You might have heard the statistics that marriage makes people happier. Several studies appear to show that marriage is a happiness-booster – which is good news for all those who have tied the knot.
However, recent research shows a surprising twist in this oft-mentioned tale. In fact it seems that it might not be marriage that makes couples happier, but something else altogether.
Does marriage make us happier?
Many studies have shown that marriage makes us happier. In fact, married people frequently report being happier, healthier, and more socially active overall.1
It makes sense, when you think about it. A good, supportive marriage is a bedrock, a source of strength, companionship, and love throughout when life throws anything at you. If you’re in a good marriage, you have someone who always has your back, who is there for you no matter what, and who understands you.
That kind of support is bound to have a direct effect on your health and happiness.
Marriage also has a way of bringing out your social side. When you’ve always got someone to go out with, it’s so much more fun. There’s no need to call people to make an arrangement, when your spouse is right there. That’s not to say married people have better social lives (there’s no evidence of that!), but being married certainly gives you something of a social life on tap.
Marriage doesn’t necessarily equal happiness
Of course, as it often goes, when there is a study showing something, there is often one showing the opposite. Just look at all the contradictory studies about whether milk is good for you or not.
It’s just the same with marriage. For all those studies stating marriage boosts happiness, there are plenty of studies that seem to say it doesn’t. For example, one Cornell University study showed that couples who cohabited but did not marry were happier and even had better self esteem than married couples.2
It’s not hard to see that side of the argument, either. Throwing a wedding is itself a fairly stressful experience, one that is often costly to boot. It’s not uncommon for even loving, committed couples to go through phases where they worry about whether getting married was the right thing for them, or even if they might have been better off with someone else.
Being married can be wonderful, but it can also add a lot of pressure to a relationship.
Marriage doesn’t have as much to do with happiness as we thought
By this point you might be wondering how marriage can be the key to happiness, and unhappiness both at the same time. A study by the National Bureau of Economics Research has the answer: It’s the depth of friendship between couples that really makes a difference.3
The study was split into two parts, and at first it seemed to back up the theory that married couples are happier. However, as researchers delved into the second half of the study, they found something surprising: Marriage didn’t make as much of a difference as they thought.
The study found that people who considered their partner to be their best friend were happier than those who had a best friend outside of their relationship. Researchers studied both married couples and those who were living together and not married, and got the same result for each group.
Couples who were also best friends were happier than those who have a best friend elsewhere.
Friendship is the key to a happy relationship
It seems that marriage isn’t a magical happiness elixir after all – but friendship is. Couples who are also best friends are happier than those who aren’t.
It makes sense, too. What could be better for your mental and emotional health than living with someone who also happens to be your best friend?
Couples who are best friends have all the benefits that come with having a best friend – emotional closeness, a trusted confidant, someone who understands them and most likely shares their humor and values.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink the role of marriage in relationships. Whether you follow this or not but it is in the best interest of your marriage when your partner is also your best friend.