Does your relationship make you a happier person? Research has shown that married couples tend to live longer and suffer fewer long-term health issues than single people. But being in a difficult relationship is actually worse for you than being single. Research has also shown that a person’s sense of well-being starts to rise in the months prior to marriage. The elevated levels last for approximately two years after marriage and then they return to the same baseline levels. This is a similar finding to people who win the lottery, their elevated emotional state returns to a similar baseline after a few years.
If marriage is associated with increased wealth, health, longevity, happiness and sexual satisfaction why is the divorce rate increasing? Is there something wrong with the western perception of marriage and the benefits that it offers? Has marriage become a panacea for the single person’s problems?
Cohabiting does not appear to bring the same level of happiness to individuals as being in a marriage. Married couples share their home, their income and their tears but also they share their happiness. But marriage is still not available to every couple in Australia. Same sex attracted couples do not have the choice of marriage or even a recognised civil union in all states or territories within Australia. Also some people consider a civil union to be second class or superior to a recognised marriage. Cohabitating couples tend to be less dependent upon their spouse so they are less likely to feel the roll-on effect of their happiness. As western countries increasingly embrace the values of an individualistic culture, being dependent may be seen as a less attractive option for young couples. Cohabitating couples are more likely to separate, than married couples. Also, in cohabitating couples, men are more likely to terminate the relationship than the woman. Research has discovered that married couples are significantly more satisfied with their lot in life when their spouse is happy.
Married couples tend to rely on each other for their personal happiness which is unlike cohabitating couples. Cohabitating couples tend to be more concerned with their own personal autonomy and are also less committed to their relationship. Academics have speculated that married couples become more interdependent than cohabitating couples. They also suggest that when couples marry, “two become one,” while when couples cohabitate, “two remain two.”
Husbands and wives were more satisfied when their partner was happy, even if they didn’t directly share in the partner’s good fortune. So does being married make you happier? The jury is still out; but there are significant indicators that it might.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand