A Warning – A Warm Heart but Cold Feet

Cold feet walking down the aisle is the subject of humor. Everyone has stories about people who feel uncertain on their wedding day. Most people dismiss these troublesome thoughts that percolate from the recesses of the soul, but should they? No, not according to three psychologists at UCLA: Cold feet at the altar does indeed warn of trouble down the road.

Some successful couples look back on cold feet as the source of folk wisdom about marital success, but three psychologists at UCLA wanted to scientifically test the predictive value of doubts as an indictor of marital success.

Justin Lavner, a doctoral candidate, and his colleagues, Thomas Bradbury and Benjamin Karney, asked “232 recently married couples in their first marriages whether they had ‘ever been uncertain or hesitant about getting married’ after they got engaged.” The researchers followed them every six months for the first four years of their marriage, so they could track “whether couples’ doubts would predict how marriages unfold.”

Their study, recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology, suggests that premarital uncertainty is common: “in two-thirds of couples, one or both partners had doubts. Doubts were also more common among men than women: 47 percent of husbands and 38 percent of wives had doubts.” “Second, and most important, doubts predicted marital outcomes four years later. Wives’ doubts were especially predictive of divorce: 19 percent of couples in which wives had doubts were divorced four years later, but only 8 percent of couples in which wives did not have doubts ended up divorced. Husbands’ doubts did not significantly predict divorce, although divorce rates were somewhat higher among husbands with doubts (14 percent) than husbands without doubts (9 percent). Among couples who did not divorce, husbands’ and wives’ doubts predicted less satisfying marriages.”

Maybe in the end, intuition suggests as much as research. Rachel Greenwald, who writes about marriage, relates how, at a wedding, it came to her that marriage is “a crapshoot.” The couple at the altar, pledging their lives to each other, made her happy and she wished them good fortune, yet “as happy as I was for them, I knew the truth: When you get married, all you can really do is roll the dice and hope for the best.”

You can read more about divorce statistics here.

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