Are Married People Happier Than Singles?

Happy Attractive Loving Couple Portrait in the Park.

Brace yourself, single readers. Studies say the answer is yes. Before you attack me because YOU’RE happy, dammit, please read the rest of this blog post.

“Psychologists have pointed to marriage as the single most reliable happiness indicator. Across nations and ethnic groups, people report greater happiness from marriage than career, community or money [source: Seligman]. A 2005 survey from the Pew Research Center substantiates these assertions. Forty-three percent of married respondents reported that they were “very happy,” compared to 24 percent of unmarried individuals [source: Pew Research Center]. Those results were consistent for all age groups and genders.”

Now let’s clarify, so we can’t be misunderstood in the comments section*:

1. Marriage isn’t a guarantee of happiness. 48% of marriages end in divorce.
2. Single people can be very happy. In fact 24% of singles self-report as very happy.
3. No one here is judging you if you’re single. If anything, I’m just reiterating what you already know – life with love can be really, really nice – that’s why you ended up on a dating coach’s site. If you weren’t interested in love, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

The article poses an important follow up to the observation that married people have greater potential to become very happy. “As any good scientist knows, correlation does not always equal causation. To close the case on whether marital bliss trumps the single life, we must deduce which comes first: happiness or marriage?” Here’s what the author discovered:

Humans are predisposed to certain happiness ranges depending on their genetics, personality and life circumstances.

“Michigan State University found that spouses exhibited an uptick in happiness soon after marriage. Then, those happiness levels gradually returned to their premarital state. This pattern is comparable to the effects of sudden financial improvement on people’s happiness. For people living with relatively low incomes, money can buy happiness for a while. Yet the longer someone gets used to having more cash on hand, the more it loses its luster.”

I thought this paragraph did a great job of summing up a possible reason that married people are happier, despite the possibility of divorce – they’re wired that way (just like extroverts, by the way): “This doesn’t negate the survey results that show higher happiness rates among married people. Rather, it has led some psychologists to conjecture that married people are merely more inclined toward happiness since they’re happier to begin with. Humans are predisposed to certain happiness ranges depending on their genetics, personality and life circumstances. Also, happier people are generally more social, and it follows that people who actively socialize will be more likely to meet someone they’d like to marry.”

Finally, the article points out that marriage isn’t a panacea and doesn’t, in and of itself, create happiness. It’s important to be a selfless and self-aware partner, fully cognizant of the sacrifices inherent in being part of a couple. You need to have realistic expectations, as I’m consistently preaching in this space.

Marriage won’t magically create happiness, which makes personal character development during the single years even more important.”

“A study from the University of Florida highlighted a relationship between the skills that people bring to a marriage and people’s anticipation for how much marriage will improve their lives. If partners have overly high expectations for marriage transforming their lives into in a joyous wonderland, they need to have the relationship skills to match. Otherwise, it’s like going to a spelling bee expecting first place without ever cracking a dictionary.

As we’ve learned from happiness surveys, wedding bells can portend happy futures. But happily ever after requires more than an “I do.” Marriage won’t magically create happiness, which makes personal character development during the single years even more important.”

That’s what we’re trying to do here. Learn to understand the opposite sex, how to date online and off, and how to make smart relationship decisions that can lead you to a happy marriage.

*Footnotes*

1. Marriage isn’t a guarantee of happiness. 48% of marriages end in divorce.
Yes, but this statistic is highly skewed by astronomically high divorce rates for people who get married under the age of 25 and people who have lower education. If you’re a college educated woman who gets married after 30, you have over an 80% chance of having a lasting marriage.

2. Single people can be very happy. In fact 24% of singles self-report as very happy. Yes, but 43% of married couples do the same.

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Comments:

  1. 61
    Yves

    Morris, Stix–well put. This almost 10-years-old poll of 3000 people tells us nothing of value. Is this the best “empirical” data that is out there on how great married people are? I suspect so. 

  2. 62
    marymary

    christoff
    I believe it can happen.  But that it’s also like being struck by lightning. It happens to very few people, and even then – almost never more than once.
    And of those (I’m not speaking of you, I know nothing about you), a significant proportion are propelled by something non-compatible with normal life (eg Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton).
     
     

  3. 63
    Kiki

    @Christoff 63,
    was he married to another woman? I have a couple of friends who reported having long and passionate love (+5 years) with men that could not be truly theirs, and I think there must be an element of impossibility and heartache (for lack of better word) to sustain passion over a very long term.
    As someone who is long married, I must say that for me and my husband the infatuation cooled of in the first 6 months, but then again, it is such a lovely feeling that I remember it even today. I wish it could have lasted but I think it is mostly a matter of brain chemistry and not about any voluntary effort one could make to preserve it.

