A friend’s Facebook post that said expensive wedding rings lead to more divorce caught Randal Olson’s eye.

“My girlfriend and I had recently talked about wedding rings,” says Olson. “She said she did not want a big wedding ring. After reading the study, I was thankful. I am one semester away from graduating with a doctorate in computer science. My focus is on research so I don’t take things at face value. As I read the study (A Diamond is Forever and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration), I ran across this huge table of many different factors that play a role in long-term marriage.”

Some of the findings make perfect sense to Olson, such as:

  • Couples who date three years or more before their engagement are 39 percent less likely to divorce.
  • The more money you and your spouse make, the less likely you are to ultimately file for divorce.
  • Couples who never go assemble for religious reason are two times more likely to divorce than regular attenders.

Other findings, however, took Olson by surprise.

“I was pretty shocked to see that the number of people who attend your wedding actually has a huge impact on long-term marital stability,” Olson says. “Couples who elope are 12.5 times more likely to divorce than couples who get married at a wedding with 200 plus people. The more I thought about this, the more it actually made sense. Having a large group of family and friends who are supportive of your marriage is vitally important to the long-term stability of your marriage.”

These findings surprised Olson, too:

  • There is a relationship between how much people spent on their wedding and their likelihood of divorcing. The findings suggest that perhaps the financial burden incurred by a lavish wedding leads to financial stress for the couple. Women who spent $20,000 or more on their wedding were 3.5 times more likely to divorce than their counterparts who spent less than half that.
  • The honeymoon matters! Couples who went on a honeymoon were 41 percent less likely to divorce.
  • A big difference in educational levels could lead to a higher hazard of divorce.
  • If looks and wealth are an important factor in your decision to marry a person, you are more likely to divorce down the road.

“Some of my friends read these findings and commented that they were in the bad categories. They asked me if their marriage was doomed,” Olson says. “The answer to that is no, but according to this research, statistically they are more likely to run into challenges. I believe the biggest takeaway for someone considering marriage like myself, is this isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts. However, this was a very large study and the findings are worthy of consideration to help couples have a more stable marriage.”

“I think planning is the key,” he shares. “It takes a lot of work to plan a wedding. Put that same amount of effort into planning for your marriage.

What can you learn from a focus group of millennial women who live with their boyfriends? You can really find out about their relationships, their thoughts about marriage and how they think cohabitation differs from marriage.

Only one of the six women had ever married. Some had children with their current boyfriend. Others brought children into the relationship. They discussed the following questions, and more.

Do you believe living together and marriage are pretty much the same thing?

Most of the women agreed that living together and marriage were practically the same thing. They said it really boiled down to commitment to the relationship. And, they wondered why someone needs a piece of paper to prove their commitment to each other.

They also wondered if they could make a marriage work. For instance, only one of the women came from an intact family. She said everyone in her family had been successful at marriage so far except her.

Are there any ways that marriage is different from living together?

Regarding the differences in cohabitation and marriage, they discussed missing benefits because they weren’t legally married, even though they thought of themselves as married. They also said people treated them differently when they discovered they were unmarried.

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research indicates that 41 percent of cohabitors express pessimism about marriage. More than half (64 percent) of Gen-Xers and millennials agree that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce. 

Interestingly, only about 35 percent of individuals who married first believe that cohabitation may help prevent breakups.

If your boyfriend asked you to marry him, would you?

Surprisingly, all but one woman enthusiastically said yes, despite saying they believed there was really no difference in cohabitation and marriage.

While these women and many like them believe living together and marriage are basically the same, consider these statistics:

  • The overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples. Plus, the overall rate for “severe” violence is nearly five times as high, according to the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, the nation’s leading institution studying domestic violence.

  • Studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that women in cohabiting relationships had depression rates nearly five times higher than married women. Those rates were second only to women who were twice-divorced.

  • Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents, according to a study of Missouri data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Most of the women in the focus group said they want to avoid the pain of divorce. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that relationship dynamics without relationship structure increases that risk.

If you’re in a serious relationship and wonder if you should take your relationship to the next level, think carefully. Instead of moving in together, consider taking a class that will help you know if you have learned all of the different skills that can help your relationship last a lifetime.

Most people live as if tomorrow will come for sure. But what if something tragic happened and you were no longer here? Who would inherit your house, your collectibles from one generation to the next, or your pictures?

“Most people assume that if they are married and don’t have a will, all of their assets will automatically go to their spouse,” says attorney Harry Cash. “This is not necessarily the case. If you don’t have a will or don’t hold all of your assets jointly, the state determines where your assets go. If one spouse dies and there are children, the surviving spouse gets at least one third of the deceased spouse’s assets, but the deceased spouse may have intended for everything to go to his or her spouse at death.”

