Once you have decided for yourself that you need to call off your wedding, there is a lot you need to take care of - including yourself. And so, I would first like to start off this guide by sharing that I hope that you believe you are going to be okay - because you are. You are going to get through this, and so is everyone else. As alone and isolated as you may feel right now, it’s important that you keep in mind that you are not the first bride to cancel her wedding. However difficult the road up ahead may be, try to keep a perspective on the fact that you will save yourself (and your fiancé) a lot of heartache in the long term.
Now, I’m sure it’s safe to say that as long as people have been getting married, people have been calling off weddings. The difference is that people don’t like to talk about the latter- weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions, “the greatest day of your life,” “every woman’s dream!” etc. As a result, going through a cancelled wedding (or broken engagement) can feel incredibly shameful and isolating.
Although, weddings do not get called off frequently it happens often enough that one would think there would be some solid resources readily available for such a heartbreaking and very often traumatic experience. And yet (as with breakups five years ago) I wasn’t able to find many. The few I did find are listed at the end of this guide (and if you know of any others that should be added please contact me!) I came to realize throughout my research that the data I had collected could be of great benefit to others. And, although this topic is not necessarily one of my “specialties,” it is my sincere hope this guide be helpful to those who find themselves going through this very difficult and painful experience.
HOW THIS GUIDE CAME TO BE
A couple weeks ago I was contacted by Katrina Clarke, a free-lance writer to do an interview on the topic of “how to call off a wedding” for a major newspaper. Naturally I said yes! Although, I did go through with a broken engagement in 2010 I have not personally experienced calling of a wedding - nor have any of my good friends for that matter (not yet anyway!) However, as a Breakup & Divorce Coach, I have worked with many people who have painfully decided to end their marriages within a few years of being married.
Over and over, I have heard my clients say that a part of them knew they shouldn’t get married, but they went through with the wedding for a variety of reasons - some felt too invested, some just couldn’t imagine hurting their fiancé and their families, and others simply didn’t know how. Almost all describe having had some sort of a small inner voice nagging at them that things weren’t quite right.
And so, in looking for more information about how one would go about calling off a wedding I turned to social media and posted this —->
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised at how little engagement my post would receive, but I was. I learned fairly quickly that that I had struck a nerve. Although, in my line of work I’m pretty used to talking about the dark side of love, but this felt somehow different. It almost seemed to me that talking about calling off a wedding was more taboo than talking about divorce!
Interestingly however, slowly over the days that followed my post, I began to receive several private messages - half from people who had personally called off a wedding, and the other half from people who wanted to tell me how important they thought this topic was because they themselves had personally gone through a wedding they regretted (and they are all divorced now by the way.) And then I started to be connected to a handful of people who had either called of a wedding or broken off an engagement.
As a result of these conversations, I dove deeper into this topic and discovered some helpful online articles and resources. The following guide is my initial attempt to consolidate my research. I will update this guide as I collect new resources, insights and personal accounts.
Let’s get started …
CALLING IT OFF: A 3 PART PROCESS
I have broken down the process of calling off a wedding into a 3 parts
PART 1: Taking Care of You
This section addresses getting a handle on your emotional state and putting a supportive team in place before moving into your action plan.
PART 2: The Action Plan
This section outlines all of the logistics (big and small) involved in cancelling a wedding.
PART 3: Your Long-Term Recovery Plan
This section touches on managing the many emotions (grief, sadness, fear,etc.) associated with long-term healing.
Part 1: Taking Care of You
Naturally, the bigger the wedding, and the more emotion and money is invested, the harder many women say it is to call off a wedding. Given that you are about to go through what many people call one of the worst times of their lives - it’s imperative that you have a plan for your emotional healing. These women describe feeling all sorts of “uncomfortable” feelings - shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear and of course sadness. They also say it feel isolating and overwhelming.
In the short-term it’s very important that you focus on yourself and how you are feeling, now is not the time to worry about what everyone else and their mother will think.
MANAGE YOUR MINDSET
Once you have admitted the hard truth to yourself - that calling it off is something you need to do - it’s important you manage your mindset.
Managing your mindset starts with knowing, in your heart of hearts that you will get through this - step by step - and come out the other side, stronger and happier (yes, happier!) for having followed your heart.
Use any of these affirmations or make up one of you own to calm your anxiety,
- I will be ok / Everything will be okay
- This too shall pass
- I am capable of getting through this
- I got this
SELECT A CONFIDANTE
Once you have calmed yourself down, think of who you will select to be your trusted confidante. Select someone you know to be open-minded and supportive, and is somewhat neutral. Often this person, is not invested emotionally or financially in the wedding. If you do not feel you have anyone then find a therapist or contact me if you have to! You are not alone.
GET A TEAM IN PLACE
From there, you will want to get a team in place- a small tribe that will help you with tasks such as calling your guests, contacting and visiting your vendors, and pouring you a glass (or two) of wine. Once you have this team in place it’s time to move onto your action plan!
