This is a guest post by our friend and couples coach Kira Asatryan!
If you know me (and you do now because you’re reading my article YAY) you probably know that I had an amazingly stressful few days before my wedding. Wildfires forced us to move locations, re-route all vendors… you can imagine. My now husband & I comforted ourselves by suggesting, when things got overwhelming, that “It’s not too late to run off to Vegas!” Of course we didn’t (and our wedding turned out perfect anyway) but I definitely found a relief in the idea of throwing wedding stress to the wind.
I’d bet, if you’re in the process of planning a wedding, you’ve had your own “Screw this – we’re going to Vegas!” moment as well. It’s so easy to think – isn’t it basically the same thing to buy a beautiful off-the-rack dress, go down to city hall, get the deed done & call it a day?
Turns out it’s not. A new study published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia found that couples who had a wedding reported more happiness in their marriage years after the big day, as compared to those who eloped or didn’t celebrate the occasion at all. Now this is simply correlation, and my first thought when I read it was, “That could just be because people who can afford a wedding are probably better financially off.” And there are pretty obvious reasons why financially better off couples have easier marriages in general.
But it turns out this finding was still true even after the study corrected for income levels. Financial status being the same – those that had weddings were still happier than those that hadn’t.
This got me thinking. Weddings must have some actual importance… beyond the undeniable prettiness. It’s true we tend to put weddings on a pedestal – much more than any other celebrations in our lives. Why is that? Do we subconsciously know that weddings have more psychological value than birthday parties, anniversaries, or graduations?
Here are, in my opinion, four aspects unique to weddings that have the potential to create tangible, long-lasting value:
The wedding marks your life transition in a thoughtful way
This first point is also supported by the National Marriage Project study, which found that couples who put deliberate thought into their transitions from one relationship stage to the next (from dating to exclusivity, exclusivity to cohabitating, and cohabitating to getting engaged) were happier than those who slid from one stage to the next without acknowledging the change.
And there’s really nothing more acknowledge-y than a wedding, if you ask me. Not only does the bride & groom make promises out loud, perform age-old traditions, and sign legal documents (can you spell ACK-NOW-LEDGE), they also prove to everyone around them that they’ve put thought into this life transition. There’s thoughtfulness in the choice of location, in the rings, in the flowers, and in all the personalized details. These things are not trivial, it turns out. They represent your desire to honor the moment, the transition, the marriage that’s being made – and each other.
The wedding is likely your first big project as a couple
You may have dated for 10 years before getting engaged. You may already live together. You may even work at the same company. But more often than not, your wedding will be the first big project you undertake together. It requires planning, compromise, forethought, and reflection. It requires financial planning, navigating familial waters, and ensuring your partner is satisfied. In other words, it’s practice for a marriage.
This big project is also an awesome rehearsal for marriage in another way – it’s a window into your partner’s values. Is he all about making sure the families are honored at the wedding? Is he focused on making sure everyone gets drunk & has fun? Does he want the ceremony to make everyone cry – really feel the feels? These are all indicators of what he values, not just in the wedding, but in life. As my dad says, “People tell you who they are all the time. You just have to listen.” Start listening!
The wedding tightens bonds with everyone around you
Multiple longevity studies have shown that overall life happiness is largely related to the happiness of one’s relationships. This extends beyond one’s primary romantic relationship – social support is more important than we think. A wedding is arguably the best occasion in one’s whole life (aside from maybe having a baby) to enlist the support of friends and family.
Enlisting social support in the context of a wedding is doubly awesome because it goes both ways. It’s totally appropriate to ask for help – practical help as well as emotional support – and it’s totally appropriate to show your thanks (through gifts, acknowledgements, maybe a shout-out at the wedding). Bonds between people tend to grow strongest when one person asks another for help and then explicitly shows them gratitude. If this isn’t a great thing to practice during wedding planning, I don’t know what is.
Three words: positive sentiment override
If you know me (and you do now because you’ve read almost a whole article by me!) you know two things: 1) my wedding had wildfires 2) I’m obsessed with positive sentiment override.
What is positive sentiment override? It’s a term coined by clinical researcher – and one of my favorite people in the whole world – John Gottman, who found that the longest-lasting happily married couples were not the couples who never fought, or the ones who had resolved all their differences. They were the ones who liked each other more often than they disliked each other, AKA positive sentiment override.
The theory around PSO is that couples have a much easier time making it through difficult times if they have a large store of happy, loving feelings for each other. And what fills you up with happy, loving feelings for each other? A WEDDING, I’D SAY. It may be the case that a wedding is so full of love – so full of happy moments & cherished memories – that it can actually soften marital difficulties down the road. That’s worth the extra trip to the flower market, isn’t it?
Try to keep in mind these special benefits of a wedding when you find yourself unconsciously looking at maps of Vegas. It’ll be worth it in the end!
About Kira: Kira is a San Francisco-based couples coach who specializes in helping newlywed & engaged couples lay the foundation for a fantastic marriage. Her mission is to build upon the stellar aspects of a relationship while improving any less-than-satisfying parts. She received her training from the pre-eminent life coaching school – The Coaches Training Institute – and her reason for doing this work is simple: she just loves love! Visit her website to learn more about her coaching programs and pre-marital courses!