According to a new report by the University of Virginia, couples who have larger, more formal weddings are more likely to have quality marriages. This is pretty hard to believe because in my mind, there are few things more stressful or challenging to a relationship than planning a big wedding. The study, which is part of UVA’s National Marriage Project, surveyed 418 people about their histories and the current quality of their marriage. Marriage quality was determined through questions about factors like happiness in the relationship, thoughts about divorce, how often the couple confides in one another. Researchers found that only 30 percent of couples who had less than 50 guests at their ceremony had a highly successful marriage. On the other hand, 47 percent of couples who had over 150 guests had highly solid marriages, which is still hardly an awesome success rate.
It’s easy to assume that people who can afford big weddings are more likely to have better marriages simply because of the sense of security and other benefits that wealth allows for, but this correlation stayed in place no matter what a couple’s economic status was. One of the possible reasons for the correlation is that committing to your spouse in front of a whole lot of people is a big demonstration of your dedication, which in turn discourages divorce.
“We try to keep our present attitudes and behaviors in line with our past conduct. The desire for consistency is likely enhanced by public expressions of intention,” study author Dr. Galena Rhoades told UK’s Telegraph.
It’s more of a downer to get a divorce when everyone you know saw you declare your love for your spouse. Another potential factor is that lots of wedding guests could mean that the couple has a large support network, though that would have begun long before their wedding day. “Weddings may foster support for the new marriage from within a couple’s network of friends and family. Those who hold a formal wedding are likely to have stronger social networks in the first place,” Rhoades said. That kind of support can also lead to higher quality of life in other areas outside the couple’s marriage, which could in turn strengthen their relationship.
Regardless, I find it hard to take this study very seriously. For one thing, the sample size is really small — how can we be sure that these 418 people accurately represent the whole population? There’s also the fact that while the study was controlled for couples’ income, race, gender and religious views, it’s impossible to account for every prior factor that could help determine the size of a couple’s ceremony. Whether they have children, what their prior relationships were like, what kind of friends and family they have, and a thousand other circumstantial situations could sway a couple’s marriage quality or ceremony size in major ways. Lest we forget, there’s also the stereotype that couples who are obsessed with having an over-the-top wedding day care more about being the center of attention for a day than they care about actually being married, which may or may not be true.
The two things I’m taking from these results are that the compatibility and/or effort that creates a happy marriage begins long before your big day, and that it provides a bulletproof excuse if you’re ever called out for going over the top with that Pinterest wedding board. After all, you’re simply doing your duty to make sure your future marriage lasts, one mason jar centerpiece and 7-foot wedding cake at a time.