Here’s a paradox: Recent studies show that married couples who had weddings with a large number of guests are more likely to stay married.  At the same time, couples with expensive weddings are at a greater risk for divorce.

In other words, big weddings are great.  As long as they’re cheap.

Now, that’s a challenge!

One thing is certain—the wedding industry is thriving.  Young adults may be delaying and avoiding marriage today, but when they decide to tie the knot they make the wedding a big affair.  More than $50 billion was spent on weddings in America last year—about $30,000 per wedding.  Take a look at websites like or magazines like Brides or Southern Wedding—stuffed with ads and lavishly designed with beautiful photographs showing everything you need to plan a “perfect wedding.”

Many couples today view weddings differently than couples in the past.  With so many marrying in their late 20s or early 30s, the wedding is seen more as a celebration of what they’ve attained—financial and relational success—rather than a commitment to spending their life together. As the website reports, the average number of guests at weddings is declining (138 in 2013), but couples are spending more than ever to “create a personalized experience, where the couples’ personalities are evident in many areas of the wedding.” Another trend driving up costs is “creating an experience for guests”—spending more on entertainment, decorations, and ambience.

Now evidence is surfacing that questions the wisdom of spending so much on weddings.  A recent study by two economics professors at Emory University found when the cost of a wedding rises above $20,000, couples are 46 percent more likely to get a divorce than those whose weddings cost between $5,000-10,000.  And those who spend less than $1,000 had an even lower average rate of divorce.

The same study found that a larger number of wedding guests corresponded with a lower hazard rate for divorce.  This finding was echoed in research by Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades at the University of Denver.  Those who had more than 150 wedding guests reported, five years later, a higher rate of marital satisfaction than those with smaller weddings.

It’s important to note that these studies do not say that if you want a successful marriage, plan a big, cheap wedding.  So what can we conclude?  Here’s what I suspect:

First, many couples who spend a lot on their weddings are operating with a faulty set of priorities.  They’re too concerned with making a statement and impressing their friends. It’s easy to become so focused on planning the “perfect” occasion that you forget that a wedding is just the first day on a lifelong journey.  Preparing for marriage is more important than planning a wedding.

Second, a large wedding usually signifies that the couple is part of a supportive community of family and friends.  It’s vital for young couples to be part of a vibrant church that is committed to helping them succeed. As Stanley and Rhoades wrote in their report, “The more support a couple has, the better they are able to navigate the occasional choppy waters associated with marriage.”

So if you’re planning a wedding, understand that there’s nothing wrong with a small wedding or with spending a lot of money.  Just remember that the purpose of a wedding is not to make a statement or enjoy a huge party.  It’s about two people becoming one and making a covenant to remain together for a lifetime … friends and family vowing to uphold the couple in their relationship … and, above all, praising our God, who brought you together.  Let your wedding plans flow from those priorities.

Copyright © 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.