The latest attempt to unlock the formula for a happy marriage is the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project report on the relationships of people between the ages of 18 and 34. One of the keys to wedded bliss? Making thoughtful, intentional decisions about major life transitions!
Researchers looked at more than 1,000 individuals who were in relationships in 2007 and 2008. Over the following five years, 418 got married, and reports about their pre-marital relationships and decisions were used to determine the impact they had on the quality of each marriage.
The findings suggest that thoughtful decisionmaking, specifically about major life changes like living together or having kids, often results in a happier marriage overall.
While open communication and thoughtfulness may seem like obvious hallmarks of any good relationship, the report’s authors note that many couples “slide” into decisions together. For example, two people may decide to shack up because one’s lease is up, rather than having an open and honest conversation about living together.
The reports authors also found that past relationships had a negative effect overall:
[P]ast relationship experiences — and their consequences — are linked to future marital quality. For instance, men and women who had a child before marriage are less likely to enjoy a high-quality marriage.
Finally, researchers found that big weddings may actually mean big love, noting that “Americans who had more guests at their nuptials are more likely to report high-quality marriages than those with a smaller wedding reception, even after controlling for their education and income.” So expand that guest list!
Of course, these are merely observations that point to patterns, and certainly are not the case for everyone. The New York Times offers some words of wisdom on taking this research with a grain of salt:
The study authors note that the data simply show associations among past experiences, decision-making and relationship quality, and caution that a number of variables may influence a marriage. A person who had multiple sexual partners and a small wedding is not necessarily going to have a bad marriage. The larger lesson from the study, the authors say, is that couples should make active decisions about their relationships and major life events, rather than drifting through one year after another. Showing intent in some form — from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond — can help improve the quality of a marriage over all.
We’re all for intentional, mindful, and loving relationships, no matter what form they take!