Let’s call the whole thing off … good decision.

Would you have the guts to call off a wedding after you’ve sent out the invites? I wonder if I would.

Some will criticise golfer Rory McIlroy for getting cold feet about his marriage to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. At least that is how the media are presenting the story, that he was the one who called it off. Behind the scenes, who knows what is going on.

Personally, I think it’s a brave decision and probably the right one.

Over a period of ten years, I ran 68 pre-marriage courses for nearly 600 couples as part of the charity Bristol Community Family Trust. Amongst these couples were some who got cold feet. We used to find that about one in twenty couples would call it off. I suspect it’s even less common today because divorce rates have fallen by a third in the last ten to twenty years. Those who marry today tend to be more serious about it.

It was always difficult to know what had gone wrong. Nobody knows the full story of any relationship except the couples involved.

I took a positive view of this. Pain and heartache now is likely to save a much greater amount of pain later, when there are children, when there are doting grandparents, when the family bonds are so much deeper.

One of the common myths about dating and getting married is to make sure you’re compatible. Actually it’s not differences that matter (with some really important exceptions, such as if you have different faiths, or if one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t). After all, similarities can attract or repel, just as can opposites.

It’s how you handle your differences that counts. And every couple in the world has differences.

There’s some interesting research on couples who marry and couples who call it off. As part of our courses, we used to ask couples to complete an inventory or questionnaire called FOCCUS (there’s a similar one called PREPARE). This was an online list of 150 statements that covered virtually any subject you could ever imagine might be relevant to marriage.“We have agreed the roles we will take on”. “We want to have children”. “We have discussed how our parents handled conflict”. Each person then completed an online form saying whether they agreed, disagreed or were unsure about each statement. The combined results for the couple gave a profile of subjects where there might be higher or lower levels of agreement. We then sat the couple down with an older couple, known as mentors, and get them to talk it all out.

The Marriage Preparation Course and the charity Marriage Care do something like this today.

Research on this kind of inventory suggests that certain profiles – ie higher or lower levels of agreement – were predictive of later divorce. The couples who cancelled their weddings looked awfully similar to those who were likely to fail anyway.

I particularly remember one couple who came on our course. They realised they were struggling to agree on enough issues. I felt terrible when they rang to tell me they’d called off their engagement. Three years later, the same guy called me up to book on a course with his new fiancée. Ten years and two children later …

Well, it turned out to be a good decision after all, didn’t it?


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