Values that Can Lead to a
Two young people I know plan to marry this Sunday. My wife and I have known the groom and his parents for years. I came to know the bride when she was a college student worker. To all appearances, they are a beautiful couple in a loving and committed relationship. They met in college, dated, obtained master’s degrees from the same university, and attend the same church. Theirs will be a Christian wedding.
Weddings and Culture
Like a long flowing gown, or a brides' aisle walk to meet her bridegroom, weddings retain a cultural trail of values. Cultural traditions are often integrated with religious ceremony. Royal ceremonies encourage fantasies in children’s books suggest enchantment in romantic novels and movies for girls and women (and some men) of all ages. Religious stories illustrate blessed relationships and joyful celebrations.
Weddings used to mark the beginning of a new life together. They still do for some. But in free societies, more and more couples opt for living together instead of marriage or before a marriage ceremony. In the U.S., couples still marry -- 90% of couples marry by age 50. The freedom from bargaining with fathers, affording dowries, setting bride prices, locating matchmakers, avoiding meddling parent-relative wedding planners, and rejecting obscure religious ceremonies can all be ditched in favor of enjoying each other before a complicated and expensive wedding leads to a risky marriage relationship. The barriers of life together have been surmounted.
Materialism has inflated the cost of weddings. Expensive weddings may be a barrier to formally tying the knot. Even church use fees are not cheap. Marketing psychology skillfully plays on the emotions and egos of couples and families to extract great sums of borrowed wealth to create a special day. And the ads suggest that a lifetime of happiness will follow if families will invest a little bit more in this or that. Lurking in the background is the fear that some 40 to 50% or first marriages end in divorce with even higher rates for remarried couples.
In Western cultures, bridal magazines not only inflate the expectations of young women but they create a new focus on the bride as queen for a day. To be sure, in church weddings, the bride always commandeered attention when all rose to watch her slow melodious walk down a flower and candle decorated aisle in the finest dress she or her family could afford. But in recent years the bride-focus has been magnified. The wedding is all about the woman. It is her day. “It’s all about you,” some say. See the Bridezillas article in Newsweek for an interesting commentary on this phenomenon.
Weddings and Four Values
1. Commitment. Commitment remains a primary key to a happy relationship. There will always be stories of whirlwind romances that last a lifetime. But the data continue to indicate that a deep commitment is a good predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in a marriage. That deep commitment is marked by couples who were willing to sacrifice for each other. A useful quote from researcher, Benjamin Karney explains this commitment, “It means do what it takes to make the relationship successful.” You can find a summary of the study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on the UCLA website.
2. Maturity. Age is no guarantee of maturity. Most of us know middle-aged folks who “never grew up.” But when it comes to long-lasting marriages in societies where couples make the decision to marry or not marry, the data indicate that couples who wait to wed can expect much better chances of a successful marriage. It turns out the high divorce rate is an age-related factor. Those who commit to a relationship at age 18 divorce at about 60% but those who wait until age 23 have a divorce rate of 30%. These rates were regardless of cohabitation or marriage. Kuperberg’s research was summarized in The Atlantic.
3. Materialism. Materialism was dealt a serious blow in a study of 1,734 couples published in 2011. Couples who were low in materialistic values had better relationships. The scientists reported: “We found that materialism had a negative association with marital quality, even when spouses were unified in their materialistic values (287).” See the study in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.
4. Faith. Faith matters. Of course, for those committed to their faith, the idea that faith could make a difference is hardly news. But from a research perspective, it is important to note a caveat to a long-held belief that the divorce rates are the same for religious and nonreligious persons in the U.S. where Christianity is the dominant religion. Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn found the divorce rates were much lower for couples who attend church together.
Commitment. It just makes sense that a deep commitment to a relationship can lead to a happier marriage. And I suspect weddings are much happier when couples are highly committed to each other. Other commitments are important as well. Parents, grandparents, and friends need to be committed to support the newlyweds and the usual trials that come with building a new life, including those couples who have children. Signs of the level of commitment should be evident before the wedding. And evidence of the capacity to commit should be evident in other relationships as well. I suspect people who have strong friendships, good relationships with relatives, and co-workers know what commitment means. Loyalty is a related moral virtue.
Maturity. Maturity is a fuzzy concept. I quip about the immature middle-aged adult. Some people never grow up. And childlike impulsivity is sometimes lifted up as a virtue. Maturity is hard to define. Age is a useful index of maturity. Culturally we use age as a marker for driving privileges, voting, employment and marriage. Age is not a perfect marker but it is a place to start exploring readiness for a committed relationship.
Materialism. The research supports the notion that an undue focus on materialism is a barrier to marriage. Stereotypes abound when it comes to how men and women value money and ostentatious wealth. To some degree it makes sense to value evidence that the couple has sufficient resources to begin a new life together. Sufficient is of course quite variable. And people do in fact argue about money and they often have different priorities when it comes to spending their soon to be joint income. In today’s world, materialism is not an all or nothing value. Rather, individuals place higher or lower values on different possessions and experiences for themselves, their spouses, and their children. Finding common ground on valuing requires a deeper commitment to the relationship compared to valuing possessions and experiences. Most people need to review their priorities from time to time.
Faith. My knowledge of weddings and marriages in non-Christian traditions is limited. I’ve been to a lot of Christian weddings over the years. Wedding ceremonies have changed. But Christian weddings continue to draw attention to the importance of the faith family standing with the couple and their extended family. And in text, song, or prayer there are ancient images of God committed in relationship to people. Weddings are not just about brides or even couples. Weddings offer families and communities a time to come together and celebrate many relationships—both earthly and divine. Ancient symbols and scriptures offer a welcome context to frame the beginning of a divinely inspired relationship.
I wish my young friends well!
Healthy Marriages: Marriage under Reconstruction Part 3
Research Links on Academia.edu