Hope versus doubt, or the conundrum of cognitive dissonance for the engaged couple.
We’re in a funny position as engaged couples, aren’t we? On one hand, we’re in love with our partners and care deeply for them. On the other hand, our partners can sometimes annoy us and we sometimes have doubts about whether they’re really “the one.” It’s nothing to be ashamed of—many of us experience it.
Even if we know we want to spend the rest of our lives with our partners, we’re also aware of the 50 percent divorce rate, and we know that lots of other seemingly happy couples went the divorce route. Making matters worse, the statistics seem to suggest that even couples who stay married are largely unhappy.
This conundrum, and the stress it can cause, is an example of what psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.
In this example, there are two beliefs and conclusions working against each other:
- You’re 100 percent ready to commit, so you should get married.
- The odds are against you, so you shouldn’t get married.
So what do we do? Most people ignore the internal conflict and hope for the best. But this tactic only results in the grotesque statistics we’re trying to avoid.
The best way forward is to face the issue head-on before saying “I do.” You’re embarking on what has the potential to be a lifelong partnership. You might as well get started doing the work as soon as possible, even if that means having tough conversations during a seemingly magical time in your life. Laying the groundwork in advance is the surest way to create a happy marriage.
What is that “work” in this case? Simple: Share your fears. If you can’t talk about this now at the happiest time in your relationship, then you definitely won’t be able to talk about the really challenging issues down the road.
I saw this lack of communication come up time and again while drafting premarital agreements during my years as a divorce lawyer. Many couples would come in asking for a generic document (which doesn’t exist, by the way) and then refuse to have any difficult conversations about the issues inherent in a prenup. “Just talk to the lawyer about it,” was the common refrain. But couples who faced their cognitive dissonance head-on would come in proactive and ready to tackle the challenges upfront. This is an approach that will help them in the future when the stakes get higher and the issues only become scarier.
Your head is in two places. There’s no shame in that, you’re human. Know that your partner likely has the same thoughts and it’s okay. Share your fears and work out together how to deal with the issues. This is how you create intimacy. If you can’t do it alone, enlist a couples’ therapist to help. If therapy seems like too much drama, then head to a couples’ retreat. Either way, be proactive. You owe it to your future selves.
Erik Newton is the founder of Together.