“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this miserable in my life,” I said to my new husband, two months after our wedding day.
We were sitting in our apartment, happily married, and I certainly wasn’t hinting at divorce, so what was going on?
With hindsight I know it was the beginning of my "wedding comedown" and, it turns out, I definitely wasn’t alone.
As this year’s wedding season wraps up, I recognize the signs of the post-wedding slump in my newly married friends. The constant #tbt snaps on Instagram, the clamor of "Let’s go get drunk!" and the sudden dissatisfaction with jobs, homes, and even husbands. It’s the post-nuptial depression no one prepares you for, which brings the gaping question, "What next?" Especially if, like me, the answer to that question is NOT babies.
Psychologist Emma Kenny, creator of sochal.com, says it’s a hugely common experience — so why did no one warn us?
She explains: “You have the day that’s hopefully wonderful and then you have the honeymoon that’s all about romance and then…it’s normal again.
“People genuinely think marriage is going to change their lives and usually it just changes their name (if that!), so of course it takes time to adjust.”
Marriage crept up on me. I had been thoroughly disinterested throughout my twenties and then suddenly, bam, boy gets a ring out, I say yes. Eighteen months later we planned and executed a super-chill wedding in my parents’ backyard. But the laid-back attitude I thought would inoculate me against the wedding taking over my life didn’t work — before or after the day.
I didn’t want to admit it but I loved planning the wedding. I had a focus. I had a goal. I had a reason to go to the gym.
Looking back, it’s hardly surprising that when that focus ended I was lost. I’d gotten my time back, my life back. But what was I supposed to do with it?
“Bet you’re glad all the stress and planning is over, aren’t you?” I was asked repeatedly.
But no, actually I was bereft.
I stopped going to the gym. We’d spent all our money so I couldn't go on vacation and like an avalanche, every decision and dilemma I’d put off until after the wedding came at me in a braying mass, demanding attention. The wedding may have been a complicated project, but it was also the best excuse ever — for doing things, and for not.
“Just like falling in love, a wedding remedies many things,” says Kenny. “For a while it gives you an alleviation of the symptoms. So if your life’s dissatisfying, or your career’s dissatisfying but then suddenly you’re getting married, it shifts the normal and displaces the frustrations into a positive space. And you get that for a long period of time.
“But then afterwards you come back to reality.”
In my case, the desperation for something new manifested in taking an ill-advised job that further crushed my spirits; others try to fill the void with everything from babies to booze.
Ally, who got married in 2010, agrees: “Without a wedding to plan I realized I wasn’t happy, which is not something you’re expected to feel as you start your new married life!
“I didn’t know what I wanted so I ended up boozing and partying loads — and feeling miserable in the process. Weddings take up so much of your emotional and physical energy, you forget how to live a normal, balanced life.”
Laura, who tied the knot this summer, seems to be filling the void with plans: “The future can't seem to come fast enough and now I'm having an extreme nesting phase. We’re buying a flat, I’m nagging to get a dog, trying to do a course, and getting itchy feet in my job. I think it’s in response to suddenly having so much free time.
“All these urges have actually left me feeling quite deflated in general and essentially I think there’s the unconscious worry that I have now experienced 'the best day of my life' so what comes next?”
Kenny says it’s all about balancing our expectations with reality.
“In our psychology, we’re constantly fighting our expectations. You might have expected the world to be a more safe, secure, romantic place. And it’s not. It’s the same. Normality can be hugely underwhelming.
“It’s not that normality is worse. It’s just different to what we thought it would be.”
She also thinks that many people don’t realize what a huge commitment marriage is — until they make it. So while the day-to-day doesn’t change, the big picture does.
“It’s not playing at being grown-up anymore, it’s being grown-up.
“People think it won’t really make any difference, but you’re suddenly embroiled in a scenario that should it go wrong, is a big deal. It’s comforting, but it’s also a bit scary.”
So the big question: Can you prevent it?
If you’re planning a wedding now, you have a chance.
“I always think people should plan past the marriage. The plans should absolutely not stop on the wedding day, or on the honeymoon. You should be planning what’s next for you as a couple. The next goals, the next hopes. Then you’re working together towards more exciting things.”
But if you’re already there, Kenny says that really, only time will help. And I’m afraid I concur. Eventually the wedding memories become less emotionally crisp and more fondly nostalgic, and a new normal is established. The reality of marriage permeates slowly like water into a sponge. And it’s warm and pleasant, as opposed to a bucket of iced water dropped on your suddenly grown-up shoulders in the early days.
But there are ways to make it easier.
“Talk to your partner,” says Kenny. “Explain why you’re feeling like this. After all, one of the reasons you got married was for emotional support, right?
“Recognizing your feelings is the first step. And make sure you use healthy habits to deal with those emotions.
“The gym might not have made you happy, but it gave you exuberance and energy to be happy in your life. And healthy habits are important. They’re the controllers you do have in your power.
“And acknowledge that it’s normal.”
The other thing she suggests is practical planning, which, from experience, I know can be hard when you’re feeling low.
“Think about what’s coming next — there’s nothing more exciting than having children, but before that there are loads of things. Use the security and love of marriage as a springboard to the next thing. Try not to think of the world as a boring place. It’s where you have to live, you can change stuff if you’re active about it. Move house, change your career, make plans, go traveling.
“But most of all, find your passions and help each other realize them. Focus on those and how you can support and combine them, because they will be what comes with you throughout your lives.”
Personally I would advocate being kind to yourself. Accept that this is a huge transitional period in life and don’t rush into things or make rash decisions to try and feel better immediately. Take your time.
And take it from me. Year three? Way better. I promise.