SIDE NOTE: I am very sorry to deliver the news that this small team, may not include individuals you thought you could count on. This includes your bridesmaids, certain members of your family or close friends. For a variety of reasons, calling off a wedding can really upset people. They may not be supportive of your decision, and very often may project their own fears onto you and your situation - ie, they’re not 100% secure in their own relationships. Should this be the case, try not to spend too much of your energy worrying about this. Trust that the right people will be there for you.
Part 2: Your Action Plan
THE LOGISTICS & ETIQUETTE OF CALLING OFF A WEDDING
Believe it or not there is such a thing etiquette for calling off a wedding. After consulting with several resources here is a consolidated list of everything you will need to do. Obviously, depending on how close you are to the wedding date will impact the order of these next steps.
GUESTS: DELIVERING THE NEWS
One of the most unpleasant parts of calling off a wedding is letting the guest list know. It is important to remember that there is no need for lengthy explanations or apologies. As … says, “weddings are canceled for all sorts of reasons, none of which should need to be measured or justified.”
There are several ways to let your guests know. Here are few examples that you can use to come up with one that is right for you:
- According to TheKnot.com, “If the invitations haven’t yet gone out, a printed card should be sent out to the guests, worded similarly to the invitations, for example: Mr & Mrs. John Smith announce that the marriage of their daughter Suzy Q to John Smith will not take place.
- Another example would be to mail out plain postcards with this simple sentence: “The wedding between John Smith and Suzy Q has been postponed indefinitely.”
- According to Robyn Baldwin’s online checklist, the template she recommends using is: “We regret to inform you that the wedding of X & X is cancelled. We kindly request that you not contact us and ask questions as we go through this difficult time. We love our family and friends very much but request privacy at this time. We would like to extend our sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.
- Even if you are sending out invitations to let your guests know the news, it’s best to call some of your guests immediately - especially out of town guests, who may have already purchased plane tickets and booked a hotel. Divide up your list, and get members of your “team” to help you with this task.
- If the invitations have already gone out, it’s advised that the guests be called as soon as possible.
- I know of one women who prepared a “script” to use on phone calls for times she would get overly emotional.
VENDORS: Recovering Some of Your Investment
Remember that your wedding is most likely not the first wedding that your vendors have experienced being cancelled. According to a number of ex-brides and wedding planners - when it comes to calling off a wedding - many vendors will be willing to to refund the deposits if they are able to do so without hurting their own businesses. Getting a refund on deposits will depend on each vendor, and understandably, the closer you are to your actual wedding date, the less likely you are to get your money back. Keep in mind however, that the ex-brides I talked to who ended up losing as little as $1000 or as much as $15 000 - all said it was worth it in the end.
Toronto-based event planner and TV personality Laura Atendido shares this great advice on the importance of advocating for yourself:
When calling off your wedding it’s important to approach vendors and ask for a renegotiated cancelation policy that states if they are able to rebook your date, all or part of your deposits are refunded. Some vendors are willing to do this when asked and it’s important for clients to advocate for themselves when cancelling a contract to ensure wedding vendors don’t overly profit from their cancelation (ie keeping all of the original clients’ deposits and accepting a new client for the same date with full payment.)
If you can’t get a deposit back, see what you can do to “repurpose” your credit with a vendor - for example, you could use the photographer for another purpose such as for a photo shoot (perhaps for that new business you’ve always wanted to start!) Regarding cases and cases of wine, another woman shared that“[m]y family enjoyed the cases of wedding wine with dinner for years.”
MAKE A MASTER CHECKLIST
Start by making a detailed list of all the vendors you need to contact. In case you need help, here is a general list of vendors in order of urgency to get your started.
- Venue (including any rentals)
- Contact the venue immediately and explain your situation. For most weddings, the reception accounts for about 50% of the wedding costs, so it’s important to start here.
- Rehearsal & Day after Brunch
- Hotel Rooms/Blocks
- According to TheKnot.com “[h]onesty is definitely the best policy here … Read your hotel cancellation policy —some hotels may require a few months' notice—then work with them to see what they can do for you and your guests.”
- Hair & Makeup
- Cancel/return special gifts and favours
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER/CANCEL
- Bridesmaids dresses/gifts
- Bridal shower
- Bar stock
- Spa reservations
- Return gifts
- Gift registries & wedding website
Two other major topics that come up have to do with what to do with the engagement ring and the wedding dress. Although, these are complex topics, general guidelines do exist.
What to do with an engagement ring after a wedding has been called off has a lot to do with the circumstances of who broke off the commitment. An engagement ring is given in exchange for the bride-to-be promising her hand in marriage. Generally speaking, if the bride-to-be breaks the engagement and/or calls off a wedding, it’s appropriate to give the ring back. And if the groom-to-be calls it off, it is up to the bride-to-be to decide if she would like to give the ring back since she may not want the reminder. However, if the ring is a family heirloom, regardless of who has called off the wedding, it should be returned. Once again, these are general guidelines that may not include extenuating circumstances.
The topic of what to do with the wedding dress is a very personal decision. There really is no “right” way to handle it.
