Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Big Weddings Equal Good Marriages?

Marriage

If you want a good marriage, throw a big wedding (150+ guests) and make sure you and your spouse haven’t slept with too many other people (more than a couple) before tying the knot, says a pair of psychology researchers from the University of Denver who conducted a Relationship Development Study (well, my marriage is screwed, I guess). The study included 418 people, all of whom “were single and between the ages of 18 and 40 when they joined the study in 2007 and 2008, and all of whom had tied the knot by the time the researchers checked in with them five years later.” The researchers sought to “identify patterns of behavior that tended to set people up for successful and fulfilling marriages.”

Is it just me, or do you agree that a study identifying patterns of behavior in successful marriages might be better conducted on people who had been married more than a few years? At any rate, the researchers discovered that “past experiences, especially when it comes to love, sex, and children, are linked to our future marital quality.” Yeah, no shit. I could have told them that, but not for the reasons they seem to think.

Though the average number of people study participants slept with is five, 23% of them had slept only with the person they married, and those people scored higher on the marriage quality test than the dirty whores who slept with more than one person. In fact, for women, the higher the number of sexual partners, “the less happy she reported her marriage to be,” according to the report. Also, people who had been married or lived with someone before meeting their current spouse were less likely to have high-quality marriages. The researchers concluded that this is because “more experience may increase one’s awareness of alternative partners, a strong sense of alternatives is believed to make it harder to maintain commitment to, and satisfaction with, what one already has.” In other words: “Ignorance is bliss.” If you have no experience of other mates and nothing to compare your spouse to, it’s easier to believe your relationship is great. But, in that case, how can we believe someone who says his or her marriage is “high quality”? Compared to what? Could it be that people who have spent a majority of their adult lives celibate and/or single are simply basting in the honeymoon glow a little longer and a little more deeply than those who have been around the block a few times? (Again, I’d be interested to hear from these same couples ten, fifteen years from now after they’ve experienced some loss in their lives, after children have brought various challenges to their relationships, and after the excitement of finally having sex is just sex with the same person for fifteen years).

Related: couples who lived together before marriage were less likely to report having “high quality” marriages than couples who waited until they tied the knot to share an address. The researchers theorized that “once men and women had meshed their finances, furniture, and pets, the effort required to get out of a less-than-ideal relationship was simply too great.” Apparently, it’s just easier to slide into marriage than break up, move out, and split all your stuff. You know, because planning a wedding is so effortless.

And let’s talk about weddings:

Among the 418 study volunteers, 11% did not have a formal wedding ceremony, and only 28% of these couples had a high-quality marriage. Meanwhile, 41% of couples that did have formal weddings achieved high-quality marriage status.

The researchers speculated that “couples who are struggling or less happy in their relationship may be less likely to want to celebrate getting married.” They also noted that “the act of having a public ceremony … symbolizes a clear decision to commit to one’s marriage.”

Apparently, the larger the guest list, the bigger the statement. The researchers found that 47% of couples that got hitched in front of 150 or more guests had high-quality marriages, compared with only 31% of those who had 50 or fewer guests. That means that couples who had big weddings were 52% more likely to have high-quality marriages than couples who had smaller weddings.

The researchers speculate that having more witnesses at a wedding puts greater pressure on a couple to keep their promises. Hmm, ok. Considering that ALL 418 people in this study were single seven years ago, and that some of them had probably just gotten married when the researchers checked in on them last year, another possibility is that those who had big weddings were still happy in their marriages BECAUSE THEY WERE STILL ON THEIR HONEYMOONS. (Or maybe hadn’t had time to focus on anything else except writing thank-you notes and organizing their wedding albums). Seriously, next time the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development wants to fund a marriage study like this, I hope they include couples who have known each other longer than my toddler has been alive.

[via LA Times]

37 comments… add one
  • avatar

    RedroverRedrover August 21, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Yeah, I agree, not a great study. But maybe they’re going to keep checking back with those couples every 5 years or something. That would give some more interesting results.

    And personally I’m glad to see at least one data point, even a weak one, that shows that people who have big weddings can actually have good marriages. When I was planning my wedding I saw sooo many comments bagging on people with big weddings, calling them bridezillas and saying they’re not interested in marriage, they’re just interested in the party. It’s pretty annoying. I had a big wedding because my husband and I both have large families, and we could afford it, so we went ahead with it. If our families had been tiny our wedding would have been small. It’s a dumb thing to judge someone’s marriage for.

