Marriage is Different from Popular Perception, Study finds

, Jace Gregory, 3 Comments

The popular “try before you buy” mentality may be helpful when buying a car, but not necessarily when preparing for marriage. As summarized by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, “What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas,” so be careful what you do before marriage.

wedding photo

With so much attention given to the definition of marriage, the discussion about successful traditional marriages can often be neglected or overlooked. Left to educate the world on how to create a lasting and meaningful marriage are Hollywood and magazine stands—businesses that thrive on popularity and not necessarily principle.

It should be remembered that the efforts to save or preserve family and marriage in America need not only focus on its legal definition and protections, but also on the principles and practices that lead to successful and happy futures. Because of political correctness and restrictive school policies, it is especially rare to hear ofsuch principles being taught in schools, but it ought to be a topic of discussion and research in academia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics say that that from 2001 to 2011, the marriage rate has dropped by 10.3 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women ages 15 and older. Ironically, it is also reported that 80% of today’s young adults see marriage as an important part of their life plans.

The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia recently authored a study titled “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?” The study’s findings explain how some premarital factors influence marriages for better or for worse.

The study explains how relationship transitions have been reordered over time. In the past, most couples went from courtship to marriage, then to sex, cohabitation and children. Today, marriage is more like an afterthought once the other steps have been taken. The report elaborates:

About ninety percent of couples have sex before marriage, according to one study (Finer, 2007), and about four in ten babies are born to unmarried parents (Martin et al., 2013). Most couples live together before getting married (Copen, Daniels, & Mosher, 2013). Couples, in other words, build a lot of history, both together and with prior partners, before deciding to spend their lives together.

Over 1,000 people participated in the study over the span of several years. The history of the spouses’ relationships and prior romantic experiences, along with an analysis of the quality of their marriages were tracked and studied. The foundation reached three major conclusions after analyzing the data:

1. Past experiences, especially when it comes to love, sex, and children, are directly connected to our future quality of marriage. As they summarized it, “What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.”

“As a whole, these findings demonstrate that having more relationships prior to marriage is related to lower marital quality,” they said. “In some ways, that seems counterintuitive: Why would having more experience be associated with worse outcomes? We generally operate under the assumption that people with more experience, in a job, for example, are experts and therefore better than novices or new hires. Shouldn’t having more relationship experience also make people wiser in their love lives?”

They reasoned that more experience raises one’s awareness of alternative partners and encourages comparison of current and prior relationships. “Marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may be harder to do with a lot of experience,” they said.

Mollie Hemingway from the The Federalist added her own perspective by explaining that the “whole truly counterintuitive point of a happy marriage is that you’re not supposed to be thinking about what your spouse can do for you so much as what you can do for your spouse.”

“That’s why this whole commercialized approach to spouse-picking is wrong,” she said. “When you’re trying to figure out which yogurt to buy, you’re doing a lot of comparison shopping, but you’re not thinking of what you can do for the yogurt, you know?”

2. The next finding was that couples who make deliberate decisions about relationships instead of casually sliding through the major transitions report higher marital quality. This is probably due to the fact that couples who deliberately make wise decisions are couples who can communicate with each other and who value long-term contentment.

3. The third finding from the study was that public weddings also influence the quality of marriages. The report said, “It may be that having community support both while you date and through your marriage is very important for marital quality. According to the work of psychologist Charles Kiesler (1971), commitment is strengthened when it is publicly declared because individuals strive to maintain consistency between what they say and what they do.”

While these findings may not be particularly popular in today’s world, careful research and accurate education always lead to the inevitable conclusion that our actions come packaged with consequences. Teaching about consequences is correct even if it’s not politically advantageous; we all reap what we sow.