First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes depression. Wait … that’s not how it’s supposed to go.
Unfortunately, for some, that is how it goes. While many newlyweds are blissed out, others are hit with the post-wedding blues, and it can be debilitating.
“When the wedding was over, I was in a lot of pain,” Anna Shevel-Vreeland tells me of her 2012 nuptials.
Laura Stafford, professor and director of Bowling Green State University’s School of Media and Communication, and Allison Scott Gordon, associate professor in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Communication, have conducted two studies on depression in newly married women. In a study of 28 women they conducted in 2016, nearly half of the participants indicated they felt let down or depressed after their wedding, and some participants reported clinical levels of depression. In a 2018 study of 152 women, 12 percent reported feeling depressed after their wedding.
And a bad wedding isn’t to blame. In Scott Gordon and Stafford’s first study, none of the “blue” brides linked their feelings of depression or letdown to the wedding itself. “For even blue brides, the wedding appears to have lived up to their expectations,” they wrote.
Still, Jocelyn Charnas, a psychologist in New York who has been dubbed “the wedding doctor,” has found that almost everyone experiences some form of a letdown after the big day. “Like any milestone we look forward to, a certain degree of difficult feelings, whether it’s emptiness or loneliness or sadness, is not uncommon after the fact,” she warns.
A wedding can put tremendous pressure on the couple, “and the more pressure and expectations, the harder the letdown can be,” Charnas says. Here are some tips, from newlyweds and psychologists, to help soothe the post-wedding blues.
Recognize that a post-wedding slump is unavoidable. Charnas stresses that couples should expect a letdown after the planning bonanza is over. When Shira Andres was engaged, “everyone was interested in … asking me questions about my upcoming nuptials. Once I was married, people weren’t as interested in my life,” she says. She also pined for the planning. “Having something so huge to look forward to is a real motivator.”
“It flashes by in a second, and that hits you like a ton of bricks,” Andres says.
Pre-wedding stress doesn’t help. “Oftentimes we use wedding planning as an excuse to put off other things that might be anxiety-provoking, like going back to school or getting a new job, and when the wedding is over, we’re then faced with those things, and that can contribute to a sense of disappointment or stress,” Charnas says. One of the stressors could be the financial responsibility. “For brides and grooms who pay for the wedding themselves, now the fun is over, and they just have the bill.”
While planning their wedding, couples should pick one night a week to not discuss it. That way, Charnas says, they can remember what it feels like to be a couple without a big event on the horizon. For example, by shifting their focus from wedding planning to discussing their expectations of married life, couples can deepen their relationship. “Focus on the beginning of the marriage, as opposed to the end of the wedding,” Charnas says.
It’s not just brides who suffer from a newlywed nose-dive. Of the people I spoke to, the worst off was a groom. “I was so depressed, I honestly didn’t know what to do,” Brian Lambert recalls. Even the honeymoon, which he and his wife, Nicole, took a few days after the wedding, couldn’t lift his spirits. “We had no appointments with vendors, no centerpieces to put together, nothing to try and design. I found myself going to the office on the weekends more to try and keep myself busy.” They got married in September 2017, and he’s “still not over it,” he says.
His loved ones began to worry about how his spending habits had changed because of the depression. “They wanted to take my debit card away,” Lambert says. “I was buying things for no reason at all, including animals. Our apartment is now a zoo as I kept bringing creatures back; now I have 12 different fish tanks set up.”
Schedule your honeymoon strategically. Charnas suggests waiting to take the trip, as it gives newlyweds something else to look forward to and plan. This was a lifesaver for Andres. However, marriage and sex therapist Jane Greer says an immediate honeymoon can “insulate couples from crashing into the new/real world quickly.” This is what worked for Nicole Lambert.
If you’re still feeling blue after six months, seek help. “Post-wedding depression is typically situational — something happens that results in the depression, like a death or divorce,” said Greer, who also wrote the book “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.” “But within six months, the expectation is that you’re now coping with your depression and getting on with your life.” After six months, she says, people who are still feeling depressed should seek help and address what they feel they lost after the wedding, as opposed to what they gained.
This is when the issue goes beyond the wedding. “When it manifests itself in a severe way, it’s more about some underlying and possibly preexisting issue, like a clinical mental-health issue or a serious underlying problem in the relationship that has to be looked at,” Charnas says.
Shevel-Vreeland’s post-wedding depression in part prompted a difficult first year of marriage. While her husband was able to thoroughly enjoy their honeymoon, she was already in a post-wedding slump, and he couldn’t understand why they weren’t both experiencing the same bliss. This led her and her husband to ask themselves: “If we can’t be happy together on our honeymoon, when our marriage is free of worries and life-related challenges, how will we ever make it?”
Prone to depression, Shevel-Vreeland knew this was something worth discussing with her therapist. “I definitely spoke to her about it in our sessions regularly.” This helped, she says, because her therapist worked with her on moving past the emotional challenges she was facing after the wedding.
Find a new goal to look forward to. Beyond the big day, couples can set new goals or things to plan for, such as moving or decorating a room in their home. “Something to continue that feeling of excitement and specialness that marks your transition into husband and wife,” Greer suggests.
Shevel-Vreeland ultimately dug herself out her post-wedding slump by starting graduate school. “Since I was working full time and had to balance work and school, I did not have time to worry about feeling depressed. … I was thoroughly distracted by my work and school.”