Recently, I learned a friend was getting remarried. My first reaction was happiness for him. But then I thought back to his first wedding, a lavish event which was followed just a few short years later by divorce.
I began thinking of other expensive weddings that ended in divorce. Not just people I knew but celebrities.
I thought back to when my husband and I got married almost 34 years ago — by a Justice of the Peace in Southport. There were a lot of reasons for this. Our parents were not in favor of our decision, so there didn’t seem to be any point in a big wedding. Plus, we were just starting out and didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend.
I wondered if there was a correlation between expensive, lavish weddings and divorce. Surely there has been research done on this subject. So I did what I always do. I looked it up on Google.
To my surprise, very little came up. But a lot of other people had the same question and, while there was little serious research, there was a lot of discussion.
People who believed there was a correlation between expensive weddings and divorce made comments such as “women (who want expensive weddings) are high maintenance,” they “want the spotlight on them,” and they “want a party instead of a wedding.”
There were also a lot of comments about such weddings being financially wasteful.
One commenter referenced a book by Dan Zevin, titled “The Nearly-Wed Handbook: How to Survive the Happiest Day of Your Life.” Zevin makes a distinction between getting married and getting weddinged. For example, in getting married, “you publicly declare your love in front of the people who mean the most to you.” However in getting weddinged, “you desperately revise your guest list according to which of the people are worth the $75 a head it’s costing to feed them.”
People who believed there was no correlation asserted that “planning a wedding tells you a lot about marriage.”
Others actually went so far as to say that if you don’t want to plan a big wedding, then you’re not ready to get married. “There is a positive correlation between happy marriage and complex wedding planning.
“Wedding planning introduces stresses common to a marriage but not necessarily common to dating, and therefore it provides certain preparatory experiences (financial balancing, dealing with in-laws, compromising for each others’ deeply held preferences and cultural differences, taking a look at your relation with bridesmaids/groomsmen/guest-list and how those external relationships will change once married.)”
The only research I was able to find was a thesis from an honors psychology student at the University of Michigan in 2012. The purpose of her research was to “understand the emphasis placed on extravagant weddings in today’s society, and to explore its effects on the perception of the marriage relationship as a result.”
The hypothesis was that couples who hold materialistic values would report lower marital satisfaction. However, her research proved exactly the opposite: materialistic values actually lead to greater relational satisfaction. The research however, also showed that despite the findings, most people’s perception is that small, inexpensive weddings lead to happier marriages.
In attempting to understand her results, the researcher asked the question, “Could it be that money itself is not problematic to relationships, but that the intentions we have for the use of money and the reasons why we value it, affect the relationship between materialism and relationship satisfaction?”
Clearly there are many factors which create a strong marriage. Honesty, loyalty, having mutual goals and the ability to communicate are far more useful in predicting stable marriages or the likelihood of divorce.
So if there’s no proven correlation between lavish weddings and divorce, why do many people continue to believe there is?
It boils down to our own personal bias and point of view. We see correlations that fit our bias and to justify our own opinions and values.
I’m frugal (some say cheap). We didn’t see the point in having a big wedding at the time. We waited until our 25th anniversary to celebrate what we’d achieved. It fit our values, but it’s not for everyone.
So, there’s no research which correlates lavish weddings and divorce. Would it change behaviors if there were? Probably not and that’s OK as long as it makes sense for the couple and their families.
Bea Northcott is a columnist for the Daily Journal, writing about marriages, relationships and family. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.