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    • avatar

      csp August 21, 2014, 1:55 pm

      So, I read comments on this study all over the internet. The one argument about the big wedding is that it shows that the union is respected by family and friends. That 200 people really want this to work and believe in the couple. It took the slant that social rituals and community are still important.

      I think that if you have some community in your wedding (regardless of the size) it is still successful. I think there are people who marry at courthouses for benefits or to elope because the family doesn’t approve and those kinds of starts are very hard right from the beginning.

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  • MaterialsGirl

    MaterialsGirl August 21, 2014, 12:22 pm

    omg this is horrible and totally totally false

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  • possumgirl

    possumgirl August 21, 2014, 12:28 pm

    If, in 15 years, all of those things hold true, then that would be interesting. This is like saying that smoking is okay for you because only a few people died from lung cancer within five years after starting smoking.

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  • avatar

    ktfran August 21, 2014, 12:34 pm

    Well fuck, I’m screwed. I might as well throw in the towel now.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar August 21, 2014, 12:41 pm

    How do you value a quality marriage? Some stepford wife might rate hers high but that isn’t something I would be interested in….meh…I like the stories about people married 60 years and what it takes to make for a happy marriage.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy August 21, 2014, 1:17 pm

      I think that’s an interesting topic — the idea of how we rate “quality” in a marriage. The researchers in this study used a rating system based on how study participants answered a series of questions, including questions about “marital happiness, confiding in one another, believing things are going well in the relationship, and thoughts of divorce.” That is so subjective! And feelings about one’s marriage can change from day to day. And “believing things are going well in the relationship,” doesn’t always mean things ARE going well. I’m thinking of the countless letters I have received from people who thought their relationships were going well only to discover that their partners were secretly behaving in ways that did not reflect that.

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      • Miel

        Miel August 21, 2014, 1:33 pm

        I had a really wonderful nurse at my last STD check and even though I was really confident I had nothing to worry about (because I’m in a exclusive relationship) she gently told me how “many girls think they are going to be engaged by next month, and then the results come back and they find out their long term boyfriend was cheating on them all that time”. I wasn’t worried (and I had no reason to) but I’m sure those girls would have rated their relationship 10/10 one day, then 0/10 the next day when they’re told they have herpes.

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      • FireStar

        FireStar August 21, 2014, 2:02 pm

        It’s like saying thank you for the gold medal… when you are still in the race. I think the most anyone can say when asked about their relationship is that it is good so far and we are working on it… until you have a lifetime under your belt and then hopefully working at it had becoming second nature to you then…
        Then there are the people that paste a tight smile on their face and try as hard as they can to convince everyone (on facebook ahem) that their marriage is perfect…when that might be very far from the truth…I wonder how truthfully someone like that answers survey questions?

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    • avatar

      csp August 21, 2014, 2:01 pm

      So I just finished the book Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. It was written in the 1970s and it is a long, hard philosophical read. I mean, it took me forever to get through it. The whole book is trying to define quality and how to go through your life creating quality in everything you do. Dialing in when you are maintaining a motorcycle or in a conversation. So the problem is that quality can only be defined in relation to what you know. Is it better than other alternatives that you see. So when people view their quality of life, it is only based on the perspective they have. I am not sure how important longevity is because there might not be quality in those years.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh August 21, 2014, 2:08 pm

        Would an unhappy long marriage be graded as ‘quality’ in this study though. To me the importance of longevity is that it’s easy to be happy for a short time or to define your marriage as quality after only 2 to 3 years. Is it as easy 20 to 30 years down the road? Or are those couples more likely to be honest, especially in a study like this. I haven’t read about it, but I’m assuming the people were polled separately.

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      • avatar

        csp August 21, 2014, 3:56 pm

        So honesty is a really big deal in this survey. I will say that I have seen a few marriages fail early on so 2 years is plenty of time for something to fall apart. I wonder how much people are even honest with themselves.

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  • gigi

    gigi August 21, 2014, 1:18 pm

    I’m screwed….slept with too many people now I guess. Thats OK, I had my shot at marriage(s) & its not high on my priority list anymore.

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  • avatar

    j2 August 21, 2014, 1:21 pm

    I suspect that everything changes as the people and the time do.

    That is, people are affected by the environment in which they grew up and had all their earlier interactions, as well as their basic culture.

