I vividly remember standing near the pulpit and looking back at the church filled with my family and friends. It should have been one of the happiest days of my life, but it wasn’t. My palms were sweaty in my pockets and my throat was dry. I was about to get married, and something inside me was screaming a warning. Part of me (a significant part) wanted to turn around and tell everyone the wedding was off. “It’s all a big mistake,” I wanted to say. “It just feels wrong. I’m sorry to inconvenience everybody, but could you please go home?”

Of course, I didn’t say anything of the sort. I convinced myself it was just pre-wedding jitters. “Everyone has them,” I told myself. “It’s perfectly normal. Nothing to be concerned about.” And I went through with it, took my vows, got married. That night, when I had time to stop and reflect on the whole thing, I knew I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life. But I’m kind of stubborn, and since I’d just made a commitment, I was determined to make the marriage work. It didn’t work, not by a long shot, and three miserable years later, my wife and I finally divorced. Those wedding jitters had been trying to tell me something. Something important. They were telling me: “This is not the right woman for you.” If I’d listened, I could have saved myself a lot of grief.

Ever since that experience, I watch wedding ceremonies with a much different eye. I watch the bride and groom closely. I watch for sweaty palms and nervous twitches. I don’t just assume they’re happy to be there. I’ve seen many friends and relatives say their wedding vows since then. Some of them have the jitters, and some of them don’t. Of course, if they don’t have them, things can still go bad–it’s not necessarily a sign that things are perfect. But when they DO have the jitters, it’s almost always a sign of bad things to come. One of my cousins had the jitters. A year later, his marriage imploded, and his lovely bride actually forced him to BUY the ring (a family heirloom that had belonged to my grandmother) back from her. Seriously. He should have listened to his jitters.

Unfortunately, many uncertain brides and grooms are held hostage by a sense of commitment to their guests. They feel like they’re in too deep by the time the jitters hit. They’re afraid of disappointing everyone. After all, friends and family have often come from hundreds of miles away. They’ve purchased airplane tickets and piled a table with gifts and checks. Sometimes parents of the bride and groom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars that might be lost if there’s a last-minute cancellation–not to mention all the time and money that the soon-to-be-married couple have invested themselves. But regardless of the financial considerations, if you’ve been blessed with the gift of clarity before your ceremony, if you’ve come to realize that you really aren’t meant to be with this person, the only rational decision is to get out while you still can. Believe me, you don’t want to waste years of your life on a bad marriage. It isn’t worth it. People will forgive you, and life is too short.

Five years ago, I remarried. This time, there were no jitters, no sweaty palms, no dry throat. This time, I actually enjoyed the ceremony. It really was one of the happiest days of my life. Why? I’d found the right person. It’s that simple. If you’ve found the right person and you know it, there’s no reason for apprehension or fear. In that case, you really are setting off on an adventure, and it’s one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures you can experience in life. So listen to your heart. It’s sometimes more insightful than your brain. It will tell you what to do. And when it does, when that message starts ringing in your ears, you’d better listen no matter how inconvenient it might seem at the time. If that voice starts screaming inside you, don’t stifle it, don’t cover it with a pillow. If you do, you’re just asking for trouble.