Women who have doubts before their wedding have a higher risk of marital problems and divorce, researchers from UCLA reported in the Journal of Family Psychology.

The authors explained that pre-wedding misgivings are frequently a sign that there is likely to be trouble ahead. Although the pre-nuptial jitters are often predictors of marital problems years later for both men and women, the association was found to be closer among women.

Lead author, doctoral psychology candidate, Justin Lavner, said:

“People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don’t have to worry about them. 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.”

Lavner and team had set out to determine whether doubts leading up to the wedding day might be predictors of subsequent marital problems and the likelihood of divorce. They gathered and analyzed data on 232 newlywed couples in the Los Angeles area, they were to be married within a few months. They carried out follow-up studies twice a year for a period of four years. The average age of the males on their wedding day was 27 years, and 25 for females.

47% of the men and 28% of the women said they had been hesitant and uncertain about getting married in the first survey. Even though a small percentage of women had doubts, their worries were better predictors of subsequent marital problems.

19% of the females who said they had had doubts before their wedding day were divorced within four years, compared to 8% of the other women. 14% of husbands who had experienced pre-wedding jitters were divorced within four years, compared to 9% of the other men.

The decisive factor impacting on higher divorce risk were the pre-wedding doubts, the authors explained, regardless of how happy they were with their partners when they were interviewed, or whether their parents were divorced, lived together already, or how happy or difficult their engagement was.

Below are some further data from the study:

  • 36% of the couples had doubt-free days or weeks leading up to their wedding. Only 6% of them were divorced within four years.
  • 10% of couples where just the man had had doubts became divorced within four years.
  • 18% of couples where just the woman had doubts became divorced within the same period.
  • 20% of couples where both had had doubts became divorced within four years.

Lavner said:

“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.”

Co-author, Thomas Bradbury, a psychology professor, said that the data he analyzed and the conclusions he came to reminded him of people who suddenly find something disturbing on their skin. Bradbury said:

“If you see something unusual on your skin, should you ignore it and go to the beach, or see a doctor? Be smart and don’t ignore it – and don’t ignore your doubts either. Have a conversation and see how it goes. Do you think the doubts will go away when you have a mortgage and two kids? Don’t count on that.”

Women should not take these findings as advice to end the relationship if they have doubts before the wedding, the researchers emphasized. The majority of women who had had doubts were still married after four years.

Bradbury advises people with doubts to talk about them and to try to work through them. It might help if the big issues have been addressed before the wedding day.

Written by Christian Nordqvist