Thank you to Katy Weitz for her article “Is that it?”: The brides with the blues after their dream wedding is over from Mirror. And check out Himmel Ink‘s take on post nuptial depression from last Friday’s Cynics Corner!
What happens when the big day comes to an end and it’s time to return to ordinary, everyday life?
When Gemma Hall’s fiance Wayne finally proposed to her, she couldn’t wait to start planning her wedding. The sales manager from Manchester had always dreamed of a lavish do complete with the best dress money could buy. But her dream also came with a heavy price.
Gemma got such a high from all the planning, organising and spending involved, when her big day was over, she came crashing back down to earth with a great big thud and got “post-nuptial depression”.
“I spent three years planning my perfect wedding day and after it was over, there was a gaping hole in my life,” she says. “I felt so depressed. I just kept wondering to myself, ‘Is this it? Is this all there is to life now? I couldn’t watch the DVD or look at my wedding photos – they all reminded me about a special time that was now over.”
Gemma’s wedding on May 20 last year was held at the Gibbon Bridge Hotel in Preston. But despite the ordinary-sounding location, the affair would have put a celebrity wedding to shame. Even Gemma admits it was “over the top”. Not only did she fork out £3,000 on a Pronovias dress, £1,500 for a gospel choir, and £300 for a pianist, she even had a fully stocked sweet shop in the grounds of the four-star hotel where the reception was held. And each of the 140 guests were treated to free ice cream from the van she hired.
The tables were laid out with baby bay trees decorated with ribbons, lace and pearls and the favours were little jam jars with designer Cath Kidston lids. The wedding rings she and Wayne exchanged were specially made by exclusive jewellers Tiffany’s in New York costing £5,500 and they dressed their seven bridesmaids and five ushers in matching navy and cream with each bridesmaid holding an ivory lace parasol.
And despite not being able to look at her photographs after the wedding, Gemma had plenty to choose from, having hired three photographers.
The total cost of everything came to a staggering £57,000 – more than most couples earn in a year, and even Gemma’s dad, who shared the cost, called the wedding a “pantomime”.
But for Gemma, it was the most magical day. And the month-long honeymoon in Thailand and Dubai was even more spectacular.
Gemma was looking forward to telling all of her friends and family about the trip when she returned home. But the day after she got back, a grey cloud descended on her. “It felt like there was a void in my life,” she says. “It was the opposite of excitement – boredom, depression, a feeling like there was nothing nice to look forward to. By now, a couple of my other friends had got engaged and though I kept up a good show of being excited for them, I just wished it was me still. “Things were difficult between me and Wayne as I was in a right grump all the time and the poor man couldn’t do anything right. We had some terrible rows.”
Wayne, 28, a financial planning manager, tried his best to lift Gemma out of her depression but couldn’t. “We’ve been together 10 years but the second half of last year was the worst ever,” she says. “He’s really tried to help me and even took me to New York on a special holiday but I still felt awful. Nothing could reproduce the same excitement or meaningfulness as the wedding day. We tried taking up running together, starting a business, going on holiday to the place we got engaged – all sorts of things – but nothing made me feel better. We even discussed a trial separation. As a couple, we’d just lost our way.”
Eventually, as time passed, Gemma did begin to feel better.
“After our first anniversary this year, it felt like I could really start to put the wedding behind me,” she says. Before then I’d been saying to myself, ‘This time last year I was doing this or that’. Well, I can’t do that any more and realised that it was time to move on.”
But Gemma admits she still feels sad that the wedding is over. “I would give anything to go back two years to the time I was planning it,” she says. Everybody talks to you about it and everybody’s interested in it. The attention you get is lovely and I admit that I did get carried away with it. We only intended to spend £20k but the cost spiralled to £57k. Wayne didn’t mind – he just wanted me to be happy. But it was a lot of money. I went to all the wedding fairs, bought all the magazines and ended up with more than I originally planned – we had two cakes, two wedding cars, a toastmaster, lanterns, table settings, the lot. I even had two hen dos and three first dances. But I loved every minute and the only thing I’d change is putting so much time and planning into it.”
Post-nuptial depression (PND) may not be a clinical diagnosis but it is certainly a genuine condition among modern newly-weds.
According to experts, the blues typically hit early on in the marriage, usually because couples have unrealistic expectations of what marriage should be. And once the big day has come and gone, they are then forced to step out of their “bride and groom” spotlight and just get on with real life.
Denise Knowles, a counsellor for Relate for more than 20 years, says couples who have lavish weddings are more likely to suffer from PND. “If you start off with an expensive party where you’ve been the centre of attention and everything has been just so, then you come back to paying the bills and wiping the floor, of course marriage is going to seem mundane,” Denise explains. “It’s the contrast between the wedding and everyday life people struggle with. It’s important for those thinking of getting married to have a realistic expectation of what marriage is because the wedding is not a marriage. It’s the big party you have before being married.”
She adds that couples can avoid falling into the PND trap by examining their motivations and views on marriage before the day itself. “Many people who have been together a long time get married because they’re in a rut,” she says. “Others do it because they want to start a family or believe the other person will provide them with happiness. The point is to be honest and ask yourself whether you have a romanticised idea of marriage.”
Philip Hodson, fellow of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, says the number of people seeking help for PND has risen in the past 20 years. “There is a percentage of people who find that having got married, it turns out to be quite depressing,” he explains. “You’ve only got to look at the number of divorces taking place within just two years of a wedding to know that is the case.”
Philip puts this increase down to a change in our life goals and ambitions. “When I was younger, people wanted to grow up, get married and settle down and now people do it much later and are much quicker to find fault. These days we have a profound sense of independence and yet marriage is about negotiating compromise most of the time.”
And it isn’t just women who suffer. Gemma Bryan, 28, a HR advisor, and her husband James, 27, an operations manager, both had PND after getting married on June 3.
“James was so touched by the fact that we had all these people coming together for us that when they left, he got really down,” Gemma recalls. “For five days after the wedding, James was sad. Now he’s feeling fine but I’m the one missing having something to organise.”
Gemma, from Loughton, Essex, never expected to be struck with the post-wedding blues because she’d always maintained that getting married was about a lifelong commitment, not the big day itself. “Our wedding day was wonderful,” Gemma says. “But I didn’t realise how much I was putting into the day itself. It was in a smart venue and I provided small touches like a basket of flip-flops so the women guests could take off their shoes and dance the night away. And we’d enjoyed a four-course Italian meal as we both love the cuisine and we stamped our mark over every aspect. But in the run-up, I was just looking forward to it all being over. And yet, now I just feel empty. And worst of all, everyone expects you to be really happy because you’re newlyweds so you feel guilty for not being ecstatic. My feelings have shocked me. I’ve mentioned this empty feeling to friends and a couple who’ve got married and they say they felt it too and it will pass. However, those that are getting married cannot understand it at all.”
Philip Hodson says the culture of spending thousands of pounds on a wedding adds to the sense of deflation once the event is over. Some couples even get into debt to pay for it, which adds to their misery when there’s nothing left at the end but a huge bill.
But Gemma has found one smart way to prevent herself slipping into an emotional abyss – she has cleverly deferred her Florida honeymoon to the end of the year. “That way we still have something to look forward to,” she says. “If it was all completely over, I’d be as miserable as hell.”