Wendy L. Patrick, Ph.D :
A marriage is a covenant relationship designed to last "till death do us part." Accordingly, a couple planning a wedding is carefully designing a celebration of what is intended to be a healthy, happy, life together. And unless they plan to elope to Las Vegas to tie the knot with Elvis in a chapel on the strip, wedding preparations include careful attention to everything from the ring, to the venue, to the guest list.
Some modern weddings even include a virtual guest list. I have "attended" several weddings over the last several years as an electronic invitee, watching a ceremony that was live streamed, sometimes because the actual ceremony took place in an exotic, cost prohibitive location.
And in terms of "the big date," in a previous column, I discussed how the selection of a wedding date impacts marital success.[i] Popular or unusual dates are tempting options for couples seeking to have a wedding that is both memorable and easy to remember-in terms of remembering their anniversary.
But because anniversaries only occur within the duration of the marriage, here is the most important question for partners to be: with the wide range of wedding options, which ones increase the likelihood of a successful marriage? The answers might surprise you.
Money can´t buy you love
Many couples spare no expense selecting the perfect wedding ring and planning an elaborate wedding, considering the financial investment to be an outward expression of love and commitment. But will spending more money ensure a more successful marriage? According to research, the answer is no.
Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon in "´A Diamond is Forever´" and Other Fairy Tales." (2014),[ii]used survey data from 3,000 people in the United States who had been married, to compare the association between the amount of money spent on a wedding and the duration of the marriages. Sadly, they found evidence that the length of a marriage was inversely proportional to the money spent on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony.
They found that male respondents reported high-priced wedding rings to be associated with shorter marriages, and female respondents reported relatively high spending on the wedding itself to be linked with shorter marriages.
On the other hand, the researchers found that both men and women reported weddings with lower price tags were associated with longer marriages. In terms of numbers, they found that couples spending less than $1,000 on a wedding to be linked with an 82%-93% decrease in the chances of experiencing "wedding-related debt stress" as compared with couples who spent between $5,000 and $10,000. Perhaps this should not be surprising, as the researchers note that prior literature has linked economic stress with divorce.
Apparently, couples should watch the numbers when it comes to the list of expenditures, but not the list of guests.
Because in terms of attendees, the recipe for success appears to be: the more the merrier. Francis and Mialon found that weddings less likely to lead to divorce were relatively inexpensive but highly attended.
Research by Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades (2014) also found higher wedding attendance was linked with marital success.[iii] They opined that this result might be explained by a combination of factors, including high social capital-in terms of family and friends, preferences for number of attendees, as well as the impact of making a public commitment in front of a large number of witnesses on resolve to follow through.
Avoiding flash over substance
Research appears to reflect the reality that in some cases, a lavish, expensive wedding may be more of a status statement than a reflection of relational strength. There is nothing wrong with a beautiful ceremony, as long as the focus is on the couple to be married.
The same rationale applies to the wedding ring. Some couples choose to spare expense and tie the knot with an heirloom passed down through generations; others select inexpensive but meaningful wedding rings where sentimental value outweighs cost. Although here too, there is nothing wrong with an expensive ring if it is an affordable investment in the marriage itself.
The most important part of marriage remains the recognition of the union as a covenant, where the focus is on permanence, not the price tag. Because true love is priceless.
(Wendy L. Patrick, Ph.D., is a career trial attorney, author of Red Flags, and co-author of Reading People).