A RocketLawyer.com survey found that a stunning 50 percent of American parents do not have a will. Of those age 55-64 (the baby boomers), 41 percent do not have a will.

The top reasons for not having a will were:

  • Just haven’t gotten around to making one;
  • No sense of urgency;
  • Didn’t think they needed a will; and
  • They don’t have a will because they don’t want to think about death.

“This is not something you want to leave to chance and hope for the best,” Cash asserts. “A will allows you to specifically state what you want to happen to your assets when you pass away. If you have children, you have the opportunity to say who will care for them until they are 18. You also can state specifically that if you pass away and your spouse is still living, all of your assets go to your spouse. Even though people don’t like to think about death, this document could save your loved ones from a lot of angst.”

What you need to create a will:

  • A list of significant assets.
  • Documentation of employment benefits statements, insurance policies, deeds to real property, partnership and business agreements.
  • Determine who will inherit your property.
  • Choose an executor for your estate. Every will must name someone to serve as executor, to carry out the terms of the will. Let that person know you are naming them to perform this task.
  • Identify a guardian for your children. If your children are under 18, decide who you want to raise them in the event that you and their other parent can’t. You should also pick someone who can manage your children’s property.
  • Identify other decision-makers to carry out your health and money choices for you if you cannot.

“The last thing a grieving family member needs is to deal with uncertainty when it comes to dealing with the estate of a deceased family member,” says Cash. “Preparing a will doesn’t take long and could be the single most important thing you do for your family.”

When you tie the knot, family relationships change.

Your mom was probably your first teacher, encourager and biggest cheerleader. And chances are, she’s one of the first people you’ve gone to for advice since… well, as long as you can remember.

But now things are different, and while your mom is still there for you, your wife takes the top spot.

Think of it this way: You’ve added an all-star player to your team who wants to be there for you in every way possible, and she is at the top of your priority list.

Adapting to marriage and navigating the changing road with Mom will take skill and finesse, especially since you don’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings, but these tips can help.

  • Do your best to speak positively to your mom about your wife. If your mom starts to criticize her, honor your wife in the conversation. And let Mom know that although you value her opinion, you don’t want to hear her speak badly of your bride.
  • When you and your wife make decisions together, present your decisions as a united front. You should be the one to tell your mother about the choice you made. Don’t make it sound like it you only went along with it to avoid rocking the boat–that will only create problems.
  • Check with your wife before making plans with your mom. Never, EVER commit to something with your mother (like bringing her to live with you) without completely talking it over as a couple first.
  • Got problems in your marriage? DO NOT talk about them with Mom unless your bride says she’s ok with it. (Hint: Make sure she’s REALLY ok with it!)
  • Remember, you’re no longer single. Turning to your parents for emotional support is not a bad thing, but turning to them BEFORE you reach out to your wife is not the best idea for your marriage. Your wife is now your number one support system – make sure she knows that.

What makes a marriage really work?

Is there any way to guarantee that love can last forever?

It has been said that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Many people are in love with the idea of marriage. However, many couples fail to prepare for inevitable bumps in the road ahead. Some are just not ready to handle the tough times. Before you take a walk down the aisle, consider making some wise choices that will help ensure a successful marriage.

Get premarital educationEducation allows couples to identify potential areas of conflict and discuss them before saying “I do.” Experts say that some premarital inventories can predict with 80 percent accuracy which couples have the potential for divorce. These inventories can give couples an idea of what issues to work on, therefore avoiding the divorce pitfall. Premarital education can resolve some important issues before they get out of hand and make it easier to seek help down the road. Some of the most hotly debated issues among couples are finances, in-laws, sex, employment, expectations and children.

Learn how to resolve conflict and communicate effectively. How you manage conflict is a strong predictor of marital success or failure. Danger signs include withdrawing or leaving during an argument, attacking the other person’s character instead of focusing on the problem, and escalation. When you listen to each other and talk as friends, you can learn a great deal about your partner and what is important to them. Resolving problems together is a win/win situation that encourages intimacy in the relationship.

Learn what your partner expects from marriage.
Knowing what you expect from each other can prepare you for the years ahead. Unrealistic and unmet expectations often lead to resentment. Knowing what to expect and how to meet each other’s needs can be the glue that holds your marriage together.

Be committed to the permanence of marriage. Commitment, as well as love, is a choice. Couples who believe that divorce is not an option are less likely to take steps toward ending their relationship. In addition, older, more experienced couples can provide much wisdom and support through the years. Sometimes, mentor couples can give insight on handling difficulties constructively within the marital relationship. Marriage is not a 50/50 relationship, as we often hear. It requires 100 percent from both partners. If you want to make your marriage last, it must be a top priority for both of you.

According to Dr. John Gottman, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are hostile forms of communication that put couples at high risk for divorce when these patterns take up permanent residence in the relationship.

