Four in five adults of all ages rate love as important to their happiness. And it turns out those in loving relationships do enjoy greater wellbeing than those who are single. (This despite our culture glorifying the endless positives of remaining unattached.) Fewer than 25 percent of unmarried adults say they are “very happy” but 40 percent of married adults say they are.
David Myers, PhD, in The Pursuit of Happiness, cites the above research and says even more important than being married is the marriage’s quality. While women suffer more emotional disturbances in a stressed marriage than do their husbands, wives also report slightly greater happiness across all marriages. Researchers suspect this is because women find more joy in positive, close relationships than men do.
Further, most married people say their marriages are happy. Myers says three out of four in the U.S. say their spouse is their best friend. (This seems high to me, but I’d agree with it in my marriage.) And this relationship happiness carries over into their overall life happiness.
Why are married people happier? Marriage is likely to provide an enduring supportive relationship, and married people are less likely to suffer loneliness. Those who parent together may experience additional stresses, yet also receive additional rewards from their roles as parents.
While I completely agree that my marriage has made me a happier person, I also strongly believe that we as individuals control most of our happiness. When we are happy on our own, that happiness tends to bleed into our relationship. We’re more interesting to be with, more supportive and more engaging when we have a life we enjoy.
A National Opinion Research Center study found that nearly six in ten Americans who rate their marriage as very happy also rate their life as very happy. And among those NOT in a happy marriage, only one in ten say their overall life is very happy. A bad marriage is worse than no marriage, and loneliness within marriage can be the loneliest feeling of all.
When we are unhappy as individuals, we tend to project on our partners that they aren’t supportive enough or don’t understand our needs. But the truth may be that we are in a life transition, or have lost a loved one, or in one way or another are struggling with our life or identity. Our marriage or spouse shouldn’t have the burden of “making us happy”. Instead, we can enrich and enjoy our lives more fully because of the close, intimate relationship we share.
If you think you are unhappy in your relationship, consider that you may need to make improvements in your own individual life to improve happiness. For example, a person who feels overworked and underappreciated in their job may bring those feelings into their home and feel taken advantage of across the board.
Myers says to avoid two mistakes in thinking if you aim to have a happy marriage. First, even if you’re newlyweds, don’t take a successful marriage for granted. “Unless nurtured carefully, the relationship you counted on for love and happiness may leave you crushed, lonely, feeling like a failure, or trudging hopelessly along, resigned to your despair.” (Ouch.) Conversely, don’t be overly pessimistic saying marriages seldom last, so why should I commit, invest and work on my marriage? A positive attitude channeled by a wariness of real dangers offers the best chance at a happy relationship, he concludes.
So, is this a chicken and the egg question? “Which comes first personal or marital happiness?” I think they feed on each other, but the personal happiness ideally comes first. What do you think?
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