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Marriage Doubts and Marriage Success

There's a new study out of UCLA making the media rounds. Doctoral candidate Justin Lavner and his psychology professor co-authors, Thomas Bradbury and Benjamin Karney, conclude that having doubts or hesitations about getting married increase the odds you will divorce within the first four years of marriage.

They report that "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."

What should you do about this if you're engaged or thinking about proposing?

If your doubts stem from worrisome behaviors by your spouse-to-be, take your time and check them out. Postpone the wedding if necessary--no one-day event is worth jeopardizing the rest of your life. But if they are more general worries about marriage as an unknown frontier, get yourself some marriage education to improve your skills and have a great wedding.

Why? Because 64% of the couples they interviewed had at least one partner with doubts. And 62% of the couples still married four years later came from this group, the ones we could call the "normal" couples, since they form a large majority.

When neither reported any doubts, 94% of the couples remained married four years later. Where one or both had doubts, 85% remained married. There is a real difference, but the doubts hardly doom the marriage.

If you have doubts about getting married, separate them into two categories. For those that stem from worrisome things your partner has done, get to work on some healthy Third Alternatives that suit the two of you. This is not the time to Assume Love and try to see what worries you in a different light. It's the time to calmly ask for explanations, so you find out if you can truly make the promises of marriage.

Always late for dates can be a style of dealing with time that you can find a way to accommodate or it can be a sign of alcohol or drug abuse. Argumentative or judgmental behavior can be fine if it's balanced out with five positive acts for every negative one, or it can crush your spirit as soon as the excitement of falling in love or enjoying sex with someone new passes. Generosity can be thrilling while it's your partner's money being spent on it but scary when you pool current and long-range expenses. Time apart can be healthy or a source of secretiveness that feeds your jealousy and resentment. If your doubts revolve around such things, work them out first, unless you truly believe you can vow to deal with whatever they may signify.

For those other doubts that stem from not knowing how to deal with what might happen to you two because it's happened to others, take a marriage class or two. Take it from someone who screwed up, good marriages don't just happen and they don't take a lot of hard work.


Excellent post Patty! We are probably biologically programmed to ignore much of our doubt when we choose a mate. I know I did. We have an excellent marriage, but I wish I had paid more attention to my doubts about family early on. I could have probably prevented a lot of work later if we took care of family issues when they were small.

Thanks, CJ. I hope other engaged couples learn from your observation.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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