Have you thought beyond your wedding day? Over the next 5-10 minutes, allow us to illustrate one of the most important and oft-neglected aspects of life as an engaged couple: Making sure all the pieces are in order not just for your wedding, but also for a happy marriage years down the line. In doing so, we’ll cover how wedding choices themselves may impact marriage quality, the basic currency of human relationships, and how writing a prenup stacks the odds in favor of your marriage.
We all know that wedding planning includes routine things like selecting a venue, hiring caterers and a DJ, and pouring over seating arrangements to make sure your crazy aunt Marg won’t get into a political argument with your partner’s crazy uncle Damian…but what you might not know is that some of these choices are actually linked to the success of a couple’s marriage!
Spending a significantly greater-than-average amount of money on one’s wedding was correlated with higher divorce rates (Van de Groep, 2019). This could possibly be due to the wedding-induced stress and panic that comes with planning an exorbitant wedding. Consider cutting yourselves a break, simplifying the wedding, and spending that money on the honeymoon, instead! It’s supposed to be the best day of your life, not the fanciest day of your guest’s lives.
Number of Guests
Ok, ok…we know we just told you that more expensive weddings are not correlated with a better marriage, but surveys have found that having more guests at your wedding actually is correlated with longevity of marriages. Making a public commitment (to anything!) increases the odds of following through, and marriage is no exception (Van de Groep, 2019). When one has to be accountable to lots of people, they are more likely to follow through on what they have projected they will do. It seems the key here is to plan a large wedding, but without breaking the bank and without allowing oneself to get caught up in too much wedding stress.
Couples who go on honeymoons are more likely to stay together for longer (Van de Groep, 2019). And good news: It’s not important how much money a couple spends on their honeymoon. The key is simply to have one.
Do you think that a more expensive ring is a sign of greater commitment? Think again! A 2015 study which surveyed 3000 people found that men who spent between $2,000-$4,000 on a ring were actually 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than men who spent between $500-$2,000. This may be due to couples conflating spending with commitment and/or expecting financial generosity to lead to a stronger relationship. On the other hand, spending less than $500 also correlated with higher rates of divorce (Van de Groep, 2019).
These numbers illustrate correlation, but not necessarily causation. It is possible that couples in particular income brackets are more or less likely to divorce than others. Either way, it is something to bear in mind and consider when selecting a ring.
When you’re planning your wedding, consider the factors above but also think about what you as a couple can do personally to make your wedding a part of a strong foundation supporting a happy marriage in the future. Consider how the two of you can infuse your wedding with personalized rituals and activities that are meaningful to you as a couple. The memories you create on that day will be a part of the bedrock of your relationship.
Bids for Connection
A ‘bid for connection’ is the most basic ‘atomic unit’ of human relationships (Gottman, 2015). Any attempt to reach out and connect with another person is a bid for connection. It could be something as obvious as starting a conversation or something as subtle as making eye contact and smiling, or squeezing someone’s shoulder as you walk by. There are three ways to respond to bids for connection: One can either turn towards the bid (by doing something to signal acknowledgement and further the interaction), turn away from the bid (by responding minimally or ignoring the bid), or turn against the bid (by responding aggressively) (Gottman, 2015).
Obviously, turning towards a bid builds a relationship, whereas turning against and especially turning away consistently are destructive to a relationship. It is not always possible or realistic to turn towards a bid; just a few isolated turn-away or turn-against responses do not spell disaster, don’t worry. Research shows that couples who stay together turn towards each other’s bids at least 86% of the time, whereas couples who eventually divorce average about 33% (Gottman, 2015). Do you know your attachment style?
If one or both partners in a couple stop turning towards bids frequently, what eventually happens is that the quantity of bids decreases drastically. This is because if you become accustomed to receiving negative responses when you reach out for connection, you will be less and less likely to reach out at all. When one or both members of a couple all but stop bidding, the relationship is in trouble (Gottman, 2015). On the other hand, couples who make a habit of bidding frequently and turning towards one another’s bids as often as possible are more likely to have strong relationships that stand the test of time (Gottman, 2015).
Seriously, Don’t Forget the Prenup!
Although wedding choices and bids for connection are important and thought-provoking predictors of a successful marriage, one of the most crucial predictors of a happy marriage is whether and to what extent a couple makes clear, explicit and intentional agreements and decisions together. For example, taking up relationship habits by default (such as moving in together) is not a very intentional way to approach a relationship, whereas making important decisions and agreements deliberately and with a high degree of thoughtful consideration helps to build and strengthen relationships. Among the most important of these agreements is your prenup.
Related read: Famous celebrity prenups.
Getting a (thoughtfully designed) prenup is often an important predictor of a happy marriage. Because you’ve discussed and prepared for the worst-case scenario, it won’t silently eat away at you. You know that you already have a plan in place for what will happen if something goes wrong, and that gives you peace of mind. Couples who do not have prenups might be more prone to fretting over what will happen if the marriage eventually doesn’t work out, adding unnecessary strain and worry to the marriage.
What’s more, a prenup also serves to get the couple on the same page financially ahead of the marriage. It doesn’t only prepare a couple for a possible divorce – which, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about anyway – it is also used to set expectations for each partner’s financial roles and responsibilities within the marriage. Although this might sound stale and unsexy, it’s actually extremely important to the health of a relationship. Knowing what is expected of you and what you should expect is a major predictor of relationship satisfaction. This is one of the foundational principles of group dynamics: People are disappointed only if they do not get what they expected. Setting expectations up front and following through on them is therefore of utmost importance in ensuring a happy relationship. A prenup provides a framework for doing just that.
Evaluate your wedding choices with an eye towards relationship longevity, pay attention to bids for connection and how you are responding, and give your prenup the time and attention it deserves. These three actionable steps will help you build a strong foundation on which your relationship can rest for the rest of your lives.
Gottman, John. 2015. The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work: A practical guide from the international bestselling relationship expert.
Van de Groep. 2019. Do Wedding Choices Influence Marriage Quality? Retrieved from: https://www.leidenpsychologyblog.nl/articles/do-wedding-choices-influence-marriage-quality