  4. 64
    Goldie

    I think I know what Christoff is talking about. I have experienced some of it in my last relationship and it was truly an eye-opener. I was in love for the first time in my life at 45. It was just an amazing feeling of safety, trust, peace, total acceptance of the person with all his flaws. Meanwhile, this person was coasting on chemistry, which of course wore off at the end :(
     
    When we first met, he had crazy chemistry for me, and I was “meh”. But he treated me well, cared about me, we had a good connection, so I figured, what the heck, let’s get together. Over time, because of how he treated me and how we connected with each other, I came to develop feelings for him that I had never had for anyone before. Both in my marriage and in the one relationship I had after it, we’d had crazy chemistry for each other.
     
    With my x-husband, the chemistry wore off about the same time that our children were born. His wore off earlier than mine. He immediately proceeded to avoid my company half the time and treat me like dirt for the other half. It was by far the worst year of my life. Then one day I woke up feeling nothing for him. Then we stayed together for fifteen more years. Good times.
     
    You can tell I’m not a big fan of chemistry in relationships. But being in love (I think Karmic referred to this state of mind on here once as “in-love-ness”) is pretty much the opposite of chemistry. I would say it is closer to what one feels towards their children, than to the red hot infatuation occurring at the beginning of a relationship. I hope, next time I develop this in-love-ness for a man, that it will be mutual. And I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility. All it takes is two patient, loyal people who have an interest in each other as a person, respect each other, and are willing to work out their minor issues in order to nurture the connection they have.

  5. 65
    Jenn

    marymary@65: I was just thinking about Elizabeth Taylor this morning in the context of this blog topic, actually. I remember she said that she married for love each time she got married. She didn’t sleep around at all. And yet she’s been mocked and attacked for marrying multiple times. In her mind, she’s behaved morally and responsibly, and she’s completely pro-marriage.

    I know people who just have to be married, and if the marriage sucks, they get out and find another one. I couldn’t do it that way, of course, because I really value my independence and I wouldn’t get married unless…well, I can’t imagine many circumstances that would compel me to get married. Anyway, people are different, and I do respect people who aren’t hypocrites about marriage.

    I do mock the marriage hypocrites, though. :)

  6. 66
    josavant

    Goldie and others, how is “chemistry” different from being “in love”, and depending how you answer that, how is being “in love” different from plain “love”? When we get to all these little differences, that’s where it gets confusing.

  7. 67
    Goldie

    Cannot speak for the others, but here’s my two cents. That tingly feeling in your various body parts that you sometimes experience towards a person you’ve just recently met, and know next to nothing about… that’s chemistry. Some people also refer to it as being in love. I like to differentiate the two, for my own use. Higher up on this thread, I have offered the definition of love that I use, for myself. I have heard my own mom refer to being in love with my dad in very similar terms. She said she had not originally had any kind of overwhelming feeling when she married him, but that over the years, as they became close, he grew on her, and now she was feeling something safe and secure, that, she said, might be called love. Only reason why I mentioned it at all on this thread was that the commenter Christoff was pretty much being pummeled by everyone for saying he or she wants love in their marriage. So I offered my version of what Christoff might have meant.

  8. 68
    Selena

    After many years of reading dating/relationship forums I think the definition of “chemistry” rather depends on the context. If it is a first meeting, particularly a blind date, or online date, I see it as purely a measure of initial sexual attraction.  Sometimes there just isn’t any there. If the idea of kissing your date goodnight is repulsive…well, it is what it is. So when someone says, “I didn’t feel any chemistry” after  1,2 dates – I assume that’s what they felt – insufficient sexual attraction.
     
    When I examine my own life, I see chemistry as something more than sexual attraction.  I’ve been highly sexually attracted to men with whom conversation was stilted, boring, I felt like an interviewer with a really dull, reluctant subject.  Because I was inexplicably on a hormone high with the particular individual, I would always discount this. How could he be boring when I felt such a zing being with him? Or just thinking about him (constantly) when I wasn’t with him?  :)
     
    These dating situations inevitably proved to be brief. He would end it and I would pine for awhile until at some point wondering what I ever saw in him.
     
    In contrast, the men that I’ve loved and lived with, weren’t the ones I obsessed about at the beginning. Looks/hormone-wise I’d think -he’s okay. It was actually the conversations that drew me. It was what made us get close to each other. Sex was a bonus.
     
    A few years ago a commenter on this blog named Helen wrote she thought personality compatibiltiy was the most important thing in a relationship. More than sexual compatibility, more than having similar values, or shared interests,  or  having a lot in common.  I pondered this idea for months and felt she had hit on the real definition of chemistry. Compatibility of personalities.
     
