When women have doubts before their wedding, their misgivings are often a warning sign of trouble if they go ahead with the marriage, psychologists have warned.
The UCLA study demonstrates that pre-wedding uncertainty, especially among women, predicts higher divorce rates and less marital satisfaction years later.
“People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don't have to worry about them,” Justin Lavner, lead author of the study, said.
“We found they are common but not benign. Newlywed wives who had doubts about getting married before their wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce four years later than wives without these doubts. Among couples still married after four years, husbands and wives with doubts were significantly less satisfied with their marriage than those without doubts.
“You know yourself, your partner and your relationship better than anybody else does; if you're feeling nervous about it, pay attention to that.
“It’s worth exploring what you’re nervous about,” he said.
For the study, psychologists studied 464 newlywed spouses (232 couples) in Los Angeles within the first few months of marriage and conducted follow-up surveys with the couples every six months for four years.
At the time of marriage, the average age of the husbands was 27, and the average age of the wives was 25.
When asked, “Were you ever uncertain or hesitant about getting married?” at their initial interview, 47 percent of husbands and 38 percent of wives said yes.
Yet while women were less likely than men to have doubts, their doubts were more meaningful in predicting trouble after the wedding, the researchers found.
Among women, 19 percent of those who reported pre-wedding doubts were divorced four years later, compared with 8 percent of those who did not report having doubts.
For husbands, 14 percent who reported premarital doubts were divorced four years later, compared with 9 percent who did not report having doubts.
Doubt proved to be a decisive factor, regardless of how satisfied the spouses were with their relationships when interviewed, whether their parents were divorced, whether the couple lived together before the wedding and how difficult their engagement was.
In 36 percent of couples, the husband and wife had no doubts about getting married. Of those couples, 6 percent got divorced within four years. When only the husband had doubts, 10 percent of the couples got divorced.
When only the wife had doubts, 18 percent of couples got divorced. When both partners had doubts, 20 percent of the couples got divorced.
“What this tells us is that when women have doubts before their wedding, these should not be lightly dismissed. Do not assume your doubts will just go away or that love is enough to overpower your concerns. There’s no evidence that problems in a marriage just go away and get better. If anything, problems are more likely to escalate,” Lavner said.
The study has been published online in the Journal of Family Psychology.