    For example, a similar analysis done a hundred years ago in the US might have concluded that the best results followed a church wedding with the woman a virgin between 16 and 18 and the man not a virgin and aged 25 – 35.

    Do one in India, and it might conclude that a lavish wedding of 500+ people was best, with the man a professional and the woman bringing a large dowry.

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  • JK

    JK August 21, 2014, 1:24 pm

    I guess my 7 years of happy marriage mus be a lie then. A teensy tiny casual wedding, and my husband was um.. promiscuous, shall we say.

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    • avatar

      jlyfsh August 21, 2014, 2:01 pm

      Yeah I think trying to equate happiness in your marriage to the size of your wedding is kind of ridiculous. Especially considering what FireStar and Wendy mentioned above.

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  • Miel

    Miel August 21, 2014, 1:29 pm

    The self-evaluation after five years introduce so much variability, we can have a million different explanation for those results. The way they were describing it, I kept thinking about this other division : the people who always dreamed of getting married, and the people who always dreamed of having a life partner. I think those are two different sort of dreams, and the two can overlap of course, but they don’t necessarily.
    .
    The people that dream about getting married are the ones that see the wedding itself as a major milestone, and associate many other milestone to it. The wedding is associated with cohabiting with someone, having sex with that person, having a traditional two-family mixer for the ceremony, big honeymoon, etc. They really see the wedding as “the start” of something. So they make it big, and if it’s a success, they’ll spent a lot of time looking back happily (the same way I think back about my graduation, or how parents think back about the birth of their kids). I think that might make them particularly satisfied with their marriage, especially in the short term since the memory of the wedding is still so important.
    .
    Then there’s the people that want a life partner. The relationship they have with that life partner starts at the beginning of their relationship, which might be many years before a wedding. They might not associate any particular milestones with the wedding itself, so they move in together as a separate milestone, they buy a house together as a separate milestone, they have sex together for the first time as a separate milestone… all in whatever order. And they probably don’t focus so much on the traditional large wedding because their dream wasn’t necessarily about the wedding, it was about finding a life partner, which they did, no matter how many of their uncles show up. And then in the short term, they might be less happy because “it’s been 10 years we’re together, even if we just married 2 years ago” and the memory of the wedding is not important enough to make them forget about the 8 years of dating.
    .
    I don’t know. Just my two cents. This is as valid as the interpretation of those scientists.

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  • avatar

    MissDre August 21, 2014, 2:21 pm

    Well, I guess I’m screwed because I don’t want more than 20 people present when I eventually get married.
    .
    To be honest, I don’t think I even KNOW 150 people to invite if I wanted to. And if I did somehow find 150 people to invite, I bet you most of them I wouldn’t have even spoken to in the last 5 years.
    .
    I guess being an introverted homebody who prefers an intimate gathering with my family over a raucous party means my marriage is doomed.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra August 21, 2014, 9:37 pm

      This study definitely isn’t the best with the people who were polled for it, but in defense of large weddings…some people just have large families. I’m one of those people. My dad has 10 siblings. I know all of them and I am decently close with all of them. I have a couple dozen cousins and some of them are married with kids now. The family is huge, yet we’re close. That’s 50+ people right there, all of whom I plan to invite to my future wedding. That’s not including my 30+ relatives from my mom’s side, the great aunts and uncles which I’m close to, etc. And that’s just me! My future husband could have a similar deal with his family too. It’s not like I can say “Ok Aunt Sally, I’m simply not as close with your family as I am with Uncle Joe’s family so you can’t come, sorry!” because that’s not how my family operates. We all support each other and we are always there for each other, especially during weddings. My family LOVES weddings haha.
      .
      I’m introverted too and though my friend group is relatively small, my future wedding will inevitably be on a larger scale thanks to my large, crazy Irish Catholic family.

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      • avatar

        MissDre August 22, 2014, 9:45 am

        This is just craziness to me! I can’t even imagine it, LoL. Whenever I get married, my family members will be, Mom, Brother, Sister-in-Law, Dad, Grandma. There, I can count my family on one hand hahaha. On my boyfriend’s side, his family consists of Mom & Cousin. I seriously can’t even imagine what it would be like to have a big family.

