Cold feet? Pre-wedding jitters of bride is divorce indicator

Brides with cold feet – pre-wedding jitters – are 2.5 times more likely to divorce than those who stride the aisle with confidence, a new UCLA study shows.

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Brides from across America, winners of the 17th Annual Empire State Building & Valentine's Day Weddings Event, posed in their gowns at the 86th floor Observatory, Feb. 13, 2011

Feeling cold feet with the wedding around the corner?  Don’t just shrug off those premarital jitters, psychologists from University of California, Los Angeles say. Especially if you are the bride-to-be.

In a new study, published this month in the American Psychological Association’s  “Journal of Family Psychology,” UCLA researchers found that women who reported pre-wedding doubts were 2.5 times more likely to divorce than those who went confidently down the aisle.

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And although men were more likely to report doubts about tying the knot (47 percent of husbands said they had been uncertain or hesitant about getting married), it was the women whose jitters were more indicative of later marital trouble. Nineteen percent of women who reported pre-wedding doubts were divorced four years later (It was 14 percent for the nervous husbands-to-be).

"People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don't have to worry about them," Justin Lavner, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and lead author of the study, told the UCLA news service. "We found they are common but not benign.”

The findings come from a four-year study of 464 newlywed spouses.  Researchers interviewed the couples within the first few months of marriage, and then surveyed them every six months for four years.  One of the questions they asked at the initial interview was “Were you ever uncertain or hesitant about getting married?”

The answer to that question (again, 47 percent “yes” for men, 38 percent “yes” for women) appears to be a decisive factor in the potential for splitting: more so, the researchers said, than reported satisfaction with the relationship, whether a person’s parents were divorced, whether a couple lived together before their wedding or how difficult they found their engagement period.

(This throws back to a story we reported earlier this year: While nearly half of first marriages break up within 20 years, the US Centers for Disease control and Prevention found that, despite popular opinion, cohabitation before marriage signaled no higher chances for divorce.)

 "What this tells us," Lavner said, "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."

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Just because you’re feeling totally confident, though, doesn’t mean you’re home free. The UCLA researchers found that in 36 percent of couples there were no pre-marital doubts; among those, 6 percent were divorced within four years.

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