We tend to write off premarital doubts as jitters and assume they’ll subside after vows are exchanged.
A study of 464 married people — 232 couples — conducted by psychology researchers at UCLA and published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology found that more men (47 percent) than women (38 percent) had premarital doubts. Among women who reported having had such doubts, 19 percent were divorced within four years after tying the knot, compared to 8 percent of women who didn’t report such doubts. For men with premarital doubts, 14 percent divorced within four years, compared to 9 percent of men without doubts.
Researchers interviewed each participant within six months after marriage (the average age at marriage was 27 for men and 25 for women) and then every six months for four years. At the initial interview, they asked not only about whether the participant had experienced premarital doubts but also what the general tone and feel of their relationship had been during the time preceding the marriage. Later interviews asked about partners’ satisfaction with the marriage.
They also gathered information about other circumstances that could affect the likelihood of a marriage’s success such as whether the participant’s parents had divorced during the participant’s childhood and whether the participant had lived with his or her spouse before they married. Each participant’s personality was assessed to determine whether he or she counted as neurotic, another factor that can influence success or failure in marriage.
After controlling for those other circumstances, the researchers found that in almost two thirds of all couples, at least one partner had reported premarital uncertainty. Of the 36 percent of marriages in which neither the husband nor the wife had experienced doubts, 6 percent divorced within four years. In marriages in which only the husband had had doubts, 10 percent got divorced. But among marriages in which only the wife had been unsure, 18 percent got divorced. Among marriages in which both partners had experienced doubts, 20 percent got divorced.
The authors suggest that their research doesn’t imply that pre-marriage doubt is always a deal killer. But, they note, it’s important for people planning to get married to acknowledge any doubts they may have and see if they can work through them before taking the plunge.