Getting 'Cold Feet' Is A Sign Of Trouble Ahead

Photo: flickr/j_bouzas

Two-thirds of people about to wed end up having second thoughts about the decision, a new study in the Journal of Family Psychology found.The problem? The study found that people who have these kinds of doubts are more likely to get divorced. Maybe more of us should follow our guts.

The researchers, led by Thomas Bradbury from the University of California, Los Angeles, surveyed 464 recently married spouses (232 couples) from the Los Angeles area. The researchers asked each husband or wife individually if they had troubles with ‘cold-feet’ before the wedding and collected other information about their relationship.

They found that about two-thirds of the couples had at least one partner that got anxious about the impending betrothal.

Specifically, 47 per cent of husbands and 38 per cent of wives came down with cold feet during their engagement period.

They then followed up with the couple every 6 months for 4 years to see how these new nuptials turned out — surveying them on how satisfied they were with their marriage and if they were still with their partner.

About 12 per cent of the couples ended up getting divorced by the 4-year-mark. They found a trend toward higher divorce rates in both men and women who had reported cold feet, but only the female trend was significant.

Only 8 per cent of wives who didn’t have cold feet ended up divorced, while 19 per cent of the marriages in which the wives fretted over their marriage were divorced by their fourth anniversary.

Only 8 per cent of wives who didn’t get cold feet ended up divorced, while 19 per cent of the marriages in which the wives fretted over their marriage were divorced by their fourth anniversary.

(The numbers were 9 per cent and 14 per cent for husbands, respectively.)

In their analysis they controlled for multiple factors that could lead to increased divorce rates, including having divorced parents and how difficult they rated their engagement.

“Taken together, the results indicate that premarital doubts are not simply an instance of feeling anxious before a major event or something to be worked through, but a sign of possible trouble ahead,” the researchers write in the paper, published online Sept 3. “This appeared to be less true for men, consistent with our prediction that women’s greater attunement toward relationship problems would render their doubts more diagnostic.”

They also noticed that, of intact couples, those who reported cold feet were less satisfied with their marriages to begin with and their marital happiness stayed lower over time.

A couple notes on the study: They didn’t get specifics on the degree to which any given person had doubts or the types of doubts that they had about their impending wedding, and the information on their doubt was collected AFTER their weddings, so its possible the after-wedding bliss (or lack of) could have changed their interpretations of their “doubts.”

The data were also collected almost 20 years ago, so recent evolution of relationships — say, more couples living together — may mean different results would be found in studies of more recent marriages.

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