Study: The Bigger & More Formal the Wedding, the Better the Marriage

By Zoey DiMauro | August 20, 2014 | 4:55 PM EDT


(AP photo)

( -- Couples who had more than 150 guests attend their wedding reported being significantly happier with their marriages than those who had smaller weddings, a new report from the National Marriage Project (NMP) says.

The study split newly married couples into three groups according to wedding attendance: 50 or fewer guests, 51-149 guests, and more that 150 guests.

“Among each grouping, 31 percent, 37 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, reported high marital quality,” NMP reported.

Having a formal wedding and waiting until after the wedding to have sex also increases a couple's marital satisfaction, according to data from the Relationship Development Study.

The study noted that “maintaining important friendships and family connections, making new friends together, and getting involved in the community may enhance a couple’s relationship in multiple ways,” which could start by inviting a lot of people to the wedding.

Making a vow in front of a large group could also help the couple take “till death do us part” more seriously. “Commitment is strengthened when it is publicly declared,” the study surmised. “Individuals strive to maintain consistency between what they say and what they do.”

“Note, however, this finding is not about spending lots of money on a wedding party,” said Brad Wilcox, director of the NMP. “It's about having a good number of friends and family in your corner," he explained.

Princess Madeleine of Sweden and New York banker Christopher O'Neill after their 2013 wedding in Stockholm. (AP photo)

The study, entitled Before “I Do”-- What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults? pointed out other behaviors that create happier marriages, such as intentional decision making during the dating process.

“Many in Generation YOLO (you only live once) believe that what happens while you’re young won’t affect your future,” the study pointed out. “But our research paints a different picture.”

Using the phrase “sliding versus deciding,” the researchers found that couples who make deliberate choices about relationship milestones, such as when to cohabitate or when to have children, are often happier than their peers who put little or no thought into those decisions.

For example, “those who lived with their eventual spouse before having a mutual and clear commitment to marry reported lower levels of marital quality,” the study notes. It pointed out that often for cohabitating couples,  “living together creates a kind of inertia that makes it difficult to change course,” even when the couple realizes they should no longer be dating.

Getting pregnant before marriage can also weaken a romantic relationship or force a permanent bond whether or not the couple is totally compatible, the study found.

Becoming pregnant or having a child before marriage is also associated with low marital quality, though only for college-educated individuals. This finding suggests that having children outside of wedlock is much less desirable or acceptable in highly educated circles.

Whatever the major milestone may be, “at times of important transitions, the process of making a decision sets up couples to make stronger commitments with better follow-through as they live them out,” said Scott M. Stanley, one of the study’s authors.

A person’s romantic history also has lasting impacts on the couple’s future marital happiness. “What happens in Vegas—everything you do before settling down in marriage—may not stay there,” the study warns.

Conversely, the longer couple waits to have sex the more likely they are to have a happy marriage. The study suggests that couples who have sex early on may remain in the relationship because of the physical aspect, even if they find out they’re not a match in other ways.

It even matters whether the relationship begins with a date or with a hook-up. “One-third (32 percent) of individuals in our sample reported that their relationship began as a hook-up and, on average, [we found] lower marital quality” in that group, researchers noted.

Both men and women who only slept with their future spouse prior to marriage, or waited until marriage to have sex, reported higher marital satisfaction than those who had a number of prior sexual partners. Cohabitation with past partners or prior marriages also had negative effects on a married couple’s happiness, researchers found.

They reported that spouses, especially women, who had many past sexual relationships often felt less satisfied with their marriages. However having multiple sex partners before marriage is now the norm. The average is five sexual partners before marriage, according to the study.

“Our bottom-line advice to Americans hoping to marry is this,“ said Stanley. “Remember that what you do before you say ‘I do’ may shape your odds of forging a successful marital future.”