Months before Steven and I were engaged, I remember listening to numerous engagement stories. I was a senior at the time, and at a Christian college, engagements seem to be an everyday occurrence in the spring. I observed the faces of the couples as they told their stories. I looked for any sign of reluctance, regret or hesitation. Maybe it was because I was far from that kind of commitment at the time, but I always thought that under the over-exuberant smiles and shiny new rock, there had to be lingering doubt. How could anyone be positively certain that they wanted to spend the rest of their life with their current significant other?
I know it sounds cynical, but at the time I found it naive to think at engagement both parties could be 100 percent sure. I assumed doubt was a part of the process. Thankfully, with time, came maturity and growth for Steven and me, and we were able to enter engagement with full confidence in our decision. The assurance I felt during engagement and at the altar was a peace I didn’t know existed and one that could only come from God. But what do you do if your significant other is engagement-ready, and you are feeling unsure? A recent study from The Relationship Institute at UCLA screams “wait” — proving cold feet may be a bigger deal than we think.
Earlier this fall Boundless blogger Adam Holz discussed this same study saying, “I think Lavner’s counsel here is sound.” Adam took a deeper look into categories of doubt: momentary doubt and nagging fear. I believe this topic is important enough to bring it up again, to remind dating and engaged couples to open up, have deep conversations, and to pay attention to doubts you think may disappear.
“People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don’t have to worry about them,” said Justin Lavner, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and lead author of the study. “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.”
The study went on to say that men were more likely to have premarital doubts, but their doubts did not weigh as heavy on the marriage results. In a relationship where the woman had premarital doubts, the marriage was more prone to failure and/or unhappiness if the woman experienced unresolved doubt before “I Do.”
“What this tells us,” Lavner said, “is that when women have doubts before their wedding, these should not be lightly dismissed. Do not assume your doubts will just go away or that love is enough to overpower your concerns. There’s no evidence that problems in a marriage just go away and get better. If anything, problems are more likely to escalate.”
If you are facing pre-marital doubts, I encourage you not to ignore it, but to dig deeper. Spend time discussing where these doubts come from and be transparent with your significant other. If you are having a hard time discerning if your doubts are momentary or nagging fears, find a married mentor to discuss this with. Have them help you discern as an individual and/or as a couple what is fleeting and what needs to be settled for the relationship to move forward. As Lavner explained earlier, issues do not disappear after marriage, but become magnified and more difficult. Confront your doubts now, or there is a good chance they will follow you in the years to come. Doubts don’t mean you need to end the relationship or cut of the engagement, but are a signifier that more growth is needed before a commitment can be made.
“If you see something unusual on your skin, should you ignore it and go to the beach, or see a doctor? Be smart and don’t ignore it — and don’t ignore your doubts either,” said Bradbury, who co-directs the Relationship Institute at UCLA. “Have a conversation and see how it goes. Do you think the doubts will go away when you have a mortgage and two kids? Don’t count on that.”
After months of working through uncertainty, battling my own doubts both small and large, I was able to realize that certainty does exist. No, not an emotional high that fades with the post engagement hoop-la, but a certainty that comes with time, discernment, prayer and Christ-like love. Don’t rush into one of the most important decisions of your life. Listen to your instincts if doubt continues to creep into your mind. Believe me, you will be happy you waded through uncertainty to reach the peace and stability marriage can bring.