Could relationship history hinder your chance of a happy marriage?

Posted on August 25, 2014

Photo: flickr

"There are plenty more fish in the sea" - a saying that many of us may have heard, particularly when coming out of a relationship. But a new study finds that the more fish we catch, the less likely we are to end up in a happy marriage.

"In most areas, more experience is better. You're a better job candidate with more experience, not less," says study co-author Galena K. Rhoades, a research associate professor at the University of Denver, CO.

"When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality."

The study from Rhoades and her colleague Scott M. Stanley, a research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, was conducted as part of the National Marriage Project - an initiative currently based at the University of Virginia, set up to assess and improve marriage health in America.
What happens in Vegas 'does not stay in Vegas' with relationship history

To reach their findings, Rhoades and Stanley assessed data from an ongoing national study called the Relationship Development Study. Between 2007 and 2008, the study recruited more than 1,000 Americans aged 18-34 who were in a relationship but unmarried.

During the 5 years of follow-up, 418 of the participants got married. The authors then assessed the marriages of these individuals, looking at the relationship history of each partner and their past romantic experiences. They then asked them about the quality of their marriage.

The authors note that they controlled for participants' race and ethnicity, personal income, years of education, religion and their attendance at religious services.

Rhoades and Stanley found that on average, the subjects who engaged in more relationships prior to getting married reported lower quality marriages, compared with those who had fewer past partners.

The authors say this challenges the "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" theory - the idea that what happens at a younger age - prior to marriage - does not affect life in the future. They add:

"Actually, what people do before marriage appears to matter. Specifically, how they conduct their romantic lives before they tie the knot is linked to their odds of having happy marriages."

Partner comparisons, children and negative feelings toward love

But why does relationship history appear to have this effect on marriage?

More partners means more experience, which the researchers say may be a reason for this finding. They note that having greater relationship experience means a person is more likely to compare a current partner to past ones in a number of areas, including sexual skills, physical attractiveness and communication abilities.

"Marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may be harder to do with a lot of experience," say the authors.

Those who engage in more relationships also have more experience breaking up, which the authors say can induce more negative feelings toward love and relationships.

Furthermore, an individual may have certain personality traits - such as being hard to get along with - that have caused them to have more relationships and lead them to have a lower quality marriage.

Rhoades and Stanley also found that women who had children in a previous relationship were more likely to have lower marriage quality.

"Although there are mixed findings on the impact of having children on marital happiness, there is no question that raising children from prior relationships can add stress to a marriage," say the authors.

It is not only past relationship history that can influence marriage quality, however.

The authors found that individuals who "slide" into important relationship transitions - such as having sex, living together, getting engaged and having children - rather than properly discussing them are more likely to have lower quality marriages.

"Another way to think about 'sliding versus deciding' is in terms of rituals," explains Stanley. "We tend to ritualize experiences that are important. At times of important transitions, the process of making a decision sets up couples to make stronger commitments with better follow-through as they live them out."

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Category(s):Happiness, Relationships & Marriage

Source material from Medical News Today

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