I came across an interesting article in The New York Times last month called “The Decisive Marriage.” The premise of the article says:
New research shows that how thoughtfully couples make decisions can have a lasting effect on the quality of their romantic relationships. Couples who are decisive before marriage — intentionally defining their relationships, living together and planning a wedding — appear to have better marriages than couples who simply let inertia carry them through major transitions.
Now keep in mind this isn’t a study conducted among Christians, so we know that no matter how decisive you are about living together, it’s not a good idea and goes against God’s plan. So assuming that we’re all on the same page about why living together is wrong, let me point out a few interesting things from the article.
The study found that past relationships matter.
In the study group, most people had had sex before marriage, reporting an average of five sexual partners. But 23 percent of the subjects had only one sexual partner, their eventual spouse. Those individuals reported higher marriage quality than people who had had multiple sexual partners.
Even though to the world, casual sex and the hook-up mentality are normal, they don’t lead to healthy marriages. Being decisive and thoughtful about saving sex for marriage leads to a better marriage overall.
The study also found that community matters.
In the study, having a big wedding also was related to a stronger marriage. Not everyone can afford a large wedding, of course, but the finding held even after the researchers controlled for differences in income. It may be that couples who plan big weddings have more family support and friendships, both of which are good for a marriage. But the discussions and decision-making that go into planning such a large event also may be a sign that the couple has made conscious decisions about the relationship.
The size of a wedding isn’t a moral issue, but I do think it’s interesting that involving more people in the marriage covenant and inviting them to be part of that commitment celebration is related to a support network that can help sustain a marriage. True community rarely just happens; it takes work to invest in relationships, and it takes being intentional in surrounding yourself with people who are wise.
I’ve been learning a lot about this as I’ve moved to a new city. Even though my boyfriend Tyler’s community has in many ways become my own, it still takes effort. Randomly hanging out with his group of friends doesn’t translate into building meaningful relationships. Instead, I’m learning that I have to take the initiative to invite people to dinner or coffee or ask Tyler if we can plan something with another couple with the goal being my getting to know them on a more personal level. And sometimes it’s taken Tyler to encourage me to make the first move in finding a new friend. I think the same thing happens within a marriage — both spouses making an intentional effort to stay in community and to make it a priority to have a group of people who are invited into the messiness of your lives.
And lastly, intent matters. The authors of the study note that many of today’s relationships are ambiguous and that for many couples, the first act of decisiveness is often to define whether or not it’s a date. At Boundless, we encourage both men and women to be clear about their intentions in either initiating the pursuit or responding to it, but this study reinforces that idea, even from a secular view.
The larger lesson from the study, the authors say, is that couples should make active decisions about their relationships and major life events, rather than drifting through one year after another.
It’s a good reminder that the decisions we make now do influence our future marriages. Being decisive about how you conduct yourself in romantic endeavors will influence your future marriage. So let’s be decisive about honoring God with our dating decisions.