take control: Act on your decision to cut costs or actively decide not to feel guilty. Assuage yourself by calling left-out parties for a catch-up chat or inviting them over or out -- let them know that they continue to be an important part of your life.

Reward yourself by taking a time out from all this wedding stuff and focusing on some serious play. And whatever you do, don't feel guilty about indulging yourself for a change!


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