The December 2012 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology has what the editors refer to as a brief report about a study regarding the relationship between premarital uncertainty and four year marital outcomes. This Journal article may be a brief report but it is a powerful one.
The first sentence of the report tells the story of the research goals. “From Much Ado about Nothing to Runaway Bride images of premarital doubt are ubiquitous in Western society.” The researchers doing this study wanted to know if these feelings of cold feet that many experience prior to their wedding are predictive of marital happiness or conversely, divorce? The psychologists performing the study solicited 464 recently married spouses and followed them longitudinally. At baseline the study participants were asked if they had uncertainties regarding getting married to their spouses and they were evaluated for their satisfaction in their marriages. The participants were then compared over a four year period – those who had little doubt to those who expressed doubt prior to getting married.
In roughly two thirds of the couples at least one spouse reported some doubts before marriage but women who reported premarital cold feet, otherwise known as doubt, about whether or not to marry, had significantly higher rates of divorce. The researchers did not accept this finding at face value so they went on to statistically control their findings by accounting for the effects of present marital satisfaction, levels of difficulty during the couples engagement, whether the partners had parents who had divorced, premarital cohabitation and levels of neurosis or anxiety. None of these factors altered the findings. Women who had doubts when walking down the aisle were much more likely to end up divorced within four years. Yes, many people in the study expressed some doubt prior to marriage but women who had strong doubt may very well have had good reason not to go through with the marriage.
Now I know many of you are saying “Like duh!!! So what else is new???” But this is truly an important study especially among those who insist on using matchmakers and relying on them exclusively.
Psychologists have known for quite some time that decision-making can be swayed by personal biases, personality factors, emotional issues and even when and how a choice is offered to the person who has to decide. Getting married is obviously a major decision. It requires a form of attending that other decisions, like which suit to wear or what to eat for lunch, do not match. But there are also additional distractions that can complicate the marital decision process one internal the other external. The internal one is the fact that most people tend to idealize the person they are planning to marry even if they know that there is strong reason to question the person as a good marital fit. This process may cause them to overlook their very real doubts.
The external pressure is what happens when outsiders insist that having cold feet is something that should be dismissed because, according to them, “everyone gets them” and “the person you will be marrying is wonderful anyway.” The combination of these two factors can truly upend the ability to make a wise marital choice. Those of us who deal with early marriage divorces, divorces of people married for less than ten years, see far too much of this form of pressure. In The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures I recount several examples of how matchmakers and untrained and unlicensed marriage counselors insist that the couple is right for each other despite very obvious problems. Inevitably significant discord and in many cases divorce results in these types of situations.
And now, in what I think may be a first of its kind, a lawsuit has been filed against a matchmaker who, using pretentious, inappropriate and unethical marital counseling techniques is being sued by a former female client who is divorced from her husband after just a few years of marriage. This puts matchmakers on notice, at least in America, to be aware of the proper way to bring couples together, to listen and empathize with premarital concerns and not to act as professional therapists without having the proper training and licensure. If you have doubts talk them out, find someone who can truly help you tease out real cold feet which are due to serious concerns, from simple, common premarital jitters. Do not listen to someone who is in it for other reasons or you may find yourself suing them in court.