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Decisions big and small can be accompanied by major doubts and uncertainty. The important thing to remember is that these feelings are completely normal. In fact, they're quite expected.
Even when it comes to a decision as lofty as getting married (or staying married), it's normal to question yourself and your decisions. The key is to notice what you're feeling unsure of and whether or not it's a signal to make a change.
"You know yourself, your partner, and your relationship better than anybody else does; if you're feeling nervous about it, pay attention to that," Justin Lavner, a 2012 UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology found in a study. "It's worth exploring what you're nervous about."
Lavner's advice is based on a study he conducted in 2012 that found uncertainty before getting married predicts higher divorce rates and less satisfaction in the marriage down the line. This was especially true for women who experienced pre-wedding doubts, which is why it's vital to listen to your gut.
That inner voice may present itself in the form of a hunch, goosebumps, a pit or knot in your stomach, sleepless nights, whispers in your head, feeling tense, or having a sense of not being on the right path. It's not always easy to listen to your heart and your gut at these pivotal moments in life, but it's necessary. When you listen to that little voice inside your head, you will likely have peace in believing you made the right decision.
Things to Consider
When thinking about marriage, it's important to be realistic. Having unrealistic expectations and believing in a fairy-tale marriage can lead to disillusionment, which will inevitably cause problems in the long run. Of course, a marriage can and should be filled with happiness, love, and support, but it might not always be easy or simple.
If you've seen warning signs before committing to someone, pay attention to them. Ignoring red flags can cause you a lot of heartache in the future. By that same token, if you and your partner have problems and issues before you get married, those same problems and issues will likely continue throughout your marriage.
That's not to say you can't work through problems as a couple, but it is worth taking stock of the problems you have now and ask yourself if you're willing to deal with these issues for the rest of your life.
"Doubt, uncertainty, and the feeling of not knowing for sure is not a problem," social worker Michael Batshaw says in Psychology Today. "In fact, contrary to what we might at first think, experiencing such feelings can be the greatest path toward intuitive certainty."
This is because your doubts can allow you to become more self-aware and can help you confront any issues you and your partner may have. In turn, you'll see if your S.O is really capable of meeting your needs.
Dr. Judith Orloff agrees that doubts can be the key to understanding what you really want and need.
"When you learn to read your body signals, a whole new type of information will be available to you," she says in Psychology Today.
Along with learning more about your needs from a relationship, doubts and uncertainty are good indicators that you may need to have a serious conversation with your partner. As UCLA psychology professor Thomas Bradbury, who co-authored the 2012 study on marital doubt with Lavner, puts it, "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."
He advises you have a conversation about your feelings with your S.O. and see how it goes.
The bottom line is that some degree of doubt and uncertainty is normal around big decisions such as marriage. According to the experts, the key is to listen to your gut, pay attention to your feelings, and try to talk through your concerns with your partner before you make a major commitment.
UCLA Newsroom. Should I Marry Him? September 13, 2012.
Lavner JA, Karney BR, Bradbury TN. Do Cold Feet Warn of Trouble Ahead? Premarital Uncertainty and Four-Year Marital Outcomes. J Fam Psychol. 2012;26(6):1012–1017. doi:10.1037/a0029912
Psychology Today. A Zen Koan for Post-Valentine's Day: Do You Have "Healthy Doubt" or "Unhealthy Doubt" About Whether Your Partner is "The One". February 15, 2010.
Psychology Today. Five Intuitions About Love and Sex You Shouldn't Ignore. May 27, 2010.