Although there are no statistics, a broken engagement is certainly a more common experience than we might think. The problem is that no one wants to talk about it.
“The pain of a broken engagement is all the worse because it’s a public failure. The announcement of an engagement means that the couple’s commitment passes from the private to the public sphere,” marriage counselor Nadine Grandjean explains to Aleteia. If the couple decides to call off the wedding, “they find themselves facing decisions full of consequences.”
Grandjean points out a phenomenon that’s becoming more and more frequent today: young people who live together without getting engaged, who plan to get married and who finally separate after a few years. “They don’t get engaged, but they buy a common apartment, a paradox that can often be the trigger for the breakup because it’s the first concrete step towards married life and it suddenly feels scary,” she notes.
Moreover, even those who break off their engagement often prefer to speak not of a breakup but of a “separation.” For themselves and their loved ones, this word seems more acceptable. Perhaps it lessens the impact of doubts and questions: Who did wrong? Who fell short? Who didn’t want to get married?
Between freedom and pressure
Among all the engaged couples that Fr. Paul Habsburg has prepared for the sacrament of marriage at Our Lady of Auteuil Parish in Paris, there have been a few who have broken off their engagement.
“Fortunately or unfortunately … Sometimes fortunately, because there can be objective reasons. I’m thinking of one engaged couple in particular. When I asked them to write their declaration of intent, the young man was dragging his feet a lot. Finally, he told me why he felt unable to write it: he had been unfaithful to his fiancée a few months earlier. He was even more uncomfortable because it was a relationship with a man. Their engagement had to be broken off,” he tells Aleteia.
Sometimes, unfortunately, an engagement is broken off because parents get too involved.
“I can remember a young woman whose mother felt that her fiancé was not up to the job. She put pressure on her daughter, who finally gave in. Of course, a mother may intuitively feel that the person isn’t the right one. But she can also project her own dreams onto her daughter. In this case, it’s about the freedom of the fiancée. She was not free in her decision making. Often, mistakes come from a lack of freedom at the moment of choosing. People underestimate this reality, as they underestimate their own wounds they bear, which have consequences. They also underestimate the weight of social or family pressure,” notes Fr. Paul.
Giving meaning to engagement failure
Engaged couples who break off their engagement experience it as a small divorce. Grieving is necessary to learn from this failure and give it meaning. This is the moment when ex-fiancés must renounce certain dreams, a part of themselves, and not allow themselves to be influenced by the pressure of the family. It’s also a time of doubts about oneself, about the other person, and about the marriage. However, it’s also an opportunity, like any crisis, to understand the reason for the failure. “It seems to me that it’s important to get help from a therapist. Not to discover horrible things about oneself, but to know oneself better in order not to fall into another failure,” advises Grandjean.
Keep being a loving person
But can someone in this situation believe that it’s possible to live a true love story again, this time solemnized by marriage? For Fr. Paul Habsburg, it’s essential to realize that through baptism, “every person has the possibility of entering into the history of salvation, of giving meaning to his or her life, of succeeding.” And the most important thing is to “continue to love in everything we live and do, in the good times as well as in the bad.”
By continuing to be a loving person, we form part of God’s story. “If you give God his place, the story will always end well,” says Fr. Paul Habsburg. So, instead of letting frustration engulf you, it is better to “cultivate the hope that God is always there, that he sees us, that he walks with us. This is how we transform our life and the world through love and hope,” he says.
Time lived is not lost
Time lived is not lost. Tough times are like an injury from which we heal and learn something about life. Living in hope and forgiveness already means doing very good things.
“We aren’t on earth to succeed but to learn to love. All opportunities are good, even failures. It’s important to focus on the present moment and to know how to live it, rather than immediately projecting ourselves into the dream of a successful romantic relationship. Don’t let your mind be elsewhere, but here and now with hope, love, and strength,” advises Fr. Paul.
Mourning in this case means looking back over what we have been through and considering it as a learning experience. It means being like a saint, who is not someone who suffers heroically but rather someone who loves heroically in suffering, as Fr. Paul explains.