Why women marry the wrong men
if in doubt, don't ... listen to your intuition, psychologists advise.
"Did you know you were making a mistake as you were walking down the aisle?" This was the question Jennifer Gauvain and Anne Milford asked 1000 women as research for their book How Not to Marry the Wrong Man.
A staggering 30 per cent of respondents said 'yes' they did know. But, they did it anyway.
Gauvain, a licensed clinical social worker, wrote about it in this blog for the Huffington Post. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given divorce rates in the US are around 40 per cent - versus about one third in Australia - it caused an uproar.
Of the thousand-odd comments on the article, some that captured the general mood included this:
"Marriage is for idots and poor people. Divorce is too easy for women. It's not hard for a woman to navigate a divorce. The only thing she's navigating is how much of this man's hard earned money she's going to take from him for the rest of his life."
"Give me a stinkin break, and of course our careless, pompous, sex-driven population is happier after divorce because they're finally FREE, to do and screw whoever they want. I witness it with people I work with and it's disgusting. Vows, family and child-rearing is not taken nearly as seriously as it should be and really times need to change because it's getting out of control. Ugh."
It seemed to many as though these women were being inconsiderate (at best) and conniving (at worst). People were outraged that women might march so lightly down an aisle when the emotional and financial impact of their actions could be so devastating.
Gauvain attempted to clarify the post with this follow up blog.
"The doubts [the women spoke of] were not the garden-variety nerves that typically accompany any life-changing decision," she said. "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."
She explained that the reasons the women ignored these doubts were often complicated and fear-driven.
Of the (simplified) reasons given for marrying the wrong guy, Gauvain said the most common were:
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.
"When it comes to nice guys, it can be hard to figure out why you aren't happy together," she said. "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."
She wrote about her dreams of wedded bliss; of the image, that she had held close since childhood, of it being a 'beautiful day'.
But she knew despite her dreams that she was marrying the wrong man.
"I refused to acknowledge the warning signs during our two years of dating - and there were plenty," she said.
"Oftentimes the gut feeling is ignored out of fear. My fear was that there would be no other man coming along and this was my last chance at marriage. My little voice was calling out 'Stop!' long before the wedding bells chimed. I made the poor decision to ignore it."
When your gut grumbles, it's always important to listen says Christine Meinecke, PhD, licensed psychologist and author of Everybody Marries the Wrong Person. "Instead of following your heart, use your head and trust your gut."
She says that while using your heart (along with your intellect and intuition) is important for forming a holistic picture of a person or situation, intensity of feeling can lead us to make hasty decisions.
Rather good decisions are made when we take the time to listen to our intellect and intuition ("gut").
In an article for Psychology Today she distinguishes between "gut" instinct and heart "feeling" and explains how psychologists have come to understand intuition:
"Nonverbal information from the right hemisphere continuously streams toward the left hemisphere. Out of necessity, the left hemisphere blocks most of this information, much as one blocks a multitude of internal and external distractions in order to concentrate and read this post.
"Intuition, then, is hypothesised to be what we experience when right hemisphere images, memories, associations to similar experiences from the past slip by the left hemisphere blocks and contribute to the analysis of our current situation. Since we have not consciously called up this information, we do not immediately recognise its relevance."
Lyn Fletcher, director of operations for Relationships Australia agrees that gut instinct is always a good guide. "Gut instinct comes from [the history of a] person and from relating that to ...the dynamic between the two of you, your set of values and what you are looking for in a relationship - how they treat you and relate to you," she explains.
She believes that listening to your gut and knowing when to walk away comes from the ability to see ourselves.
"It's about how to know yourself well enough to know what you're looking for," she says. "It's the self-awareness to know what you contribute to the success or failure of that [relationship] and having the self-confidence to stand on your own two feet rather than fall into a bad relationship."
As for the fear of being alone forever, Fletcher points out that "for well-being, mental and physical health, all the statistics show that you're better off alone than in a bad marriage."
On the flip side she emphasises that the 'right one' is a myth that doesn't allow for natural "human failure and ... the difficulties every couple will encounter." Her advice when making a decision is to look at the bigger picture of what will make you both happy: "Don't just plan for the wedding, plan for the marriage."