1. Criticism is defined as blaming, faultfinding, or using global and negative labels to attack your spouse’s character. For example, “How would you know? You’re never home,” or “My problem with you is …” A harsh startup often comes in the form of criticism.

2. Contempt is a lack of respect for your spouse’s dignity, an attitude of looking down on your spouse as unworthy. Forms of contempt include name-calling, put-downs, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing at each other, rolling of the eyes, mockery or hostile humor. Contempt is demeaning and conveys not just disapproval of your spouse’s behavior, but disgust with who your spouse is. While the other three horsemen show up in small amounts in most marriages, contempt is only found in toxic relationships. This horseman also includes belligerence, which is an aggressive and angry provocation or threat.

3. Defensiveness is a way of turning back a perceived attack. Someone who is defensive denies their spouse’s statements, refuses to admit their role in problems, avoids responsibility for how they impact their spouse, or deflects their spouse’s complaints back onto the other person. Defensiveness is destructive because it escalates tension and creates an adversarial interaction.

4. Stonewalling usually occurs as a result of escalating criticism, contempt and defensiveness as emotional overload becomes intense. Spouses who stonewall stubbornly refuse to give any verbal or nonverbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what their spouse is saying. Often they just get up and leave the room. It’s like talking to a stone wall. Stonewalling is best seen as a containment strategy that spouses use to avoid further escalation of the conflict. The problem is that the stonewaller does not just avoid the fight, but avoids his spouse and the relationship as well. According to John Gottman’s research, 85% of stonewallers are men.

Discussion Questions: Share with your spouse how anger was handled in your childhood home.

  • How do you typically behave when you are angry?

  • Does your behavior get the response you want? If not, what do you think you could do differently?

  • Ask your spouse if he/she is comfortable with how you handle anger.

  • Discuss some options for handling anger in healthy ways in your home, keeping in mind that you are not on opposing teams.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Tired of the so-so communication in your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How and why you and your spouse communicate differently, and what to do about it
  • 5 proven listening techniques that will pump up the intimacy in your relationship
  • 4 ways to start and end difficult conversations well
  • 5 ways you may be hindering communication with your spouse without realizing it
  • AND MORE!

PLUS! Every section has an easy, no-stress discussion guide created for you and your partner to build the communication you want in your marriage.

FIVE areas a person should know about another person before marrying them:

1. Make sure you have taken the time to get to know the person you are marrying.

Get to know them, their family, what their conscience is like, compatibility potential, relationship skills and previous relationship patterns.

2. How do you know you can trust them? 

As you get to know a person based on the areas above, you shape a picture in your mind of what this person is like. From that picture comes trust. 

3. Are they reliable? 

As you really get to know a person, you look to them to meet certain needs that you have. People prove they are reliable over a period of time.

4. What is their level of commitment? 

As a relationship grows, it goes through different definitions. Each definition is a level of commitment. Friends have a low level of commitment, whereas best friends have a higher level of commitment to each other and soul mates have the highest level of commitment.

5. What role does physical touch play in your relationship? 

If you base your relationship solely on physical touch, you can easily deceive yourself into believing there is more to the relationship. Ask yourself: If physical touch was not part of your relationship, what would your relationship be like?

Read more about this in How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette by Dr. John Van Epp or visit www.lovethinks.com.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Whether you are a son or a daughter, mom or dad, relationships change quite a bit when after marriage. These tips can help to strengthen the ties that bind you together as a family.

How to be a good mother/father-in-law

  • Let your in-law make his/her own decisions without meddling from you.

  • As the relationship between your child and his chosen partner deepens, expect that they will want to spend more and more time alone, together.

  • Make positive comments about your child’s spouse – both in private and in public.

  • See your in-law as an individual. Do not compare him/her to others, and do not become too wrapped up in the stereotype of the “perfect” in-law.

  • Make your in-law feel needed.

How to be a good son/daughter-in-law

  • Maintain direct contact with your in-laws. Don’t enlist your spouse as an unwilling “go-between.”

  • Find a comfortable way of addressing your in-laws. Solicit their help in determining what they would like you to call them.

  • Try to see your in-laws as individuals separate and apart from the role they play.

  • Be real and authentic with your in-laws.

  • If you feel jealous about your spouse’s relationship with his/her parents, talk to your spouse, to better understand each other’s feelings.

How to be a good child/spouse

  • Encourage your partner and your parents to relate to one another directly. Don’t allow yourself to be put in the middle.

  • Compliment your spouse and your parents in front of each other.

  • Do not tolerate criticism from either one toward the other.

  • Don’t make your spouse responsible for the relationship between you and your parents.

