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Got Cold Feet? Listen To Your Gut About Marriage, Study Says

By HERWriter
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listen to your gut if you have cold feet about marriage, says study PS Productions/PhotoSpin

We’ve all heard the jokes about grooms getting cold feet before a wedding (less often the brides), and most often we are reassured that this is a normal part of the marriage process.

However, a new study published in the journal Science suggests that we should all actually be listening to our gut to save ourselves from years of marital dissatisfaction.

Study results showed that newlyweds have gut feelings in the very beginning that they might not be fully aware of, but those feelings are the best indication of future happiness in their marriages, according to Medical Xpress.

Also, couples didn’t always accurately vocalize their gut feelings. For example, sometimes couples would say they were happy, when in truth their gut feelings showed otherwise.

Lead researcher James McNulty at Florida State University conducted his study on 135 newlyweds (heterosexual couples) who were married less than six months, and checked up on them every six months over the next four years.

In the initial experiment, researchers had participants disclose their relationship satisfaction and detail any problems. They also gave their conscious thoughts on their marriage by selecting adjectives out of 15 opposing pairs of words like “satisfied” or “unsatisfied.”

Another part of the experiment tested participant’s gut-level reactions to their marriage. Researchers put a photo of a participant’s spouse on a computer screen followed by either a positive or negative word, and the participant had to either press a key to state that the word was negative or positive. The reaction time was measured.

McNulty said in the Medical Xpress article that people who tend to have more positive feelings about their spouses are faster to click that words like “good” are positive, and slower to click that words like “bad” are negative. The opposite was true for people with more negative feelings towards their spouses.

Basically, the experiments tested implicit vs. explicit attitudes, and congruent vs. incongruent cognitive processes. And four years later, the people who responded with more negative attitudes toward their spouses in the gut-level reaction experiment had less marital satisfaction. The participants’ conscious/vocalized thoughts on their relationships had no relation to any changes in satisfaction.

Tina B. Tessina, a licensed psychotherapist and author of “Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage,” said in an email that many people ignore their gut instincts and prefer to listen to what others think is best for them.

“I think it’s always a good idea to know what your gut is saying about everything you’re doing,” Tessina said. “You can’t go on gut instinct (I would call it subconscious reactions) alone, but you should be able to understand what it means and use it to inform your rational decisions.”

“There are times to go against your subconscious reactions, and times to use them effectively,” she added.

The study brings up the question as well -- should engaged couples pay attention to any “cold feet” issues?

Dr. Carole Lieberman, a media psychiatrist and author, said that it depends on the actual cause of cold feet.

“When cold feet relates to specific characteristics of your intended spouse, rather than a general fear of marriage failure, then it's time to listen to what your unconscious is trying to tell you,” Lieberman said in email.

Jamie Runco, a personal life coach, said in an email that people who can identify their gut feelings more often might be able to make better life choices.

However, she thinks that "cold feet" and gut feelings could be slightly different concepts.

“One is nerves possibly brought on for different reasons,” Runco said. “The gut feeling is more like your body, deep at its core, is trying to tell you something.”

There are a variety of reasons couples might ignore what their subconscious is telling them.

“I believe some couples ignore their gut feeling because the desire to get married is so strong, or they feel like it’s time for them to get married, or they don’t know how to back out of the commitment before the wedding, or they are simply unfamiliar with reading or following their gut feeling,” she said.

She suggests doing some soul-searching and self-analysis to find out the reasoning behind any negative gut feelings or cold feet. Then the individual should be honest with a partner or spouse about any negative feelings in order to save a future or present marriage.

If there are major relationship and marriage issues, then marriage counseling, coaching or self-help books are always an option.


Medical Xpress. Newlyweds know on subconscious level whether marriage will be unhappy, new study says. Web. Dec. 4, 2013.

Tessina, Tina. Email interview. Dec. 2, 2013.

Lieberman, Carole. Email interview. Dec. 2, 2013.

Runco, Jamie. Email interview. Dec. 2, 2013.

Reviewed December 5, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

I wished I listened to my cold feet! 18 years later, deep in debt, mental health issues, overbearing & controlling family, and bouncing from job to job. All this stress burned out my thyroid and other health issues. He is literally sucking the life out of me slowly. Kids are finally old enough and I'm going back to work to get myself straighten out and make a better life.

December 12, 2013 - 6:48pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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