Dear Patti,

In a little over two months, on Christmas Eve, I’m getting married and I’m scared.

For the first time in my life, I’ve started to have panic attacks and am asking myself whether I can even go through with this wedding. Although I probably will, I honestly feel like running away. I love Brian deeply and can’t imagine my life without him, but I realize that’s just how I feel now. How do I know I’ll feel that way forever? People change and grow, and the idea of making a commitment to be with one person for a lifetime feels overwhelming and unrealistic to me.

My parents were supposedly deeply in love when they got married and had a horrific divorce when I was 10. I swore I’d never end up like them. It’s confusing because I love the life Brian and I have created together and I miss him terribly whenever we’re apart. I thought about postponing the wedding but I am worried that — at this late date — it would damage Brian’s trust in me. My mother thinks I should see a counselor, but I don’t think of myself as neurotic.

  — Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I understand that this is one of the most important decisions of your life. While you’re clearly expressing fear and doubt, you’re not offering any specific reasons such as mistrust, dissatisfaction or irreconcilable differences which might explain why you and Brian are not a compatible couple. Right now it sounds as if your fear of getting married is partially due to the idea that a lifetime commitment of love is a faulty one, a fear which is coupled with your panic attacks and the memory of your parents’ painful divorce. Let’s examine each of these for a moment.

Lifetime Commitment: Have you ever worried that you would suddenly stop loving your favorite grandparent or that you’d stop loving your own child at age 12? If not, why do you think you would stop loving Brian? Feelings of true love and deep attachment can shift and change with the passage of time, but they probably won’t stop. In my opinion, what causes love to die in a relationship is trauma, neglect or abuse. You’re currently feeling overwhelmed by the idea of loving someone for a lifetime, but what about the concept of being loved for a lifetime? You need to decide whether your trepidations are truly because you’re choosing the wrong person, the wrong lifestyle or if your fearful feelings are based on prior hurt or trauma. Often, if those historic feelings aren’t dealt with, one can continue repeating them in future relationships.

Panic Attacks: A panic attack is an anxiety disorder that is often repaired by experiencing the underlying feelings. I highly recommend you attend psychotherapy and possibly multiple times in the next few months in order to better understand your fears and negative feelings. If you allow yourself to face and experience your buildup of emotions, you’ll be able to make better life decisions. I also understand your concern about the stigma of going to therapy. The truth, though, is that many people attending therapy are highly functioning individuals living high quality lives. Professional therapy invites them to better understand themselves in order to further their ability to love themselves, have deep meaningful relationships with others, and embrace an even more satisfying life.

Parents’ Divorce: Do you think you would have doubts about marrying Brian if your parents hadn’t split-up when you were young? If the answer is no, then you have emotional repair work to do in therapy. I don’t believe in dredging up the past unless the trauma of one’s personal history is affecting the quality of life today. When you’re in an anxiety state, your thoughts and emotions are fearful. That is understandable and needs to be addressed. Following this, reflect on what is positive about marrying Brian. You’ll have the chance to love another, possibly a chance to do what your parents were unable to achieve. If you don’t try, you’ll have broken up just as your parents did except at an earlier stage.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.