For A Happier Marriage, Spend Less On Your Wedding

The first important decision a married couple makes is ... how to get married. Black tie at the Ritz? Clambake at the shore? Backyard potluck? Research shows you might be better off with a cheap - but well-attended - wedding. Scott Stanley and Galena K. Rhoades, professors and researchers for the Institute of Family Studies, report that while the cost of weddings has been rising, the number of guests has been falling.

Photo: Nathan Rupert

Stanley and Rhoades, who study "relationship quality", conducted a study on the size of weddings (that is, how many guests attended) and marital happiness, and found that people who had bigger weddings were generally happier. This makes sense according to both social science and common sense: If you take vows in front of more people, you're more likely to keep them; your marriage is supported and encouraged by your community - all auspicious things for the happy couple.

Now, this result can also be explained by money - people who have big weddings may have more dough, which provides the material advantages that can bolster a marriage (the absence of financial stress that can spark conflict, for example, or pricey marriage counselling, or at least a big enough house that you can get away from each other for a bit).

But then Stanley and Rhoades came across another study that teased apart a few other variables in weddings, including cost: Most noteworthy was that spending a lot on the wedding does not net a couple a bump in marital happiness. In fact, "those who spent the most on their weddings ($20,000 [$AU25,200] or more) were, on average, at greater risk for divorce." Also noteworthy: The couples that had a lot of guests had a lower incidence of divorce.

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Again, this makes sense intuitively: Going into debt for a wedding (or even just spending money you wish you've saved for a home or a degree) can leave you with a nasty financial hangover that can mar the early days of a marriage. And couples that have big circles of family and friends are likely to enjoy all the benefits that go along with being part of a loving community.

Now, this advice isn't one-size-fits-all: If your dream wedding involves just the two of you, a city clerk you've never met, and doughnuts in a park, by all means, don't let some social scientist tell you how to do you. But all things being equal, being frugal is good and having a strong social network is good. (If you don't have one, think about how you and your sweetie can get one.)

So if money's tight and you want to accommodate everyone from your university soccer club and all your second cousins, think more cookout than black tie. As Stanley and Rhoades write, "The power of the wedding vow is far more likely to lie in the connections and the commitment than in the lavishness of the spectacle."


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