The time in-between a proposal and marriage can be an exciting period for couples. For others, it could be filled with stress and wedding planning. But regardless of how you feel about your engagement period, the length of that time could make a major difference in your relationship. According to research, the amount of time you spend being engaged before you get married might have a direct impact on your risk of divorce. Read on to find out if the length of your engagement could spell trouble for your future.
Couples who marry too soon after getting engaged have a higher risk of divorce.
A group of psychologists examined the correlation between engagement length and divorce risk, publishing their research in a 2006 paper for North Carolina State University's Forum for Family and Consumer Issues journal. According to the researchers, couples who are only engaged for a short period of time before they get married could be a higher risk for divorce. In their paper, the psychologists said that an engagement of less than 12 months is more likely to result in divorce after seven years—in line with what they referred to as "Delayed-Action Divorcers."
"One can imagine the partners in a Delayed-Action Divorcer couple to be two people who are passionately attracted to each other, possibly because of superficial characteristics such as good looks. These two people may get along well because they do not address or challenge things that they may not like about each other," the researchers wrote. "They may profess their love toward each other within a couple of months of meeting and progress toward exclusivity and a sexual relationship within a very short time. When problems arise, the partners might convince each other that the issues have little significance, or they might ignore the problems altogether."
The researchers say being engaged for too long could also have a negative impact.
But a quick proposal-to-marriage timeline is not the only concerning engagement length. According to the study, couples who were engaged for a longer than average period of time are also likely to face a higher risk of divorce. The psychologists said partners who have an engagement longer than 27 months "were likely to experience a steeper decline in affection during the first two years of marriage" before separating.
In this type of experience, "premarital partners seem to have been aware of problems in their premarital relationship as indicated by partners having a very long courtship characterized by very little passion," the researchers explained. "For these couples a crushed hope of a better relationship after marriage may be the primary reason for loss of affection early in marriage."
The average length of engagement in 2019 was less than a year and a half.
The duration of an engagement is a very personal choice for each couple to make, but there are some commonalities seen in the U.S. According to wedding planning company The Knot, many couples end up waiting at least a year before their wedding—allowing them to bypass the dangerous period of an engagement that is too short. The company surveyed more than 25,000 couples who got married in 2019 and found that the average length of an engagement in the U.S. was 15 months, or a little less than a year and a half.
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But the pandemic has slightly shifted engagement trends.
Like many others sectors of our life, COVID has made an impact on engagement trends in the U.S. On Feb. 2022, The Knot released the results of a study where it surveyed more than 15,000 couples who got married in 2021. According to the company, the average length of engagement went up by a month to 16 months, but there was a wider range than in any year prior.
"Of course, it's important to keep in mind that this number is a national average and takes into account a variety of responses," The Knot explained. "Some engagements are shorter (like a month, for example) while others last for years—and many couples were forced to extend their engagements due to the COVID pandemic."
According to their study, couples who had to postpone their wedding were engaged for an average of 24 months—nearing the dangerous length of 27 months. But those who did not postpone had an average engagement of 14 months.
Some experts say there are different benefits to short or long engagements.
Not all experts believe that being engaged for too long or not long enough is necessarily worrisome for couples. "Long engagements are helpful when individuals are at significantly different places in their lives," Scott Haltzman, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University, told The Knot. This could include couples who are long distance, busy with various commitments, or need more time to plan.
On the other hand, a shorter engagement period could work better for couples who are eager to make big life decisions like having children or moving in together. And it might also allow for extra excitement over the wedding. "One of the problems with an extended engagement is the level of excitation begins to diminish over time, not only with the person who is engaged to get married, but with friends and families as well," Haltzman said.