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover August 22, 2014, 12:09 pm

        Yep, same here. My mom was one of 5 kids and my dad one of 8. My husband’s dad was one of 7. His mom’s the only one with a small family, she just has one sister. Then I have four siblings and my husband’s got two. Just family alone put our invitation list at something like 120 people. On top of that we each invited about 10 people from work, plus their spouses, that’s 40 more people. And then like a dozen friends total. That brought us to around 175. We’re both complete introverts but ended up with a huge wedding.

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      • avatar

        MissDre August 22, 2014, 12:53 pm

        Holidays in your family must be crazy. When I was growing up it was just me, my mom and my brother and I always loved it that way 🙂 For us, having a big family dinner is when my brother and I bring our SO’s and there’s 5 of us instead of 3!

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover August 22, 2014, 1:32 pm

        They’re pretty crazy, but I like it! My husband and I hosted Thanksgiving last year, we had 12 people not counting kids. That’s just my parents and my siblings/their spouses. 🙂

        It does make it harder to get everyone together for the holidays, though. Especially now that some of us are married and have to spend time with the other side too. But it makes it extra exciting when we get a year when we can all make it! It’s like a reunion. 🙂

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest August 22, 2014, 1:35 pm

        I’m one of 6, and have 4 “parents” (both remarried). So if we were all married, there would be 16 just immediate. Right now there’s 12. Not including any kids we might have. It feels so quiet when I go to dinner with my boyfriend’s family (just a sister and 2 parents).

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  • Portia

    Portia August 21, 2014, 3:31 pm

    So much wrong with this study, I can’t write something productive about their “findings”… But I like your idea, Wendy, that they’re all still on their honeymoons!

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  • avatar

    HmC August 21, 2014, 3:47 pm

    I dunno. I think the problem is that people way oversimplify the results of studies like these, and then use that to judge others or feel bad about themselves. These are complex issues to pick apart ie. how Wendy pointed out that so-called satisfied couples may not have been married long. But I don’t think that has to mean that this data doesn’t tell us anything useful or interesting. For example, maybe there is a portion of couples who have small weddings BECAUSE their families don’t support the marriage, and that throws the numbers and affects satisfaction. I didn’t live with my husband prior to engagement partly because I knew I did not want to deal with a break up with someone I lived with, that just would have been too hard for me, and in reality it seems that some people do marry their live in SO when they otherwise wouldn’t, because even subconsciously, they don’t want to break up with someone they live with. And then that affects satisfaction. And maybe it is a good thing for people to know and actively think sbout- that breaking up with a live in partner may make the break up much more difficult, and that is not a good reason to marry.

    I mean I think it’s an error to look at data like this and think that you are doomed because you made choice a instead of b. Life, indeed relationships, are certainly not that simple.

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  • findingtheearth

    findingtheearth August 21, 2014, 4:02 pm

    I have worked in family law for over 5 years, and i have seen people with large weddings and small weddings get divorced. I have seen people who lived together and apart prior to marriage get divorced. I have seen couples who appeared to the outside eye to “have it all” and regularly post and comment and voice how “happy” they are, get divorced. There is much more complexity to the reasons why people have success in marriage than what this study found, in my opinion.

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    • avatar

      Simonthegrey August 22, 2014, 10:44 am

      Also, satisfaction can vary. I’ve been married a year, and I would say that overall I am very satisfied in my marriage and with my husband. However, we have some money woes and family stresses, and I also suffer from depression. Sometimes overall I am not satisfied with my LIFE, and my marriage is part of that.

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  • coconot

    coconot August 21, 2014, 5:17 pm

    Two major factors they ignore: religion and ethnicity/culture. I would not be at surprised to see that religious people often have bigger weddings. Also, For some religions and ethnicities more so than others, there is a stigma with divorce so people are less likely to divorce even if they are unhappy (Esp within 5 yrs). I know it’s anecdotal but I’m thinking of lots of Indian in laws I have that had 500+ person weddings and wouldn’t get divorced no matter what happened, let alone with in 5 yrs. I’m guessing finances could also be a factor here. Are wealthy ppl likely to have bigger weddings? Probably. Are wealthy people likely to marry later and be more educated when they do? Probably, and both of these things have been linked to lower divorce rates in previous studies.

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  • avatar

    Kelly L. August 21, 2014, 5:20 pm

    I wonder how much the big wedding thing is working as a proxy for socioeconomic status. We know being broke can put tension on even the best relationships, and people who had big weddings are also likely to be the people who are more financially comfortable. (Assuming they didn’t go into mega-debt to throw the thing in the first place!) And I agree with pretty much everybody else, the study didn’t follow them long enough.

