Suppose your best friend is getting married next month, having spent the last six months planning a picturesque autumn wedding with the love of her life. As the two of you are catching up over a couple of chai lattes, she raises an unexpected and alarming concern.
“She has been on my nerves constantly”, your friend says with great emphasis, speaking of her future wife’s role in the wedding planning process. “She obsesses over the smallest, stupidest details no one would ever notice. And it’s not like she’s the one who has to pay for all this. She’s just become so…annoying.”
The trials and tribulations of planning the big event are often rife with emotions. Sometimes, it brings up behaviours someone has never seen in their future spouse before, giving rise to concerns about future marital issues may lie ahead.
“And that’s not all”, your friend continues, recounting an ever-expanding list of potential problems with her incoming marriage.
What would you tell your dear friend? Is it normal to sense marriage problems ahead of what’s supposed to be the happiest day of one’s life? Should people heed their doubts and call off the wedding?
A quick Google search on “doubts before wedding” reveals many contradictory viewpoints on this issue. Very few people seem to linger in the middle – either they say it’s totally normal or it undoubtedly spells doom for the future marriage. It offers little comfort for those who may be stewing in their own concerns in advance of their wedding.
In 2012, a UCLA study found that men and women who harboured doubts about marrying their partners have a higher divorce rate after the first four years of marriage than those who did not. Of the women interviewed for the study, 19% who expressed pre-wedding doubts were divorced four years later, compared to 8% who didn’t. For men, the stats were similar, with 14% of doubting husbands divorcing compared to 9% who had no doubts.
This may not come as a surprise, but what is shocking is just how many of the participants did have doubt in the first place. Almost half of all men in the study (47%) and over a third of women (38%) had doubts about marrying their partner.
In summary, the lead author of the study wrote that premarital doubts are “common but not benign.”
That’s a lot of ambivalence.
Of course, to accept the findings means accepting that all the couples interviewed were honest about their feelings. However, as therapist Daniela Tempesta points out in this blog, people face enormous social pressure to feel confident and excited about their upcoming weddings no matter what. This casts doubt on whether people can truly and honestly express their fears in such a study.
Daniela goes on to argue that harbouring concerns about one’s future marriage is not only normal, but that people should feel ambivalent before their wedding day.
“This is a huge decision, perhaps one of the largest and most important you’ll ever make in your life”, she writes. “The presence of ambivalence shows that you fully grasp the momentousness of this change in your life. Additionally, given the current divorce rate and the pain and suffering that results from that process, you’d be naive not to think twice about this.”
She adds, however, that you should never ignore your feelings leading up to the wedding. If you have a nagging sense that something’s not right, there’s a reason for it. Instead, she says you should investigate the feelings and try to understand what’s behind them.
Regardless of the eventual outcome, the friend in the above scenario took the right step by airing her concerns with someone else. The only thing worse than ignoring the feelings would be to deal with them in darkness.