Girl meets boy. They begin to fall in love and soon decided to get married. But what happens when, just before the takeoff, one or both of them get cold feet and decided to cancel the wedding? And no, this isn’t just because of the coronavirus pandemic. A recently published study found that the upcoming wedding was a catalyst for thinking intentionally and more deeply about the relationship’s future.
Kale Monk, Ph.D. from the University of Missouri and colleagues conducted an in-depth interview with 30 heterosexual couples between 18 and 48 years old. The relationships that these participants described were generally serious and long-term. The average length of the relationship before ending it was 4.5 years. The authors wanted to explore individuals’ reasoning and thought process to find out the most central issues that led to canceling their wedding.
Stay-leave decisions during the engagement period
The authors wrote that the engagement period is a “critical window” to understand stay-leave decisions as it signifies a stage when individuals will move towards a lifelong commitment. Yet, it is also in this stage where two individuals do not have the obligations of a legal marriage that could make the dissolution of their relationship difficult.
Based on Intertia Theory, felt momentum could drive couples to relationship changes without sufficient consideration of their dedication. This could, however, constrain the two in poor quality relationships. This is why the authors drew from this perspective and examined how people reduce the felt momentum and end an upcoming wedding. The team’s study appeared in Psychology Today.
Slow relational momentum
Rituals of wedding planning, such as selecting a venue and trying on a dress, appear to be a catalyst for the cognitive shift. It also led to slow relational momentum, including returning of rings and trial separations. They would also reconsider constraints and red flags to leave the relationship. One participant said, “At one point when he was yelling at me, like is this what I wanted for the rest of my life?” Another participant visualized her future while she was trying a wedding dress. “I look at myself in the mirror and I thought ‘I hope that [my-ex-fiancé] and I are still friends after we get divorced.,” she narrated. The pre-wedding tasks gave these participants an eye-opening glimpse into their future.
For men, on the other hand, it was less about wedding planning but more about their engagement revealing incompatibilities that they think would be problematic. "If she’s not listening to me while we’re planning this wedding, this is one day of our lives, does that mean she’s not gonna take anything into consideration after we’re married?" a male participant said.
Questioning long-term compatibility
Other men participants mentioned how negative comments from their fiancé about important issues, such as the desire to have kids and religion, made them question their long-term compatibility. One guy said that he stopped doing a lot of things that he liked doing and there was an inability to communicate amicably, productively, and respectfully to his partner.
The researchers noticed that the participants recognized the role of inertia in their relationship when they sought to slow the momentum before marriage. Some said they need to “figure some things out before” the wedding. Others said, “maybe we just need to wait a little longer.” The slowing of momentum, though, resulted in an on-again and off-again dynamic in their relationship. It is in this period of relationship that some women tried to “fall back in love” or forgive transgressions. Yet, these didn’t work and it led them to ultimately end their relationship. It appears that space provided them the opportunity to process their emotions. It revealed various lingering major issues, including growing apart, abuse, conflict, and infidelity.
Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a Professor and former Chair in the Department of Psychology at Monmouth University shares important lessons relative to the study. He said that before the relationship gets so serious that you are thinking of engagement, take some time first to think about what a future relationship with your partner looks like. Are you both compatible not just in everyday living but also in values? Envision the relationship not just in good times but also in bad.
Dr. Lewandowski, who was not involved in the study, added that individuals need to evaluate their relationship so that they are aware of the potential red flags early on. They should not get so wrapped up in falling in love that they’re forgiving major issues, such as constant emotional abuse, conflict, or cheating.
Diamond buyer WP Diamonds previously polled 1,000 people in the US age 20-60. They found that about 20% of all engagement is called off before the wedding. Some shares that their partner was more in love with the idea of marriage than they were with them. Others said their partner had a commitment phobia red flags from the beginning. The survey also found that 82.7% don’t regret breaking up and only 7.6% blame themselves for a failed relationship. Around 40% said it was the other person’s fault and the same number think that both parties share the blame.
Of those who called of the wedding, though, one in four believe that their relationship would have been saved if there was a willingness to compromise. Factors that would have helped are spending more time together, less societal pressure, greater self-awareness, and better communication.
According to Wedding Wire, the most popular days to propose to happen in December (19%) and the least popular engagement month are September and October (6%). Over 90% of couples announce their #justsaidyes moment on social media with a majority announcing within a day or two. About 65% of couples asked for parents’ blessings for their marriage and the average number of guests couples wanted to invite is 131.
Meanwhile, countries with the highest percentage of women age 20-24 who were married before 18 are India (47%), Madagascar (41%), Mozambique (48%), South Sudan (52%), Ethiopia (41%), Niger (76%), Mali (55%), and Chad (68%), among others. The estimates are provided by Our World in Data.
Getting engaged is a big step in a relationship. Yet, it shouldn’t be a period where one feels like it puts them at a point of no return. Please choose wisely.