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones August 21, 2014, 5:44 pm

    Funny, I’ve noticed the opposite in real life. Like people who have actually been married a long time, or a long time ago. Most of the ones with the huge budget busting weddings are now divorced and those of us who waited, slept around a bit, lived together a bit are still together!

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    • avatar

      Sue Jones August 21, 2014, 5:49 pm

      and had smaller weddings…

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  • avatar

    TeacherNerd August 21, 2014, 6:42 pm

    I would have loved to have had more people at my wedding. My husband and I invited around 120; perhaps half came. I’ll note, though – and perhaps this was said elsewhere, and I didn’t see it – half the folks we invited didn’t came because with the exception of my parents, and perhaps 6 or 7 other guests, literally everyone else came from hundreds or thousands miles away.

    That included us, by the way. “Destination wedding” for us meant traveling from Utah to Pennsylvania to get married. My family, and my husband’s, has been centered around one part of the country/world in decades/generations. (On the other hand, it was really cool that we had folks who came from California, Utah, New York, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Canada, and Ireland; our bridal party represented California, Utah, New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia. That’s pretty cool.) We had folks who actually travelled to spend their time with us, and as many who didn’t because of financial obligations or work (and, of course, flakiness, which meant those folks who quietly removed from the friendship category, because, we’re too old to maintain friendships with these people). We wanted everyone there – could have afforded to have everyone there – were a bit sad that not everyone was there – but what are the chances of growing up in an area, staying in an area, and meeting someone who grew up and stayed in an area – and everyone’s extended friends and family are all in the same area?

    So, the question would be why other folks had small weddings: Do they have small families? Are people no longer localized/live thousands of miles away? How does that (not) affect the relative success of the marriage? (As noted, how we define “successful” is difficult.)

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  • avatar

    Sunshine Brite August 21, 2014, 7:56 pm

    Hm, I’m trying to think of how to word this but when I think of big weddings I think of two types, the ones where you barely know who all came and the ones that are big because of big families. I feel like I know more people from big families who tend to stay married and want to have slightly bigger families than the people from smaller families I know.

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  • avatar

    Em August 21, 2014, 9:22 pm

    Just an observation that might skew these results:

    Folks with larger weddings tend to be those with more money to put into the wedding. And these folks may not have as many stressors on their relationship as those who can afford to have their ‘dream wedding.’

    As for the sex thing, it’s probably because those less promiscuous folks don’t know what they’re missing. 😛

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  • Lyra

    Lyra August 21, 2014, 9:25 pm

    I’m one who comes from a LARGE family. And it’s not like we don’t talk to each other. In the past 4-6 months I’ve literally seen all of my cousins and aunts and uncles, including those who live over 1000 miles away. I don’t necessarily want a huge wedding — introvert and all that — but it’s important to me that all of my family is there. And honestly, 98% of them WILL be there because that’s how my family does weddings…we’re big, we’re loud, and we really love a reason to get together and celebrate.
    .
    My cousin got married back in February and when looking at her seating chart, my extended family took up 5 of her 12 tables. That will probably be how things are when I get married too. So when I hear think about how it might be and I hear how people “trim the guest list” first…well, with my mom and dad’s family alone that’s 90+ people. And that’s just immediate family…
    .
    I really don’t think it matters if you have a big wedding or a small wedding. Yeah religion and family can play a role in whether or not you stay together even when you aren’t happy, but there’s no real way to predict if a marriage will be happy or not. And I know an acquaintance from college who got married less than a month after graduation and they recently got divorced. They had a HUGE wedding. There are so many more factors that play a role in this.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna August 22, 2014, 5:43 am

    It’s very difficult to measure the quality of marriage correctly. First of all, people might simply interpret the scales differently (like, some people will tend to pick “very good” as an average, while other just pick “good”, even though their experiences are similar). You could interpret the results as “the people who subjectively BELIEVE their marriages are high quality are those who also have big weddings and not many prior partners”. Also, I’m pretty sure that some people just don’t tell the full truth. It’s well established that people lie even in anonymous questionnaires. In fact, I think the more invested someone is in proving their marriage is great, the more they lie. And people with huge weddings and no previous partners are probably on average more invested in seeming like they’re happily married. They may very well even lie to themselves.

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