Ladies: if you’re having doubts about going through with a wedding, don’t ignore them. At least that’s the advice issued by a new UCLA study investigating the link between marriage misgivings and unhappy unions. The psychologist authors warn that doubt—especially among women—may be a sign that trouble awaits after “I do.”
Pre-wedding jitters are common, the researchers found, but not always benign. Newlywed wives who were plagued by doubt before the wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to get divorced four years later than wives who were certain they were making the right choice. And after the four-year mark, couples who originally had doubts but managed not to get divorced didn’t find their marriage to be as satisfying as the doubt-free pairs.
To make this connection, the researchers surveyed more than 200 couples in Los Angeles within the first few months of marriage and then followed up with them every six months for four years. During their first study session, the researchers asked each spouse, “Were you ever uncertain or hesitant about getting married?” Around 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women said yes. When the researchers probed further, however, they found that women’s doubts were more accurate in predicting trouble after the wedding. In their analysis, they controlled for factors like whether the couples lived together before getting married, how difficult their engagements were and whether their parents were divorced.
Four years after that first round of questions, they found, 19 percent of the women who expressed doubts had divorced, compared to just 8 percent of those who felt assured of their marriage choice. For husbands, 14 percent of doubters divorced compared to 9 percent of non-doubters.
Looking at couples as a whole rather than individual spouses, they found that in 36 percent of couples, neither the husband nor wife had doubts about getting married, and just 6 percent of that group got divorced within four years. When only the husband had doubts, 10 percent of couples got divorced, and when only the wife had doubts, 18 percent of couples got divorced. When both partners had doubts, 20 percent of couples divorced by the four-year mark.
While pre-marital doubts certainly do not foreordain an unhappy marriage, the study authors say that the moral is to pay attention to gut feelings before the wedding. If something is bothering you or your partner, it’s worth exploring the root of that feeling before tying the knot. A mortgage and kids won’t make underlying problems go away, they warn, so it’s best to have that difficult conversation in advance to ensure that the marriage really is all bliss.
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