CorbisExperiencing stomach butterflies or sweaty palms before your wedding may seem like run-of-the-mill cold feet — and oftentimes it can be — but a new study conducted by Florida State University found that people shouldn't always dismiss their gut instincts before walking down the aisle.
James K. McNulty, PhD, an associate professor of psychology, asked 135 newlyweds to describe their marriages with basic adjectives such as "good," "bad," "satisfied," and "unsatisfied," then examined their "gut feelings" about their relationships by having subjects play a word association game after quickly viewing their spouse's photos. When researchers checked in with the subjects four years later, they found that those who expressed negative or lukewarm gut feelings about their spouse were the most unhappy in their marriages. "I think the findings suggest that people may want to attend a little bit to their gut," says McNulty. "If they can sense that their gut is telling them that there is a problem, then they might benefit from exploring that, maybe even with a professional marriage counselor."
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It's not the first study to lend weight to the validity of wedding jitters. In 2011, research conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles found that people — especially women — who were uncertain or hesitant about walking down the aisle were likelier to divorce.
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Why, then, would someone say "I do" if they really mean "I don't"?
"The wedding industry has become so lavish and over the top — expensive gowns, massive guest lists, gimmicky ceremonies — that many people wind up burying their doubts or dismissing them altogether," Wendy Walsh, PhD, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Shine. "The wedding itself can overshadow any doubts about the relationship, especially if the couple has shelled out for an expensive wedding and feel it's too late to back out." No matter how much a person ignores their feelings, she warns, they will eventually surface and manifest.
One reason shaky couples tie the knot is because many don't have blueprints for good marriages, says Walsh. People who are products of divorce may not have context for healthy love, making it easier to subconsciously select the wrong mate.
What's more, couples are getting hitched later than ever: The median age at first marriage has never been higher — 26.5 for brides and 28.7 for grooms. And while delaying nuptials may provide more time to focus on careers and personal development, it may also create relationship dissatisfaction. "Research shows that, for men, the more sexual partners they have — and delaying marriage may provide more sexual opportunity — the less satisfied they'll be with one partner," says Walsh. And an urgent biological clock doesn't help. "If a woman has baby fever, that can be a big motivator for getting married," says Walsh.
It's important to ask yourself whether you're stressed out about the logistics of the wedding or the person you're about to marry. "In any relationship, you should feel validated and respected, even when times are tough," says Walsh. "If you feel in your heart that your needs aren't getting met, it's time to speak up."