I would argue that deciding what to do greatly depends on your emotional connection to the dress. If you picked out the dress because YOU absolutely loved it, and it feels like yours and you don’t necessarily associate it with your ended relationship - then by all means keep it! Many of the ex-brides I spoke with actually told me that they still had their dresses and were planning on potentially wearing it at their next wedding!
Now, if the thought and sight of your dress is emotionally painful, then you may consider one of these ways to let your dress go:
- Sell your dress at a consignment store
- Sell your dress at a sample sale
- Give your dress to charity
- Burn it! Although burning wedding dress is a trend that is more common amongst divorcees, some ex-brides who harbour negative energy toward their ex-fiancé may choose to participate in this ritual. Many cultures believe that when you burn something you release all the negative energy associated with it.
Part 3: Your Long-Term Recovery Plan
Once you have gotten through your action plan, getting over the emotional experience of calling off your wedding may take some time.
Since calling off a wedding most often includes the ending of a relationship, this experience can be one of “layered grief” - over the ended relationship and the public experience of calling off your wedding. As such, it is vital that you take the best care of yourself that you can while you are mourning your losses. If you feel down and somewhat depressed after you call of your wedding, know that that is very natural. Ensuring you have the right support is imperative. I would highly suggest working with a therapist to fully process the emotional experience.
As a Breakup Coach, I understand that recovery can take a while - how long you ask? As I’ve said before, there is no mathematical equation for heartache - so do your recovery work, focus on building your new life, and continue believe in love!
Although this section is a short, simplified guide, I wanted to leave you with a few strategies for your long-term healing.
PRACTICE RADICAL SELF-CARE
I always encourage people who are going through the aftermath of a romantic situation to practice “radical” self care. By “radical” I mean that for the next while, taking care of you becomes your number one priority - this is not selfish. Of course, you may still have to work, but outside of your duties, your number one job is to take care of yourself - mind, body and soul.
This may include getting a great therapist, going to yoga, journaling, meditating, taking yourself on a trip, starting that hobby you always wanted to learn - do whatever it is that makes you feel good!
For now, work on becoming your own best friend and ask yourself - what would your older, wise self tell you. Project out 20 years, and ask yourself. More than likely, you would tell yourself to breathe, take things step by step and let things unfold. It’s important that in the months that follow you allow yourself to feel your feelings, and focus on doing what you can to build a new life you love.
EMBRACE YOUR GRIEF
Romantic grief is a different form of grief than most people understand, but it is grief. So often, after a breakup or separation I hear people say that they feel like someone died. And although no one has died, your relationship as an entity has (most likely) ended. After my broken engagement, I read a couple books on grief that I found really helpful. At the time, I thought it might seem a bit extreme to others, but I know understand that grief is the natural human expression of loss.
In our death-phobic culture, most people have not learned about grief or how to grieve. If you have not dealt with much loss in your life, you may want to learn a bit about grief (some resources listed on my site here.)
Know that your feelings of loss are real and natural - allow yourself to mourn and let your grief heal you.
PROTECT YOUR SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
After calling off a wedding (or the ending of any relationship) it is an important component of your recovery to protect your social environment. It’s sad to say, but your social circle may be disrupted by your having called off your wedding. Some of your couple-friends and/or soon to be married friends may have a hard time relating to your situation. If this is the case, try your best not to write them off, but give the friendship some space and move towards other social circles. And if you do not have many other friends, then now is the right time to build a new social circle. One of the best ways to do that is to begin a new hobby and meet people in that natural setting.
Final Notes: Life After Calling It Off…
In addition to the sadness that women feel after calling off a wedding, most women report feeling a great sense of empowerment after the hard work of calling off a wedding has been done.
These women describe experiencing an inner drive to do something they have always wanted to do. One of the women I talked to said, “[b]efore the wedding I was doing things I thought I should be doing, and now I’m doing things I want to be doing.” A short 8 months after calling off her wedding she is planningbig trip to South-East Asia to take some time to plan out the next steps for her life. Having worked with many people after a major breakup or separation, I’m not surprised to hear this. Very often, after a major separation, many people turn their lives around, and do something they’ve always wanted to do - in big and small ways. It’s okay to embrace this feeling and use it’s energy to do something new and great in your life.
FINDING NEW LOVE
A lot of people wonder about dating after calling off a wedding. When it comes to finding new love, it’s important to understand that although, dating may not be top of mind, in time you will be ready to open your heart to new love. Above all, no matter how much your heart may hurt right now, continue to believe in love. I can tell you from experience, that if you work on taking care of yourself, and in time put yourself out there and open your heart, you will find new love … someday.
Listed here are a handful of resources I came across in my research.
I have yet to find anyone who specializes in helping people cancel weddings - but when I do find this person I will let share it on my social media.
Why Calling Off My Wedding Was The Best Decision I Ever Made -by Genevieve
The Knot - Calling It Off: Etiquette Q&A
How To Heal After Cancelling Your Wedding - by Robyn Baldwin
Although Robyn Baldwin doesn’t offer personal coaching, she does offer a detailed online checklist for brides who are canceling their wedding.