  • Do not play your spouse against your parents.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

Shaunti Feldhahn, Harvard grad and ground-breaking social researcher, has worked on Capitol Hill and Wall Street. She currently uses her analytical skills to investigate changes impacting family and workplace relationships.

“For the last eight years, I have been analyzing what the numbers say about marriage, divorce and remarriage in America,” says Feldhahn. “This started by accident as I was working on a newspaper column and wanted to correctly cite the divorce rate. But I found numbers that didn’t match the discouraging conventional wisdom at all. This piqued my curiosity and sent me down a totally different research path.”

What Feldhahn found was shocking. Although researchers continue to project that half of marriages will end in divorce (relying in part on a government study that primarily focused on a high-risk group), we have never come close to hitting that average for society as a whole.

Instead, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 SIPP report, 71 percent of women are still married to their first spouse. The 29 percent who aren’t includes those widowed, not just divorced. Feldhahn estimates that roughly 20-25 percent of first marriages have ended in divorce. Even among baby boomers who have the highest divorce rate, seven in 10 marriages are still intact!

“This is huge,” Feldhahn says. “We have a culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage because for years all of us – including me – have said that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. But that sense of discouragement makes it so easy to give up. We have to change the conventional wisdom so people know that most marriages last a lifetime.”

Additional findings from Feldhahn’s research indicate:

  • Most marriages are happy – on average, 80 percent are happy.
  • The vast majority of remarriages survive.
  • The divorce rate is not the same in faith communities – among those who attend regularly, divorce drops by 25-50 percent.
  • Marriage isn’t as complicated as people think – small changes can make a big difference.

“I’ve done seven nationally representative studies of men, women and marriage. The common denominator in whether a marriage survives or fails is whether the couple has a sense of hope or futility,” Feldhahn says. “Feeling ‘We’re going to make it’ leads to a different outcome than, ‘This is never going to get better.’ So instead of believing it is futile to try, couples need to know that millions of marriages in our country are thriving. And that is the norm.”

Feldhahn acknowledges that plenty of marriage problems still exist. But her surveys also show that the big ticket items, such as addiction, abuse or affairs, do not cause most marriage problems. Instead, most of the time husbands and wives care about each other and try hard, but in the wrong areas. They end up sabotaging a perfectly good marriage.

“This means that it is less complicated than people think to get it right; it’s not rocket science,” Feldhahn says. “The most important thing couples can do is commit to making their marriage work, believe the best of their spouse’s intentions toward them, and make sure they have the right tools in their tool belt as they go through their marriage.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, claims that her findings on premarital cohabitation debunk 30 years of research. Kuperberg believes her study shows that couples who cohabit before marrying are no more likely to divorce than anyone else.

Since the 1960s, there has been a 900 percent global increase in cohabitation. Many people believe that not living together before marriage is a huge mistake. However, there is still no clear evidence that cohabitation helps to create family stability.

It is a huge deal to claim you have debunked decades worth of study with one piece of research.

The University of Denver’s Dr. Scott Stanley, and others, have conducted research on this issue for years. In his blog, slidingvsdeciding.com, Stanley breaks down many of the myths surrounding cohabitation and marriage.

“At the heart of it, Kuperberg asserts that scores of researchers have had it wrong for decades, and that maybe there never has been an association between cohabiting and marriage and divorce,” Stanley writes in a recent post. “She asserts that what was misunderstood all these years is that cohabiters are more likely to divorce, not because they cohabited, but because they tended to start living together when they were too young to either be making a wise choice in a mate or to take on the roles of marriage. This logic is akin to the well-replicated, robust finding that marrying young is associated with greater odds of divorce. Given that, why wouldn’t moving in together at a young age also be a problem?”

Great question.

Kuperberg’s study does not show that living together before marriage decreases divorce. At best, it may show that cohabiting before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce for some couples.

Stanley’s blog describes some of the issues with premarital cohabitation. These matters can cause difficulty forming lasting love in marriage.

If you’re considering living together, you just might want to think about them:

  • Serial cohabitation is associated with greater risk for divorce. Cohabiting with more than just your future spouse is linked to poorer marital outcomes.
  • Cohabiting with your eventual mate before having clear, mutual plans for marriage correlates to lower marital satisfaction and higher divorce risk. Couples who currently live together and have clear plans for marriage have stronger relationships.
  • Cohabiting without a mutual and clear intention to marry is on the rise. Unmarried, cohabiting women have greater rates of unplanned pregnancies than married women.
  • Living together often creates constraints that make it harder to break up. Yet, the kind of dedication most strongly associated with happy, strong relationships levels off.

You can read Stanley’s entire blog post here.

If this topic is relevant to you, don’t buy Kuperberg’s research hook, line and sinker. Learn more about all the research related to cohabitation. Then, consider how it might impact your life and the ones you love.

Image from Unsplash.com