“Do you still want to get married?” my mother-in-law asked my future wife on the day we were to be married. Her intuition told her to be alert to premarital doubts, and she wanted to make sure my wife wanted to go through with the marriage. According to a new study by Justin Lavner and colleagues, reported in the Journal of Family Psychology, my mother-in-law was right to ask.
The researchers found that at least one partner in two-thirds of the couples reported having premarital doubts; 47 percent of the husbands and 38 percent of the wives reported being uncertain about getting married. This finding alone suggests that premarital doubts are common among couples and that men are more likely than women to have doubts.
So what do these doubts predict about the likelihood of divorce in the early stages of marriage? About 12 percent of couples in this sample divorced in the first four years. For husbands, premarital doubts did not seem to predict divorce, but for wives, doubts did predict divorce. Among wives who did not report doubts, only 8 percent divorce, while for those wives who did report doubts, almost one out of five ended up divorced. Of course, perhaps doubts about marriage simply reflect a fragile relationship or other factors that predispose divorce. The scientists also examined whether growing up with divorced parents, living together, or having a difficult personality explained the findings rather than “doubts about the marriage.” They found that premarital doubts still predicted divorce above and beyond these factors.