Big weddings may predict “happily ever after” marriages for couples. Many future brides dream of a fairy tale wedding with the beautiful white dress, fanciful cake and legion of bridesmaids. However, it is not the expensive trappings of weddings that indicate contentment and longevity, but the number of family and friends who witness the launch of the marriage. A large guest list causes the bride and groom to see the marriage within the context of a supportive community according to a new study just released. This particular study centered only on heterosexual couples, therefore, it is unknown whether similar results would apply to same-sex marriages due to the differing societal norms regarding gender and gender expectations that exist within each couple.
The National Marriage Project based at the University of Virginia published a report which examined how premarital factors affected the success of a marriage. Psychologists Galena K Rhoades, PhD and Scott M. Stanley, PhD examined the number of previous partners, “sliding” vs. decision making, and the size of the wedding. The results indicate that there may truly be substance behind the tradition of a large wedding celebration to start a marriage.
The marital data was collected by The Relationship Development Study at the University of Denver and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Doctors Rhoades and Stanley are senior researchers at the University of Denver and sorted through five years of the study’s information to write their report. Between 2007 and 2008, 1,000 adults ages 18 to 34 who were in relationships were recruited for the study. 418 of those individuals eventually married. The researchers conducted 11 waves of follow-up interviews to assess the health of those 418 new marriages.
The study found that, contrary to popular belief, limited experience with romantic partners increases the chance for a happy, committed relationship. People with more relationships before their marriages also had more experience extricating themselves from disappointing entanglements. Knowing how to survive heartbreak may make them more likely to take that risk, researchers say. They also have a better sense that there are many possibly compatible people in the world. On the other hand, those with a limited number of previous partners committed more fully to their marriage and reported greater rates of contentment.
An even stronger indicator of marital success is making decisions about relationship transitions more consciously rather than “sliding” from one step to the next. For example, discussing the pros and cons of living together and then making the move instead of just falling into cohabitation out of habit or convenience can make the difference. The same holds for having sex, starting a family and for marriage itself. People have a need to mark these important transitions; to acknowledge the change. Stanley states, “We tend to ritualize experiences that are important.” Going through a ceremony or ritual to mark changes in life ensures those changes are more likely conscious choices and not simply “sliding” from one phase into another. Therefore, big weddings may predicts a happy marriage.
Weddings are the largest, most expensive rituals. Holding a ceremony in front of guests and having the piece of paper that designates people as formally married are important steps in a relationship. The researchers found that the more outside people couples included in this ritual the better their chances for staying together. A wedding is a family, even a community, event. It changes the make-up of connections and affiliations over a wide group of people. The intimate bond between the married couple becomes important to that group. Newlyweds should feel buoyed up by their friends and family. Witnessing a wedding invests extended family in the couple and causes them to support the marriage. Among wedding couples who had 50 or fewer guests, 31 percent reported high marital quality. 37 percent reported high marital quality in the group with 51 to 149 attendees. Of the largest weddings, 150 or more guests, 47 percent said they were enjoying high marital quality. It may be that people with larger networks of family and friends have a stronger support system with more varied advice, or it may be that sharing the ritualization of marriage indicates a strong relationship.
Although many factors influence marriage, life before wedded bliss can have a large impact on the quality of the relationship. Couples who talk over important issues have a better chance of staying together. Likewise, couples who create a large family celebration of their nuptials may have their fairy tale ending because it appears that big weddings predict “happily ever after” marriages.
By: Rebecca Savastio