For a high quality marriage, have fewer sexual partners beforehand and, when you meet the right person, invite at least 150 people to your wedding.
These are two findings of a new report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia (Rhoades & Stanley, 2014).
The research followed over 1,000 Americans across five years as they got married and had children.
Of the original group, 418 participants got married and the report’s authors looked at how all sorts of factors — like their relationship history and when they cohabitated — affected the quality of their marriages.
Here are the four main findings from the study:
1. Have fewer sexual partners before marriage
The received wisdom amongst the younger generations is that experience of different relationships before marriage doesn’t do you any harm.
However, this new research finds otherwise.
The average number of sexual partner people reported having before marriage was five.
But 23% of people had slept with just one person and it was these people who tended to have the highest quality marriages.
For women, the more men they had slept with before saying “I do”, the less happy they were with their marriages.
As one of the study’s authors, Dr. Galena Rhoades, put it:
“In most areas, more experience is better. You’re a better job candidate with more experience, not less.
When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality.”
In the report they write:
“More experience may increase one’s awareness of alternative partners.
A strong sense of alternatives is believed to make it harder to maintain commitment to, and satisfaction with, what one already has.”
Apparently, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.
2. Commit to marriage before moving in together
People who either got married before moving in together or committed to getting married when they moved in together had better marriages, the study found.
This may be because ‘sliding’ into living together can make it difficult to get out of a relationship that isn’t really right.
On the other hand, if moving in together is treated as part of the road to marriage, it is taken as a more serious step.
It is better, the authors argue, to take moving in together as a very serious commitment, rather than just a handy way of saving on the rent.
3. Invite at least 150 guests to your wedding
Amongst those who had big, formal weddings, 41% of them achieved a high quality marriage.
In comparison, amongst those who did not have a formal ceremony, just 28% went on to have high quality marriages.
Even the number of guests at the ceremony was associated with marriage quality, with 150 turning out to be a decent round number.
The authors speculate that the more people that witness a marriage, the more seriously the two people take the commitment.
4. Have children after getting married
One of the most disastrous factors for a marriage in this research was having children before getting married.
Amongst college-educated couples, only 3% of those who had a child before marriage went on to have a high quality marriage.
However, of those who got married before having a child, 44% went on to have a high quality marriage.
Sliding versus deciding
The study’s co-author, Professor Scott Stanley, explained that there was too much sliding through traditional relationship transitions, without the requisite commitment:
“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.
Another way to think about ‘sliding versus deciding’ is in terms of rituals.
We tend to ritualize experiences that are important.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Francesca Palazzi