Dear Therapist:

My son is engaged and has become very panicky about if he made the right decision. Initially we figured it was nerves but it has persisted. He can't really point out any major concerns about the girl but he also is very worried about getting married. More like he feels something is "missing." He acknowledges that he is very anxious but says that he doesn't know if that's just fear or his intuition telling him there is something wrong. Do you have any suggestions as to how to deal with this? Obviously, this is time sensitive due to the upcoming wedding and so a long course of therapy is not practical. We are getting worried ourselves as we don't see any way forward. Please help! 



Of course, it’s normal for people to be nervous about taking a major step. You mentioned that you initially assumed that your son’s concerns were due to ordinary tension. However, at this point it seems that you are concerned that this is more than simple nervousness.

I winder whether your son typically feel nervous about change. If he does, this may be typical of his normal reaction. It might not seem like his normal reaction because he has likely never before been in a position to make such a major life change. If you believe that this is largely your son’s characteristic reaction but on a larger scale than in the past, perhaps strategies that he has used in the past can be utilized now.

Your son’s usual ways of dealing with anxiety may have broken down in this instance due to the significance of this decision, as well as the length of time that he has been considering it. If, however, you can remind him of similar instances in which he was able to reduce his anxiety, he may be able to draw upon this and apply it to his current emotions.

You wonder whether your son’s feelings are due to fear or intuition. I would never disparage intuition; it can help us to recognize something of which our unconscious minds are aware but which is unknown to our conscious minds. However, the words “intuition” and “emotion” are often used interchangeably. The reason for this is that we often tend to think “backwards.” Theoretically, when we are dealing with something, we should begin by thinking logically and allowing our emotions to follow our logic. What we often do, however, is to begin the “thought process” with our emotions. This allows our unconscious minds to hijack our thoughts, thus leading to belief of the automatic thoughts wrought by our emotions.

Sometimes, people need the opportunity to “reset” their thought process to help shift back to logical-emotional thought rather than emotional-logical thought. There are many ways of focusing on logical thoughts. One way is for your son to imagine a friend in the same situation, and to imagine the advice that he would dispense. Another would be for him to—in a step-by-step fashion—imagine himself actually moving through each step in the process of getting and being married.

Is your son anxious specifically about marrying this girl, or about getting married in general? If the former, are there specific aspects of their relationship that make him uncomfortable or is it the relationship in general? If the latter, can he identify what it is about marriage that scares him? Sometimes it can be difficult to answer these questions. However, if he is able to focus more on the logic of the situation, your son may find that answers to questions like these become clearer.

You mentioned that a long course of therapy is not an option. Recognize, however, that sometimes learning to focus in a more logical manner can be achieved in just one or two sessions. A therapist is an objective third party who is trained to help people to resolve ambiguous thoughts and feeling, and to help them to reach their goals. Naturally, I don’t know anything about your son’s issues, emotions, insecurities, and fears. However, a therapist can help him to clarify these so that he can make the right decision and to be comfortable with it.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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