Cold feet before wedding: Predictor of marriage success

Cold feet and anxiety have been part of the wedding experience forever and until recently these emotions were regarded as “normal” and nothing to worry about. With the divorce rate continuing to hover at a dismal 50 percent across the country, now, more than ever, people ask me about predictors of a successful marriage, hoping to avoid future emotional and financial demise.

Two studies in the past 1.5 out of UCLA and the University of Alberta, show consistent data and offer scientifically validated information which may offer some food for thought for those about to tie the knot.
UCLA researchers found that women who reported pre-wedding doubts were 2.5 times more likely to divorce than those who confidently walked down the aisle with no pre-wedding second thoughts.

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 husbands with previous cold-feet). Compare this to couples with no premarital doubts had a divorce rate of only 6 percent at the end of 4 years.

Knowing this creates an additional problem however, which is “How do I tell the difference between normal anxiety or legitimate doubt?

Both men and women with premarital anxiety involving the wedding itself or the challenges a marriage presents is more normal and less predictive of future failure compared with having doubts about the partner themselves. More indicative of predicting demise is whether one reminisces about a prior relationship and whether their previous love was really the right one.

How about predictors of a successful marriage? Making each other laugh, having a true interest in the other person, being affectionate outside the bedroom and being good at compromise are all traits of a long lasting marriage. Once thought to negatively impact marriage success, cohabitating prior to getting married is not predictive of future seperation and actually may improve success long-term given each partner can better evaluate their compatibility. Another factor with little predictive value which may surprise people is whether a couple shares common religious or cultural beliefs which proved to not predict future success.

So the quandary remains: I am having cold-feet, the wedding plans are made, guests are invited and all the money my family gave is spent; should I call it off?

No, not necessarily. Sure, it would be wonderful if the euphoria and elation were the only emotions felt but be practical and take a look at some of the objective aspects of relationship health. If problems exist and marriage doubt remains, it’s worth exploring the origin of doubt and ensure you enter into wedding bliss with a truly healthy relationship.

Michael Yasinski MD