How Much Relationship Doubt Is Healthy?

Think those pre-wedding jitters are nothing to worry about? Think again.

A recent study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that women who had doubts about getting married prior to the big day were 2.5 times more likely to divorce over the next four years than women without doubts. Researchers interviewed 232 couples within the first few months of marriage in order to gauge their feelings of uncertainty about tying the knot. They conducted follow-up surveys with the couples every six months over the course of four years and discovered that these feelings of doubt may be more troublesome than once thought.

“In our society, people believe that cold feet are normal and that they don’t matter,” says Justin Lavner, lead study author and a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology. “And while, yes, they may be common—they shouldn’t be pushed aside and forgotten about.”

So how can you be sure that your lurking doubts are normal, not predictors of impending doom? Simple: We broke down the most worrisome scenarios that you could encounter before the big day and asked an expert to weigh in on whether these doubts pose a threat.

The scenario: You don’t have the same interests. The verdict: Normal. Let’s say you’re more of a socialite, while he prefers to spend his Friday nights reading and relaxing—don’t sweat it. “Most couples are not 100 percent compatible,” says Karen Sherman, Ph.D., relationship counselor and author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, Make It Last. As long as the two of you find things you like to do together, you shouldn’t feel obligated to pick up his hobbies just because you’re married, she explains.

The scenario: You’re not on the same page with your values The verdict: Red flag When it comes to personal values—such as dependability, your faith, your family—these are all topics you two need to be on the same page about, says Sherman. Obviously it’s not a deal breaker if you’re Catholic and he’s Jewish, or if he’s super close with his parents and you call yours once a week. But when your values are at odds, it’s crucial for you to discuss how you’re going to reach compromises in the future, says Sherman. For example: If you don’t share the same religion, certain things need to be established as things get serious—such as how the two of you will celebrate the holidays or how the children will be raised. The same goes for family matters, says Sherman. If his mother oversteps her boundaries or is smothering the relationship, limits need to be set, she explains. “Often these red flags can be fixed by good communication and comprise on the subject matter,” says Sherman. “But if you don’t broach these before the big day, they’re only going to cause problems later in the marriage.”

The scenario: You’re worried you’ll cheat The verdict: Red flag Many couples find themselves in situations where the opportunity to cheat arises. But if you’re happy with your partner and you don’t have a track record of unfaithful behavior—infidelity shouldn’t be a huge concern on your part, says Sherman. But if you’re prone to seeking affection outside the relationship—that’s a completely different story. Your move? Don’t move forward with any wedding plans if this fear is lurking, says Sherman. It’s crucial to get to the bottom of why you feel the need to cheat. Weigh your options: Do you think he’s cheating, so this is a way to justify your actions? Are you dealing with issues of insecurity you’ve yet to work out? If you’ve had trouble with staying faithful in the past, you need to let your partner know and put your concerns out on the table, says Sherman. If you cannot resolve the fears together, seeking advice from a relationship counselor may be your best bet, she suggests.

The scenario: Your 10-year plan is nowhere near his The verdict: Normal In this day and age, career paths and life goals can present challenges for any married couple—but these challenges can be easily overcome. “Every couple has to make sacrifices for one another at some point,” says Sherman. So the fact that you prefer the city, while he prefers the suburbs isn’t a deal breaker. But when it comes to what you want—whether it’s referring to kids, careers, pets, where you want to settle down, etc.—you need to lay everything out on the table so there are no surprises down the road, says Sherman.

The scenario: You’re not sure you feel attracted to him anymore The verdict: Red flag Unless you’re being roped into an arranged marriage, there should definitely be attraction when you’re walking down the aisle. “In most long term relationships, feelings of attraction can come and go,” says Sherman. But if the spark is fading before the wedding even happens, this is not something to be ignored. What can you do? Get to the root of the problem, suggests Sherman. Has he recently picked up new not-so-attractive habits (think: smoking, excessive drinking)? Has he been spending less time with you than normal? Is the sexual spark fading fast? If it’s not something that the two of you can fix on your own, such as figuring out how to make more time for one another, seeing a therapist (possibly even a sex therapist), would be a step in the right direction, suggests Sherman.

photo: Photos.com/Thinkstock
More from WH:
Relationship Advice from Happy Couples
The Romance Paradox
How to Make Your Marriage Last

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