Beyond cold feet: Experiences of ending engagements and canceling weddings


The engagement period is a critical window to understand stay–leave decisions because it marks a stage when individuals are moving toward lifelong commitment, but do not have the obligations of legal marriage that make dissolution more difficult. According to Inertia Theory, felt momentum can propel couples through relationship transitions without sufficient consideration of their dedication, which could constrain partners in poor quality relationships. Drawing from this perspective, we examined how individuals reduce relationship momentum and end a marital engagement. We conducted interviews with individuals who made the decision to end their engagements and cancel their weddings (N = 30). Experiences were analyzed using grounded theory techniques. The core concept we identified, visualizing, consisted of imagining a relational future (or alternative present) that became heightened during the engagement period. Rituals of wedding planning (e.g., trying on a dress and selecting a venue) appear to serve as a catalyst for this process. This cognitive shift prompted individuals to slow relational momentum (e.g., through trial separations and the returning of rings) and reconsider “red flags” and constraints to leaving the relationship. Once participants decided to leave, they described the process of breaking off the engagement and uncoupling from their partners. Family members and friends who assisted in managing the emotional fallout and logistics of ending the engagement (e.g., canceling with vendors and informing guests) were reported as particularly helpful supports. Visualizing married life beyond the wedding may be leveraged to help individuals navigate premarital doubts.


Family Studies

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Journal of Social and Personal Relationships



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© The Author(s) 2020.