The statistics are depressing and disheartening. Over half of marriages end in divorce. It is not surprising we have devoted so much research to exploring the reasons why. A consistent theme, finding support both empirically and anecdotally, is the notion that a successful marriage requires an investment. Not of money, but of time.
Money Cannot Buy You (Lasting) Love
Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon in “'A Diamond is Forever' and Other Fairy Tales” (2014) used survey data from 3,000 people in the United States who had been married, to compare the association between the amount of money spent on a wedding and the duration of the marriages. Couples planning an elaborate wedding will be surprised and disappointed by their findings.
They found evidence that the length of a marriage was inversely proportional to the money spent on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony. How does this happen? In terms of association, they note that wedding cost and marital dissolution may be moderated by economic stress.
In addition to the wedding price tag, other factors Francis and Mialon found to be linked with a higher risk of divorce included disparity in education and age, as well as the importance of appearance in the decision to marry.
But there is good news too. Francis and Mialon also discovered factors that increased the chances of a successful marriage. These include high wedding attendance, regularly attending religious services, enjoying a high household income, and sharing a child.
Interestingly, they found the amount of money spent on a honeymoon was not linked with the likelihood of divorce, and that in fact, taking a honeymoon was a factor associated with a successful marriage.
In reality, the most precious and memorable aspects of a wedding are free. A moving speech by the groom or best man, or the newlyweds’ first dance, often steals the show at a wedding reception — and cost nothing. Nor does the excitement and pleasure experienced by the newlyweds themselves during their first introduction as a married couple.
Along the same lines, it makes sense that Francis and Mialon found that a honeymoon, even an expensive one, was linked with marital success. This highlights one of the most important aspects of a marriage, enjoying quality time together.
Time (Not Money) Well Spent
As we get older, we realize that one of the most precious gifts we can receive from a loved one is the gift of time. You know this already if you have elderly relatives. They may not have much use for material gifts anymore, so you don't buy them a watch; you gift them your time. In a multitasking world of perpetual businesses, people cherish the time you take out of your day to spend with them.
The gift of time is particularly precious in marriage. Whether helping around the house or helping brainstorm a challenging situation at work, time is a gift. The gift of time is also expressed by, you knew this was coming, just listening. Your partner's silent message is loud and clear: you are important and your feelings matter.
And on the subject of time, research also supports the fact that a wonderful marriage is worth waiting for — both emotionally and physically.
Time is a Long Term Investment: Delayed Gratification Improves Marital Quality
Research indicates that delaying sexual activity increases relational satisfaction. In a sample of 10,932 individuals in unmarried, romantic relationships, Brian J. Willoughby et al. in a study entitled "Differing Relationship Outcomes When Sex Happens Before, on, or After First Dates," (2014) found delaying initiation of sexual activity to be positively related to relationship outcomes.
Their results provide support for earlier research by Busby et al. (2010) demonstrating the sexual restraint theory, indicating that abstaining from sex until marriage (as compared to initiating sexual activity early in a relationship) resulted in better marriages in terms of marital satisfaction, sexual quality, and communication.
The study by Willoughby et al. went beyond Busby et al.'s findings in demonstrating the timing of the positive relational impact of delaying sexual activity. Busby's research examined couples who later married, where the current research found relational benefits of abstinence to be apparent earlier in relationship formation, not just after marriage.
These findings are in contrast to the belief held by some couples, who think that testing sexual compatibility prior to marriage will enhance long-term relationships. A growing body of research does not provide support for a sexual compatibility theory. To the contrary, engaging in premarital sex was linked with a wide range of negative relational outcomes, both short term and long term.
Planning a Successful Marriage is Priceless
Whether indulging or abstaining, investing in your future as a married couple is both precious and priceless. We can't buy love, but we can give it freely, without any expectation of personal gain. That is an essential quality of a long, healthy, happy marriage, and is worth waiting for.
A version of this article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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