When my clients are struggling with engagement anxiety and marriage fear, they often ask what they can do between sessions to help alleviate their suffering. I offer a variety of specific exercises depending on the details of the client’s story, but there is one exercise I suggest to all my clients: daily journaling. I ask, “Do you journal?” to which they often reply, “I used to, but not anymore” or “Sometimes, but not regularly.”

For journaling to be effective, it needs to happen every day for at least twenty minutes. Journaling is a way to transfer the voices of fear and anxiety that swirl around your head onto paper. Talking to someone every day or talking aloud would be equally effective, but many engaged people don’t feel that they have a safe space in which to discuss their feelings. If you allow too many days to pass without journaling or talking, the fear voices take over, becoming more deeply entrenched in your thought process and therefore more difficult to extract.

There are many ways to journal. I usually suggest that my clients start by simply allowing the fear voice full expression without editing or censoring it. Most people with engagement anxiety begin to feel anxious about the anxiety itself, which creates a terrifying vicious cycle in which they attempt to stifle the fear-based voice, which only increases its power. The fear voice needs a place to express itself, and sometimes when my client sees the voice on paper she or he realizes how irrational it is and is able to stop listening to it. Here is an example of a journal entry in which the client allowed the fear voice free reign:

“You don’t love A. enough. If you were really in love with him you wouldn’t be feeling so anxious. Can’t you see how easy it is for your other friends to get married? They’re not feeling any of this anxiety so that must mean that you’re making a mistake. You’re settling by marrying A. He’s a great person and a great friend but you’re not in love with him. Remember the way you felt about C.? Remember how excited you always were to see him? You don’t feel that way about A. Just admit it. Stop torturing yourself and leave the relationship already. You’re wasting everyone’s time, including his. He’s such a good guy and he doesn’t deserve what you’re putting him through.”

Sound familiar? This is the basic first journal entry. Sometimes my clients need to keep writing out the fear voice day after day, including each nuance and each line fear uses to try to convince my clients to leave the relationship. By the way, I know what you’re thinking right about now. You’re thinking, “Yes, but what if fear is right? What if fear is telling the person to leave the relationship because it’s really not the right relationship for her or him?” Ah, another of fear’s brilliant lines at work! If fear is coming from a truthful place and is trying to tell you that you’re in the wrong relationship, that will become evident through the journaling. (You can also read my other articles in which I discuss the difference between healthy transition anxiety and red-flag relationship issues.) The next step in the journaling will help you determine the difference between healthy fear and unhealthy fear.

After you remove fear from the dangerous caverns of your head, you then engage it in a dialogue. The most effective way to do this is to invite a higher, wiser part of you into the dialogue. For some people, this is the voice of God or another spiritual Higher Power. For others who don’t believe in God or don’t have an active relationship with God, it’s equally as effective to envision the wisest part of themselves sitting down next to them to talk to fear. The main point in this step is to challenge the fear by asking it pointed questions that disarm it and thus reveal its lies. This dialogue might go as follows:

Author's Bio: 

Sheryl Paul, M.A., pioneered the field of bridal counseling in 1998. She has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, "The Conscious Bride" and "The Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner," and her website, www.consciousweddings.com. She's regarded as the international expert on the wedding transition and has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone sessions available worldwide.