I can't say it enough: "Cold feet" are not a harmless nuisance to shake off as you barrel down the aisle toward your tulle-filled fantasy wedding. They are, in fact, a real indicator that something is wrong, as I learned when I cancelled my nuptials in the nick of time. And a new study backs me up: In the first scientific inquiry into whether pre-marital doubts lead to divorce, UCLA researchers found that, basically, they do. Jitters, especially among women, lead to both higher divorce rates and less self-reported satisfaction.
"People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don't have to worry about them," said lead author Justin Lavner. "We found they are common but not benign."
I can't tell you how thrilled I am to see someone taking these doubts seriously. Our society, despite many advances in thinking about dating and marriage, still pushes heterosexual marriage as the only respectable way to live—nay, as one of the major signs of "winning" in life, especially for women. When I first started whispering my doubts to close friends and family, I heard it over and over: This is normal. Everyone has jitters. Ignore them and order this cake. But in this study of 464 newlyweds, women who had doubts before marriage were 2.5 times more likely to be divorced four years later. Women were actually less likely to have doubts at all, but theirs were more accurate in predicting the marriage's dissolution. As study coauthor Thomas Bradbury said, "Do you think the doubts will go away when you have a mortgage and two kids? Don't count on that."
Exactly. As far as I'm concerned, anyone with pre-marital doubts—male or female—should tell his or her partner immediately and do some serious therapy, either together or alone. Spend some time listening to that little voice inside you, which sounds cheesy, but totally works. Meditate, talk with friends, do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of your hesitation. You can get back to hiring a caterer if, and only if, you get to the point where you feel completely secure in the major life changes you are about to make.
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