Calling off the Wedding - How to Survive a Broken Engagement
It’s sadly ironic that during a time intended to prepare for lifelong commitment, it’s the relationship with your fiancé that often suffers neglect. In our culture of naively blissful engagements culminated by blowout gala weddings, the idea of halting the engagement fast train and disembarking from the euphoria is absurd. Caught up in exponential to-do lists of wedding planning, couples will head to the altar amidst serious misgivings and uncertainty - anything to avoid the hideously ugly and seemingly permanent blemish of a broken engagement.
In reality, the act of being engaged doesn’t necessarily guarantee a happily ever after. If a pre-nuptial couple faces indisputable evidence that their relationship isn’t working, calling off the wedding is sometimes the healthier alternative to saying “I do” with reservations. Unfortunately, these couples often have no where to turn for advice and counsel; there’s no arsenal of planning tips and checklists to prepare them for the emotional roller coaster that is about to ensue.
So what should you do when you find yourself in the middle of a wedding that almost was? Try to envision not a broken engagement, but rather a broken marriage – complete with lawyers, custody battles and alimony payments. If you can realize that a broken engagement is far superior to a broken marriage, you will have accomplished the first step in calling of the wedding – which is emotional acceptance of the decision. Only then can you successfully tackle the necessary steps to get your life back on track.
Talk with Your Fiance; Take the Next Steps Together
Regardless of who broke the engagement, the conversation with your (former) fiancé will be intensely emotional and most likely uncomfortable. You’re either the bad guy, feeling a combination of guilt, uncertainty and relief. Or you’re the jilted one – feeling a combination of sorrow, embarrassment, maybe even deceit. Even if the decision was mutual, you both may feel guilt and shame when faced with notifying your families and friends.
Although painful, the soul searching conversation is essential to the healing process. If breaking the engagement wasn’t mutual, talking it out to at least understand the other’s feelings will help you both take the next steps.
Keep in mind, however, that deciding not to marry usually ends the relationship. Reversing from engagement back to dating just doesn’t work. After you have handled the details of canceling the wedding together, both of you should mentally prepare to get through this as individuals.
Notify Family and Closest Friends, Including the Bridal Party
After you and your fiancé arrive at an agreement, or at least an understanding, you need to notify your immediate family and closest friends. Both sides will probably be surprised, especially if you’ve managed to conceal your ambivalence. Regardless of the circumstances that caused the broken engagement, try not to allow either side dwell on anger or blame. Remind them – and yourself – that he should only marry someone who really wants to marry him, and you should only marry someone who really wants to marry you. Your families and friends need to allow you to get on with your lives.
Contact Your Vendors
As soon as possible, contact all vendors to cancel arrangements and recoup any deposits. This task may prove overwhelming during this time of emotional turmoil; if the situation is too raw, a family member or close friend can make these arrangements.
Whether or not you can recover your deposits depends on the contract terms and how close to the wedding date you cancel. Most contracts have a refund policy, so you should be able to get back a percentage of your deposit if you cancel by a certain date.
Unfortunately wedding insurance will not help here, as these policies typically “cover everything but a change of heart.” Other costs you probably won’t recover are your wedding dress and honeymoon deposits. Both are usually backed by tight non-refundable cancellation policies.
Like a Band-Aid - Notify the Rest
Soon after you've spoken with your fiancé, your families and closest friends, you will need to personally inform each guest that you’ve cancelled the wedding. You are under no obligation to explain the reason behind the cancellation; simply letting them know is enough.
If invitations have not been sent:
Send a handwritten note to each guest explaining your decision. If any gifts (shower, engagement or wedding) have already arrived, you should return the gift and thanks along with the note.
To simply the process, you can send printed cards worded similarly to invitations:
Mr. and Mrs. John Doe
announce that the marriage of
will not take place
We appreciate your support during this difficult time for our family
If invitations have already been sent:
Guests need to know immediately so they can make necessary arrangements. There won’t be time to send a written note; therefore, someone will need to call every guest to explain. If the bride and groom find they cannot face this task, family or close friends can do the job. The bride and groom may want to send a personal note after the fact, especially if gifts have already arrived. Again, any gifts should be returned along with a thank you note.
The Ring Dilemma
So just who gets to keep the engagement ring? If the ring was a gift, most etiquette resources suggest that the woman should at least offer to return it, especially if she ended the engagement. If the man called it off, she could opt to keep the ring, although she may rather return it to avoid a painful reminder of a failed engagement.
If the ring is a family heirloom, however, the couple should return it to the family it came from, regardless of who called off the wedding.
If the couple bought and paid for the ring together, they will need to decide what to do with it together, as they would with any other significant joint purchases.
If you and your fiancé cannot arrive at an amicable agreement, you will need to consult with a local attorney for the legal specifics in your state.
Getting on with Your Life
Getting over a broken engagement only begins with the official cancellation. Once you’ve tended to the messy details, the real healing process begins. An emotional journey lies ahead, and to get through it you’ll need the support of your friends and family. Those who have been your supporters from the moment you made the announcement are still there for you. Don’t be afraid to lean on them.
As you begin to pick up the pieces, short-term anxieties may threaten to overwhelm: Money may be tight due to all the wedding expenses and your new status as a single woman; you may have to find a new place to live; you may worry that you’ll never meet anyone else. Try to remember that you’re going through this for the sake of your long term well-being.
Fast forward your mind to one year from now... You’re getting ready for a night out with your girlfriends when your mind reflects on the first month after you called off your wedding. Your memory may be foggy, but your resolve that it was for the best will be clear. You’ll reflect on your personal growth during this ordeal. You may even be thankful for a new relationship that was allowed to flourish due to the end of one that never would. You’ll have stared down an imposing obstacle and triumphed. You’ll have learned more about yourself and what you can survive than you would ever imagine.
It will happen, really it will.