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'Cold feet' could be warning of unhappy union to come

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 9:19 a.m. MDT

Jitters seem to correlate with more divorce and lower marital satisfaction years later, according to a study published online in the Journal of Family Psychology.

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The first study to test what "cold feet" before a wedding means concludes that if the woman is nervous, the marriage is less likely to be successful. The researchers at the University of California Los Angeles found those jitters seem to correlate with higher divorce rates and lower marriage satisfaction years later.

The study indicates that the jitters preceding marriage may be a warning of trouble to come if the marriage occurs. It is published online in the Journal of Family Psychology.

"People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don't have to worry about them," said Justin Lavner, UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and lead author, in a statement accompanying the research. "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.

Lavner told USA Today: "The question was, were you ever uncertain or hesitant about getting married?' Just a yes or no. The simplicity is great because it's such a basic question. But unfortunately, it doesn't allow us to say if it's doubts about the partner or doubts about marriage in general. Doubts specific to the relationship or partner are generally worse than doubts about marriage in general."

They looked at 232 newlywed couples in Los Angeles within the first few months of marriage and followed that with surveys every six months for four years. The average age at marriage for men in the study was 27, for the women 25.

They found women were less likely to have doubts than men (women, 38 percent, vs. men at 47 percent), but their doubts were "more meaningful in predicting strife. Of the women, 19 percent who had pre-wedding doubts were divorced four years later, compared to 8 percent of those who didn't doubt. For husbands, 14 percent who had doubts were divorced four years later, compared to 9 percent of those who said they had no doubts before the wedding.

"Doubt proved to be the decisive factor, regardless of how satisfied the spouses were with their relationships when interviewed, whether their parents were divorced, whether the couples lived together before the wedding and how difficult their engagement was," the report said.

The researchers noted that doubts don't mean the couple should not marry, but it is a sign they should talk through concerns because other pressures, like a mortgage or kids, are not apt to make it easier.

“Talk about it and try to work through it,” co-author Thomas Bradbury, also a professor of psychology and the co-director of the Research Institute at UCLA, told CBS Los Angeles. “You hope that the big issues have been addressed before the wedding.”

"Doubts don't mean doom," John M. Grohol wrote on PsychCentral. His advice: "Talk to your partner to express your insecurities before the wedding; talk to others for an objective point of view; don't ignore any real problems, which go deeper than the stress of planning; and don't allow yourself to feel pressured by the magnitude of the event itself.

"Anxiety and doubt are not the same thing," he said. "If you have real doubts about getting married, listen to those doubts and take action."

A Fox News report on the study noted that a record number of Americans are unmarried, which could indicate people are delaying marriage or not tying the knot at all.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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