Are getting married any time soon? Perhaps you know someone else who has set a date and is now dashing around trying to book a venue and worrying about the 101 things that will need to be sorted out before the big day, from favours to flowers?
Arranging a wedding can be hard work, and that applies whether it will be your first or your third. But the rush and the stress mingle (in most of us at least!) with other emotions: excitement, happiness, anticipation. A hugely significant new chapter in our lives is set to begin. Even if we already live with our spouses-to-be, marriage is still a move up to fifth gear.
But as tempting as it may be to get caught up in the shiny romance and joy, it does in fact, here as elsewhere in life, pay to keep a clear head.
A recent study highlights the potential damage done to marriage by inflated expectations. Researchers followed 501 couples over a four year period to examine any links between a person’s expectations of marriage and their subsequent happiness.
The paper, entitled Newlyweds’ optimistic forecasts of their marriage: For better or for worse?, was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
At the beginning of the process, almost all the couples said they expected to remain or become even happier after their upcoming marriages. But the reality was rather different, with most finding they became less happy over time. And this effect was most pronounced amongst wives with the highest expectations of their marriage.
According to the researchers:
“Wives who predicted the greatest increases in satisfaction actually had the greatest declines in satisfaction.”
In addition, such women “also had lower self-esteem and higher levels of stress and physical aggression toward their partners initially.”
That’s a rather toxic mix. Perhaps such women were trying to counterbalance their own unhappiness by projecting inflated expectations onto the wedding days?
The findings, said the researchers, show “that nearly all couples overestimate the durability of their existing satisfied feelings at the start of their marriage.”
So there you have it. I don’t subscribe to the poet Alexander Pope’s often quoted maxim “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Wise in a bleak way, but a rather joyless way to view the world. But I certainly believe in keeping a clear head, about marriage as much as anything else.
So yes, enjoy the romance and the excitement of an upcoming wedding by all means, but my advice to anyone planning their big day would be: don’t get too carried away with the fairy tale and part company completely from the reality of your relationship.
A marriage is a bit like a shelf. It can hold a certain amount but if you stack on too much weight it will tear right off the wall.