Last month I wrote an article for HuffPost Divorce about my research that revealed 30% of divorced women knew they were marrying the wrong guy on their wedding day. This statistic triggered much consternation and denial. After wading through hundreds of comments bashing the institution of marriage, doubts about my methodology, and nasty remarks about women, men and relationships in general, it appears everyone missed the point.
So let me put it another way: Have you ever talked yourself into a decision that you already knew was the wrong one? Of course you have. We all do. Have you ever taken a job that you knew in your gut wasn't a good fit for you? (Totally ignored the weird vibes from your new boss? Assured yourself you could learn to be "detail oriented and good with numbers.") What about buying that car that you really couldn't afford? (A $600-a -month car payment on a thirty thousand dollar a year salary -- yeah, right.) Or maybe you agreed to split the rent with your slovenly college friend in order to afford a nicer apartment. (Shut your eyes and hope she had magically changed into someone neat and tidy.) And what about the third donut you ate for breakfast this morning? (The little voice in your head promised: "I'll go for a run after work.")
We can rationalize anything. But when we talk ourselves into dating the wrong guy or girl -- that's where the potential for lifelong heartache begins. So after hearing one too many clients admit that had doubts about their relationship long before the wedding -- the therapist in me wondered what I could do to change that. (And yes, men do it too -- but I'll get to that later.)
I want to clarify that the doubts were not the garden-variety nerves that typically accompany any life-changing decision. They weren't just "cold feet" or "wedding day jitters." Rather, the women in my study talked about issues, concerns, doubts and other red flags that existed throughout the course of their relationship. Not just on their wedding day. The problem was that they had brushed their concerns aside. Instead of facing up to the red flags or exploring their gut feelings -- they squelched them and stayed in the relationship anyway.
My goal was to uncover the reasons why so many women make this mistake. If we understand why they stay in a relationship with the wrong guy, or go through with a doomed-from-the-start marriage, perhaps we can help them figure out what they are really searching for. Not to mention sidestep a miserable marriage and an eventual court date with the divorce attorney! Based on my research, here are the five most common reasons cited for marrying the wrong guy:
1. We've dated for so long I don't want to waste all the time we have invested in the relationship.
2. I don't want to be alone.
3. He'll change after we get married.
4. It is too late, too embarrassing and/or too expensive to call off the wedding
5. He is a really nice guy; I don't want to hurt his feelings.
I must elaborate on number five. It is really hard to break up with a nice guy. Unlike the enraged commenters who suggest women are "evil gold-diggers determined to destroy their fiancé's lives," most women I talked to did consider their betrothed and his feelings. It's often easier to break up with cheater or a liar (although far too many women don't do that when they should either!) But when it comes to nice guys, it can be hard to figure out why you aren't happy together. The reality is, he may be a solid, good guy on his own. But as a couple, the equation does not add up. The idea of "two becoming one" should not equal instant discomfort. However, when the relationship is solid and true, there is very little doubt, internal conflict or questions. And for the naysayers, I said very little doubt; I did not say no doubt whatsoever. I encourage women (and men, too!) to be very specific about the source of their concerns. Write them down -- articulate them. Consider how the relationship might look ten years in the future. And if none of that helps I share a favorite quote from the author Mignon McLaughlin: "When 'Why not do it?' barely outweighs 'Why do it?' -- don't do it. "
And the million dollar question -- why no men in this study? I chose to focus my research on divorced women. But I did talk to a lot of men along the way, too. And yes, men do talk themselves into marrying the wrong girl. What was interesting is that the men's reasons for saying "I do" when they wanted to shout "I don't" tended to be more "other-centered" than many of the women. They overwhelmingly cited a sense of duty, obligation and concern for their fiancé's feelings as their reason for walking down the aisle anyway.
I do want to point out that these findings also apply to people who have never married, yet choose to stay in long-term, unproductive, sometimes soul-crushing relationships. They cite many of the same reasons: "I don't want to be alone." Or "We've invested a lot of time." Or "I don't think anyone better is going to come along." These reasons don't make for happy relationships -- married or not.
And finally, a caveat for our gay friends. Now that they have the right to legally marry in some states, I hope they take heed and make sure they are marrying the right guy or girl for the right reasons.
So let this be a lesson to you. It doesn't matter if you are male or female, straight or gay, young or old, divorced, never married or never-want-to-get married-again. Don't talk yourself into any relationship. Especially not for any of these reasons. Your future happiness depends on it.
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