TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — We all have a past, and romantic histories can often be a sore spot among lovers in a committed, long-term relationship. No one wants to hear about a current partner’s past sexual experiences, but a new long-term study finds that an individual’s personal beliefs on casual sex, even long before getting married or meeting their significant other, can make it much harder to stay happily married in the future.
Researchers from Florida State University investigated several factors likely to lead to a marriage’s ultimate success or failure, and identified pre-marital beliefs and behaviors pertaining to uncommitted sex as a major red flag indicating a marriage is not so likely to last.
“Marital satisfaction generally declines over time,” says Juliana French, the study’s first author, in a statement to the Association for Psychological Science. “But what we’ve found is that when, prior to their marriage, one or both spouses hold generalized beliefs that uncommitted sex is okay, that can contribute to the failure of a marriage.”
Data on 204 heterosexual, recently married couples was collected and analyzed for the study. Participants were asked about their premarital behaviors and attitudes towards sex and dating. Each person was also asked to describe how satisfied they were feeling with their new marriage.
Then, over the course of several years, researchers followed up on each couple and collected information on how satisfaction levels changed, and ultimately which couples stayed together or ended up getting divorced or separated.
After finishing their analysis, the study’s authors discovered that people who had expressed “unrestricted sociosexual” behaviors, tendencies, and beliefs, such as a propensity for one night stands, before getting married were less satisfied at the start of their marriages. Furthermore, people whose marital partners had been “unrestricted” prior to getting married experienced a rapid decline in marital satisfaction over the first few years of being married. In both cases, this dissatisfaction accurately predicted a greater chance of divorce or separation.
“What we found most surprising about these results was the fact that both couple members’ sociosexuality play an important role in long-term, marital outcomes,” French says.
All that being said, the study’s authors were quick to note that they aren’t passing judgment on whether or not “unrestricted sociosexual” behavior is necessarily a negative trait. In fact, among some studied couples such beliefs and prior actions had no impact on the marriage.
“We found evidence suggesting that couples who maintain a consistent, satisfying sexual relationship or couples who maintain low levels of stress are buffered against these negative outcomes,” French concludes.
The study is published in Psychological Science.