    It explains so much to me. I’ve had many different jobs, and have lived in many different places. There was always one co-worker, and one neighbor in any place I ever worked or lived that became a good friend to me – amongst the many others I knew from work, the neighborhood. Why was that? Sometimes our lives were similar, sometimes they weren’t, but there was that something indefinable that drew us to become friends. And the same with lovers. What is that indefinable something? Personality compatibility is what rings true to me across all the relationships I’ve had with people. Lovers, friends and relatives.
     
    The difference between being in love and hormonal infatuation? Time. And living together as partners and seeing how that works out.

  9. 69
    starthrower68

    That’s interesting Goldie.  I think for me the pendulum has swung too far the other way,  I have allowed myself to be misled by chemistry, and so now I have detached from that part of myself.  Now it seems I’m suffering relational apathy.  Yeah, I know I’m a hot mess but my therapist left his private practice and I decided just to move on with life.

  10. 70
    Goldie

    Selena 71, this is a great post! Thanks. Very helpful to me, as I am still relatively new to all this.
     
    Compatibility of personalities being the defining point, is an interesting idea. I haven’t thought of it this way before, but when I look at my past experiences from this standpoint, it does sound right. I will certainly keep this idea in mind when I plunge into the dating waters again.

  11. 71
    josavant

    Thanks Goldie and Selena. Maybe there is physical chemistry, mental chemistry, and emotional chemistry. And maybe it’s a mistake to think that one person is going to fulfill all these things. At least this is what I am learning.

  12. 72
    Sparkling Emerald

    One thing I like about online dating, is the opportunity to meet someone by phone prior to meeting face to face.  For me, what I call “conversational chemistry”  HAS to be there, and no amount of physical chemistry can compensate for that.  (I would hope that in any future relationship we would spend more time talking than  . . .)
    I have made the mistake of agreeing to meet someone with whom that “conversational chemistry” was missing on the phone, thinking I should give them a chance, and that perhaps we would do better in the conversation department in person.  So far that has never happened.  So I won’t make that mistake again.
    In fact, I don’t think I have been really attracted to someone physically if we couldn’t hold a conversation with each other. 

  13. 73
    Goldie

    I am one of those weird geeks that find phone conversations awkward. One side always has trouble hearing the other, I can never figure out when it’s my turn to speak without seeing the other person, phone conversation with a stranger often ends up strained etc. Having an accent does not help; neither does the fact that I didn’t have a phone in my residence for the first 29 years of my life. My family/fiance and I would call each other long-distance on the pay phone in case of absolute emergencies. For one coin, you’d get something like three minutes, so both sides had to keep it brief and to the point. Tell the other side what the emergency is, get their response, and hang up because your time is up. Only time in my online dating experience when I had amazing rapport with a guy on the phone, the actual date was a flop. I used the phone to weed out the complete wackos. If anything triggered a red flag during the phone call, there’d be no date. Otherwise, even if the conversation wasn’t all that riveting, we’d schedule an in-person date to see how we’d like each other in person. With the man who eventually became my bf for two years, we didn’t have the phone conversation at all. We went straight to first date (which was amazing).
     
    So SE #75, I agree 100% with your statement that being able to have a conversation is important, I just don’t think that, for me, a pre-date phone convo is a good indicator of that.

  14. 74
    Karl R

    Sparkling Emerald said: (#75)
    “I have made the mistake of agreeing to meet someone with whom that ‘conversational chemistry’ was missing on the phone, thinking I should give them a chance, and that perhaps we would do better in the conversation department in person.  So far that has never happened.”
     
    It can happen. It has happened to me before. I thought a woman’s online profile was okay. (She initiated contact.) I felt no connection on the phone. Our first date lasted 4 or 5 hours, and the conversation was terrific.
     
    That experience was atypical. I felt that it was a long-shot before the first date. But even long-shots occasionally work out.

  15. 75
    Selena

    I must be a weird geek too Goldie as I’m not fond of phone ‘chats’. I’m usually quite good at chatting up strangers in person, but on the phone I find I can’t think of much to say.  Awkward. And so often it’s hard for me to hear what someone is saying when they/I/both of us are using cell phones. Which is the case most of the time these days. I found in the last 6 years I mostly only make (and want to take) short, to-the-point calls. Even with people I know well.
    @josavant #74
     
    Possibly there are different types of ‘chemistry’ – physical, mental, emotional – but I’d think someone would want a combination of all three in a partner; not just one or two.
     
    We all know sexual attraction when we feel it. That’s one type of ‘chemistry’. But then there is the kind where we feel we “really hit it off” with someone. We felt “a click”.  We can be sexually attracted to someone at first, but realize after a few dates, weeks, months that there really isn’t enough there to keep it going. That feeling that something is missing. Even though the person still looks the same.
     
    By contrast, sometimes the ‘click’, turns into a genuine connection and the sense that this other person “gets” us.  I think that’s the kind of chemistry most people looking for a relationship hope to find. The hormonal high is fun while it lasts, but that” click/gets me” thing is where (I believe) a connection actually develops. And what I consider to be personality compatibility, a/k/a personality chemistry.
     
