A big wedding celebration preceded by few romantic relationships for both the bride and the groom could be a positive sign that they will be happy together years down the road, according to researchers at the University of Virginia. Those are the two principal findings in a new report from the National Marriage Project at UVA entitled "Before 'I Do': What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today's Young Adults?"
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"In most areas, more experience is better, you're a better job candidate with more experience, not less," says study co-author Galena K Rhoades, of the University of Denver.
"When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality."
The researchers can only speculate as to why this may be true, and the meat of their report takes the form of a discussion between friends as they reflect on their lives and those around them. For example, they say that the multiple break-ups that come with experience could embitter individuals, and alternating partners leads to comparison and ultimately a fruitless search for perfection. They note that marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may become more difficult with experience.
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Also taken into account was a mounting trend of "sliding" into events such as sex, marriage and children that once were thought of as life-changing. Those who had lived together before marriage, for example, were asked to what degree they had "slid" into cohabitating, and the more strongly respondents categorized the move as a decision rather than a slide, the greater their marital quality later on.
"Another way to think about 'sliding versus deciding' is in terms of rituals," says co-author Scott 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. "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."
Even after controlling for socio-economic discrepancy, study authors noted that marital bliss increased incrementally in accordance with the size of the wedding.
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At the highest end of the spectrum, 47 percent of those whose wedding consisted of 150 or more attendees reported high marital quality.
Data analyzed for the study came 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.
This study recruited over 1,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 who were unmarried but in a relationship between 2007 and 2008. During the next five years, 418 of these individuals got married and the authors followed them to analyze the quality of their marriages in relation to each partner's romantic history prior to the marriage.