I regularly teach a college course on “Family Relationships”, which, as you’d probably guess, is disproportionately (and stereotypically) more popular among women than men (most of whom, incidentally, are neither engaged nor in a relationship with their likely future spouse). When we get to the topic of the transition to marriage, I like to ask my students, “How many of you have a Pinterest board dedicated solely to your future wedding?” The number of hands that go up, sometimes sheepishly, is surprisingly large (obviously, this is a non-scientific personal observation from the front of the classroom in Texas). What I think this informal poll illustrates is the enormous amount of pressure women experience when it comes to planning that ‘special day.’ And why not? Getting married is a big deal. But all that pressure and buildup can come with a cost.
In a recent study,1 researchers interviewed 28 married women and asked them about their weddings and emotions after their weddings. The women were about 26 years old on average, mostly white, were in their first marriages, and had been married for about half a year at the time of the study. Through intensive interviews and a survey, the researchers identified those women who were more likely to experience sadness or depression following their weddings versus those that were relatively happy. They then compared the interview responses of these two groups of freshly-minted spouses and found three primary differences between “blue” (or sad) brides and happy brides.
Difference 1: It’s all about me.
Blue brides, compared to happy brides, were far more likely to view the wedding as “my day” and all about what they wanted, and were focused on not letting anything stand in their way of getting what they want. In fact, some of the blue brides even referred to their guests as “intruders” – people that were mucking up “my day”. In contrast, happy brides saw the wedding as a celebration for everyone, and were more concerned for and considerate about the measures others took to be there to celebrate. Happy brides also viewed the wedding as simply a step or formality to getting married – the focus was on life after the wedding.
Difference 2: What now?
Blue brides were more uncertain about what life and marriage has in store for them after the wedding compared to happy brides. Specifically, blue brides were unsure of how they were supposed to behave as a spouse/wife, worried about whether they made a mistake by marrying in the first place, and weren’t sure about whether their expectations for married life were realistic. Happy brides did not report such uncertainty.
Difference 3: The end or the beginning?
Not surprisingly, blue brides, given their “me” focus on the wedding, saw the conclusion of the wedding itself as an ending. Happy brides saw the wedding as the beginning of the rest of their lives with their partners. Thus, blue brides view the end of their weddings as a loss rather than a gain, which is not a particularly promising way to start a marriage.
Now, a few caveats are in order. This study involved a very small, “convenience” sample of recently married women, and that sample wasn’t ethnically, racially, or geographically diverse in any way. Thus, as with all studies involving small samples, we have to consider the results in light of the specific people interviewed and recognize a large, more diverse sample would certainly provide a more representative and possibly accurate picture of things.
That said, this method of identifying ‘blue’ vs. ‘happy’ brides, and then comparing their unique experiences is a standard way of exploring new topics to generate new research. Differences 1-3 outlined above all have strong intuitive appeal; in other words, there is all sorts of research out there that links those idiosyncratic experiences to sadness and depression. Thus, the results are consistent with what we know about why people may become depressed in general. Of course, as we’ve mentioned previously, there’s very little work on this major life transition, so hopefully studies like this one will spur even more empirical investigation of the topic.
Now, if you’re getting married and want to potentially avoid any post-wedding blues, what should you do? First, talk to your partner about marriage, and be open and honest about your expectations. And if you have doubts now, you might consider why that is and take the time to figure things out before proceeding. Second, all relationships are better when they have the support and involvement of (nonproblematic) others. Celebrate your marriage, but do so with your friends and family. Remember that they will be an important part of your life going forward, and so the wedding really is as much for them to celebrate with you as it is to celebrate you (and your future spouse). Finally, dig deep to determine whether you’re most excited about getting married or being married. If the former, then you should probably seek professional assistance to begin dealing with the obvious letdown you’ll experience once you no longer need that Pinterest board.
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1Stafford, L., & Scott, A. M. (2015). Blue brides: Exploring postnuptial depressive symptoms. Journal of Family Issues. doi: 10.1177/0192513×15576199
Dr. Tim Loving – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Loving’s research addresses the mental and physical health impact of relationship transitions (e.g., falling in love, breaking up) and the role friends and family serve as we adapt to these transitions. He’s a former Associate Editor of Personal Relationships and his research has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.