Science Daily has a report on a study of marriage happiness called “Bigger weddings, fewer partners, less ‘sliding’ linked to better marriages.”
Unfortunately this is another study showing correlations but not proving causations, so it is less useful than it might appear:
Rhoades and co-author Scott M. Stanley came to these insights by analyzing new data from the Relationship Development Study, an ongoing national study based at the University of Denver and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 1,000 Americans who were unmarried but in a relationship, and between the ages of 18 and 34, were recruited into the study.
Over the course of the next five years and 11 waves of data collection, 418 of those individuals got married. The authors looked closely at those 418 new marriages, examining how the history of the spouses’ relationships and their prior romantic experiences were related to the quality of their marriages.
So far so good. But what they did was select a group of single people, look specifically at the ones who got married, and then question them about the happiness of their marriage, their history and other factors that might be interesting. There are problems with drawing any conclusions: self-reporting of both relationship history and marriage quality, and alternative explanations for some correlations.
Those who have had more romantic experiences — for example, more sexual or cohabiting partners — are less likely to forge a high-quality marriage than those with a less complex romantic history, the researchers found.
Raising children from prior relationships can add stress to a marriage. For women, but not for men, having had a child in a prior relationship was associated, on average, with lower marital quality.
….More relationship experiences prior to marriage also means more experience breaking up, which may make for a more jaundiced view of love and relationships, Rhoades said. It’s also possible that some people have personality characteristics — such as liking to take risks or being harder to get along with — that both increase their odds of having many relationship experiences and decrease their odds of marital success, she added.
From the attachment type perspective, it’s easy to see from the Dating Pool Danger graph that people who have been through several relationships are far more likely to be insecure types: Dismissive-Avoidant, Fearful-Avoidant, or Anxious-Preoccupied. Each of these types would be expected to have a lower-than-typical quality of marriage. So the people who they initially selected were already skewed (since they were single) toward the insecure types, and those with a history of broken relationships were even more likely to be insecure types and thus find marriage rough.
Past studies show that couples often “slide” into living together rather than talking things out and making a decision about it. In this study, participants who lived together before marriage were asked directly if they made a considered decision about premarital cohabitation or slid into it; they indicated their degree of “sliding versus deciding” on a five-point scale. The more strongly respondents categorized the move as a decision rather than a slide, the greater their marital quality later on.
“We believe that one important obstacle to marital happiness is that many people now slide through major relationship transitions — like having sex, moving in together, getting engaged or having a child — that have potentially life-altering consequences,” said Stanley, research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, as well as a senior fellow for both the National Marriage Project and for the Institute for Family Studies.
That seems fairly intuitive — commitments that occur thoughtlessly, almost by default, happen when people are not strongly motivated by anything but convenience and inertia. After marriage, they may just as easily leave when it becomes inconvenient. Living together for years before marriage tends to show someone was not especially motivated to get married!
Having more guests at one’s wedding — the biggest ritual in many relationships — is associated with higher marital quality, even after controlling for income and education, which may be proxies for how much the wedding might have cost, the study found. Among couples who had weddings, the sample was divided into those who had weddings with 50 or fewer attendees, 51 to 149 attendees, or 150 or more attendees. Among each grouping, 31 percent, 37 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, reported high marital quality.
“In what might be called the ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ factor, this study finds that couples who have larger wedding parties are more likely to report high-quality marriages,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a professor of sociology at U.Va. “One possibility here is that couples with larger networks of friends and family may have more help, and encouragement, in navigating the challenges of married life. Note, however, this finding is not about spending lots of money on a wedding party. It’s about having a good number of friends and family in your corner.”
This also seems obvious — lots of friends and family at your wedding tends to mean you have lots of social support, and the larger the social network you invited, the more you probably believed in your own wedding as a real commitment!
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