Getting engaged is one of the happiest times in a person’s life. And when you’re the one who’s getting ready to say “I do,” you want to share that happiness and celebrate your engagement with the people closest to you.
But, sharing that happiness and celebratory spirit can become complicated when someone you love is struggling with a recent heartbreak. So, the question is, how do you balance celebrating your engagement and sharing your happiness, while supporting your loved one through a breakup and still being sensitive to her feelings?
Celebrating your engagement when someone you love is going through a breakup can feel awkward and difficult. And, to avoid those awkward, difficult feelings, you might be tempted to ignore the situation and focus on your wedding plans. But, if you value the relationship, it’s important not to do that—and to acknowledge what’s going on.
“The best way to be supportive of a loved one who's going through a divorce or breakup while you're excited about your engagement is to do what we psychologists call ‘naming the process,’” says Dr. Naomi Torres-Mackie, a New York-based clinical psychologist focused on women’s issues, and the head of research at The Mental Health Coalition “This means that you make an effort to talk about the process of what's actually happening between you and your friend, rather than trying to sweep it under the rug.”
Have a conversation with your loved one and let her know that while you’re excited about your engagement, you also recognize that this must be a difficult time for her. Let her know that you’re open and available if she wants to talk or needs support.
“Tell your friend that you are there for her, and even though you are celebrating your own relationship, you would like to support her as she is saying goodbye to hers,” says Torres-Mackie. “This lets her know that you are not wrapped up in your own world or ignoring how she is doing, which might be something she fears as you embark on wedding planning.”
You might have planned for your loved one to be by your side through the entire wedding planning process—for example, helping you pick out a wedding venue or heading your wedding party. But if she’s going through a breakup, she may or may not be willing and able to support you as you plan your wedding. However, the only way to know is to ask how—and how much—she wants to be involved.
“A nice way to include your loved one who's going through a breakup is to ask her how she'd like to be involved,” says Torres-Mackie. “Take the pressure off by acknowledging that it might feel uncomfortable for her to be celebrating right now, but that you also don't want to leave her out of the festivities. Let her know that you would like her to be involved in whatever capacity would feel good for her.”
For example, “Maybe she is not emotionally strong enough to be your maid of honor right now, but she might be willing to help plan part of the event or be an usher or give a toast,” says Dana McNeil, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and the founder of The Relationship Place, a group practice located in San Diego, California.
And, if your loved one tells you that she can’t be involved in your engagement or wedding at all, try not to take it personally, as this could be a difficult decision for her, too. “If she tells you that she doesn’t want to be involved much, remind yourself that it's not personal and that your friend or loved one might need to just take care of herself right now,” says Torres-Mackie.
It can be really disappointing when someone you love is going through a breakup and isn’t present and available to celebrate your whirlwind romance engagement with you—even when you completely understand their reasons why.
But, instead of feeling disappointed that that person can’t share in your excitement, try to remind yourself that they’re not the only person you can celebrate your engagement with—so, why not get out there and share that excitement with the other people in your life?
“Decide for yourself how important it is to share your joy with this person in particular,” says Torres-Mackie. “Do you have others you could celebrate with? If after an honest conversation with your friend, you realize that celebrating with you is hard right now, think about who else you can turn to to pop the bubbly right now.”
By talking about your engagement and wedding with other people in your life, you can be sensitive to your recently single loved one—without dimming your own happiness or excitement.
Also, try to remind yourself that just because your loved one isn’t ready to share in your excitement right now doesn’t mean that she won’t be able to celebrate your engagement/wedding at some point in the future.
“Since most weddings take place several months to a year after an engagement, it is entirely possible that your loved one may be able to feel more open to being a bigger participant down the road,” says McNeil.
When your loved one is experiencing heartbreak, you want to be sensitive to her feelings, as it can be awkward to mix engagement and breakup. But, if she tries to rain on your parade—or worse, makes you feel guilty for your happiness—setting boundaries is a must.
“If a loved one is making you feel bad about your engagement excitement because of her own relationship struggles, setting appropriate boundaries is key,” says Torres-Mackie.
If your loved one says things about your engagement, your partner, or your wedding plans that hurt or upset you, don’t feel like you need to stay in the conversation; it’s totally appropriate to take a break and walk away—and then let her know that while you understand that she’s struggling, that kind of hurtful talk just isn’t acceptable.
“You never have to participate in a conversation that feels dismissive, hurtful, or overly and inappropriately critical,” says McNeil. “You get to decide to leave painful conversations and you are not required to stay in them when the other person is being disrespectful.”
It can be tough to support a loved one through the hardships of a breakup while you’re brimming with excitement from a recent engagement—just like it can be hard for a person going through a breakup to cultivate a real sense of excitement for their recently engaged friend. But, just remember—you can balance both at the same time.
“We often think that we can be happy or sad, stressed or relaxed, good or bad, but that ends up blocking us from feeling everything that we need to be in the moment,” says Torres-Mackie. If you are both sad on behalf of your friend while also joyous for yourself, that is both ok and normal.