Pay Attention to Those Pre-Wedding Doubts

You’re engaged to be married, but you’re privately having some doubts about the relationship. Don’t just write off those feelings to cold feet, suggests a new study published online by the Journal of Family Psychology.

The UCLA study was the first to look at whether misgivings before a marriage are a harbinger of trouble to come—and it turns out they are, especially for women. When asked, “Were you ever uncertain or hesitant about getting married,” 38% of newlywed women said yes. Four years later, 19% of these women were divorced, compared to only 8% of those who didn’t report having doubts.

Among couples who were still together after four years, pre-wedding doubts predicted less satisfaction with the marriage. It seems that second thoughts before a wedding sometimes foreshadow regrets afterward.

Don’t Dismiss Doubts Lightly

Doubts before a wedding are very common, of course. In this study, almost 40% of women and nearly 50% of men fessed up to having them. But for some couples, uncertainty about getting married may also be uncommonly important as an early warning sign.

Such doubts shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, according to Justin Lavner, study lead author and a doctoral candidate in psychology at UCLA. Lavner cautions that it could be a big mistake to assume that your misgivings will go away once you’re married or that true love will conquer all your premarital baggage.

Instead, Lavner says, it’s important to explore what you’re nervous about. Doubts don’t always mean you should call off the wedding. But they may mean you and your partner have some significant issues to work out before the big day. In some cases, it may be well worth your while to consider premarital counseling.

Do Start Off on Firm Footing

Another recent study by Laver and his colleagues, published in the same journal, showed just how crucial it is to get marriage off to a positive start. That study included 251 couples, who were followed over the first four years of marriage.

The good news: Most of these spouses—almost 60% of husbands and nearly 70% of wives—were happy in their relationships. And contrary to popular opinion, their satisfaction with marriage didn’t wear off once the honeymoon phase was over.

This study, like others before it, found that growing unhappiness was limited mostly to spouses who were less satisfied with their relationships from day one. Spouses in this low-satisfaction group were three to four times more likely to get divorced within four years than those who felt moderately to very satisfied with their marriages.

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