For a Happier Marriage, Don’t Spend Less on Your Wedding.

The first important decision a married couple makes is … how to get married. Black tie at the Ritz? Clamback on the beach? Backyard crockery? Research suggests that you might be better off hosting a cheap but well attended wedding. Scott Stanley and Galena K. Rhodes, professors and researchers at the Family Research Institute, report that while the cost of weddings is rising, the number of guests is falling.

Stanley and Rhodes, a study of “relationship quality,” conducted a study of wedding size (ie, number of guests) and marital happiness and found that people who had larger weddings were generally happier. This makes sense both from a social science point of view and from a common sense point of view: if you take an oath in front of more people, you are more likely to hold them back; your marriage is supported and encouraged by your community – all of which are conducive to a happy couple.

This result can now also be attributed to money: People who have large weddings can have more money, which provides material benefits that can strengthen the marriage (for example, no financial stress that can provoke conflict, or costly consultations about marriage, or at least a house large enough to be away from each other for a while).

But then Stanley and Rhodes stumbled upon another study that highlighted several other variables in weddings, including cost: most notably, spending more money on a wedding does not bring a married couple the best in their marital happiness. In fact, “those who spent the most on weddings ($ 20,000 or more) were, on average, at greater risk of divorce.” Also noteworthy: couples who had many guests had fewer divorces.

Again, this makes intuitive sense: Going into debt for your wedding (or even just spending the money you want to save up for a home or degree) can leave you with a nasty financial hangover that can ruin the early days of your marriage. And couples who have a large circle of family and friends are likely to enjoy all the benefits of being part of a loving community.

This tip is not universal: if it’s just you two, a city clerk you’ve never met, and carrying a cake on the boardwalk, by all means, don’t let some sociologist tell you what to do. But all things being equal, being lean is good, and having a strong social network is good. (If you don’t have it, consider how you and your loved one can get it .)

So if money is tight and you want to accommodate everyone from your dorm to college and all your second cousins, think more about cooking than black tie. As Stanley and Rhodes write, “The power of a wedding vow is far more likely to lie in bonds and commitment than in the generosity of the spectacle.”


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