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Wedding woes

From Brian Todd

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jennifer Wilbanks dealt with it one way. Years earlier, Nicole Contos -- almost literally left at the altar at a high-profile Manhattan gathering -- changed into a black dress and went on with the party.

"I just felt that it was really the right thing to do, to go on with the reception, [and] the cocktail hour. Then we decided to go ahead and serve everyone dinner. And the band stayed. I did send the photographers home," Contos said after her 1997 jilting.

Contos, Wilbanks and their fiancÚs likely felt what so many couples can relate to -- the pressures of commitment and the intense stress of that special day.

"When you go for a change of life -- as in a marriage -- there are going to be some jitters. What you have to determine is: Are the jitters legitimate? Or are the jitters because these two people should not be marrying?" says psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle.

We spoke with several psychotherapists and relationship experts. No one could offer hard statistics on how many people call off weddings in the United States each year, but one estimated it's in the hundreds of thousands.

Experts say most people call it off well in advance, speak to their fiancÚ about it and don't go to extremes.

They say there are telltale signs -- a prospective bride or groom starting to realize the gravity of what they're about to do, and often, the spiraling pressure of wedding planning.

"Too many people are concentrating more on the wedding than they are on the actual marriage, the actual 'so what do we do next?'" says Carle.

Experts say the average U.S. wedding costs between $20,000 and $25,000, but depending on the number of guests and if it's in a big city, it can easily shoot up into the hundreds of thousands.

Between the money spent, and all the other issues, experts say, wedding planning becomes a window into the stress couples will face in real life.

"It's people's expectations. It's [the] fighting between family members. It's your parents' wishes versus your wishes... When all your friends have been told and your family and everyone's invited all the guests, brides often get very caught up in that and don't really have the time to really seriously consider any jitters they might have, and [to] look at them more seriously and figure out if there's something more going on," says Carley Roney, editor of "The Knot" Magazine.

For that reason, say psychologists, people just as often make a bigger mistake: Going through with a wedding, when they probably shouldn't, only to become more unhappy later.

From psychologists to wedding planners, the advice is consistent: Look into counseling before your wedding, take a step back, postpone if you have to -- but also remember: Simple nervousness is normal and not always a sign that you shouldn't marry that person.

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