    One could have hormonal chemistry OR personality chemistry, but what do such relationships look like? In the former, possibly a lot of conflict while it lasts. In the latter? Friend zone. I believe passion and compatibility are not opposing states – they are a balance. It’s meeting the person to have that balance WITH …that feels like a long search sometimes.  :) 

  16. 76
    Sparkling Emerald

    Thank you everyone for your response to my #75.  I never hold “bad phone” against anyone if it is due to a bad connection.  (sometimes cell phones have that lag — dead silence followed by both people talking at the same time, due to a delayed hearing thingy)  And all the reasons you guys listed above, is why I gave guys who gave “bad phone” a second chance.  But you know what, guys who were bad on the phone have NEVER worked out for me IRL. I’m all for not being “too picky” but one can’t go to the other extreme of giving every person who shows interest “a chance”. I don’t want to lead someone on, nor do I want to spend 80% of my limited spare time with people that I don’t think would be a good match with, just to prove that my initial assessment was right.
    Here are some examples of “bad phone” followed by “bad dates”
    One guy had an obnoxious sense of humor.  His sense of humor was basically to disagree with EVERY word I said, of course he followed up with an obnoxious laugh and a “I’m just kidding” phrase but nothing he said was particularly clever or witty, he had all the appeal of an 8 year old who thought it was funny to reply to EVERYTHING with “Nuh UGH !! “.  I agreed to meet him anyway.  He was no better in person than on the phone, TEN TIMES WORSE !!!!  I started to tell him something and the second word of my sentence was the word “almost” and he broke in with this obnoxious 8 year old voice with “ALMOST DOESN’T COUNT !!!!! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha”.  The ENTIRE evening (and by evening I mean an hour and a half) went like that.  He e-mailed me the next day and asked to see me again.  I thanked him for his time (I didn’t order a bite to eat and drank water all night so there was nothing else to thank him for) but said I didn’t think we were a match and wished him well.  He responded with something along the lines of “Well OK, I thought you were cute, smart and funny, but hey, I’ve learned to NOT argue with women.  Give me a call if you just want to hang out and have fun”.  I was SO tempted to tell him that he didn’t learn to NOT argue with women very well, but I didn’t.  Who knows, the next woman he meets might find his brand of humor amusing. 
    ********
    I was matched up with a gentleman from India through a match making service.  Very nice, polite gentleman, and as far as common interests go, we were like identical interest twins.  I had trouble hearing his voice and understanding him through his accent on the phone PLUS, our cell phone connection wasn’t that great.   I went out to meet him.  Still had to strain, and strain to BARELY understand him.  Luckily, the lack of chemistry between us was MUTUAL.  We gave each other a warm good-bye hug, and never saw each other again.
    *********
    Another gentlemen I talked to on the phone, well, not to sound like a snob, but little miss barely finished HS and doesn’t have a college degree here, (that would be me) found him to sound rather dull and not too bright on the phone.  I hate to sound so snobby, since I have no pedigree in the smarts dept myself, but really, all he could respond to my EVERY sentence with was, “HUH, OK”.   And that was after a long,long, uncomfortable pause.  And in response to one of MY answers to HIS questions.  I politely declined to meet him.
    Last, but not least, was the chiropractor who acted like I was just some dumb little doll who need him to help me find my way out of a paper bag.  If his pictures were accurate he was VERY attractive, but my God, conversations with him were soooooooo heavy, like bowling balls falling out of his mouth.  His e-mails were that way too, I decided to “give him a chance”  in spite of his mile long e-mails, filled with links, dire warnings about worst case scenarios, etc.  (He gave me a multi paragraph lecture on bicycle safety, since I ride my bike to work, and he’s a a chiropractor and he has seen accident victims, blah, blah, blah)  And my son’s dog was an issue with him, and I was treated to links, and lectures about the dangers of that particular breed of dog, and blah, blah, blah)  I gave him a pass when he interogated me about my separation status (and warned me of the DIRE consequences of dating while not legally separated or divorced) but everything else, I just couldn’t overlook.  A feeling of DREAD came over me, after talking to him on the phone.  I sent him a polite e-mail saying that for reasons I would rather not disclose I would not be meeting him in person.
    So yeah, I MAY be throwing away a “long shot”, but I could also just be saving myself some wasted time.  I don’t discount guys over a bad phone connection, or a little bit of getting to know you jitters, but if I get a dreadful feeling or am bored out my mind with our phone convo, I will no longer be taking a chance on a long shot.
    Oh yeah, and then there’s ALWAYS, the AMAZING guy who I connect with in e-mail, by phone and finally, IRL.  Of course, he doesn’t like me.  That’s the dating game for you !!!!  ;)
     

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