Think bachelors have it made? It turns out married men are actually happier after marriage than they would be if they stayed single, according to researchers at Michigan State University.
The study looked at 1,366 people who weren’t married before participating in the survey, got married at some point during, and stayed married. Researchers compared the subjects to a control group who was demographically alike in every way other than being married.
The results: “People, on average, aren’t happier following marriage than they were before marriage, but they are happier than they would have been if they stayed single,” says Stevie C. Y. Yap, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at MSU and one of the study authors.
“Just being in a well-adjusted, long-term romantic partnership with someone may be the underlying mechanism,” says Yap. “It may not have to do with the marriage itself, the fact that you step up to the altar and say, ‘I do.’” (Want to know the secret to long-lasting love? Discover What Every Woman Wants.)
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Happiness in a marriage might not always seem as exciting as when you first meet your wife, says Marsha Lucas, Ph.D., a psychologist in Washington, D.C. That’s because, as research proves, many people have a baseline level of happiness they tend to return to after a positive life event.
“During early romance, we’re getting all kinds of great, pleasurable experiences that are giving us a bit of a hit of dopamine, stimulating the brain areas involved with reward—even euphoria—as well as the motivation to seek out and return over and over to that same source to get some more,” she says. “After you’re married and the thrill has settled, those big, constant hits of dopamine taper off, and like coming down from a high, it can feel like a huge letdown.” (For more must-have relationship advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free Girl Next Door newsletter.)
Lucas says that getting on the same page about your expectations for a marriage has a lot to do with identifying both you and your spouse’s attachment styles, and then working together to counter the other. (An “attachment style” is psych talk for the accumulation of childhood experiences, especially involving your parents, that control how you deal with relationships later in life). Just over half of Americans fall into the “healthy” secure attachment category. But 45 percent have an insecure style of attachment. That results in anxious feelings about seeking comfort, or a desire to minimize or avoid relationships altogether.
“Once you understand and have gotten clear about your own attachment style and its pitfalls, you’ll probably be able to see your spouse’s style more clearly, and hopefully more compassionately, as well,” Lucas says.
For example, if your wife tends to worry that if things aren’t fantastic, they’re about to fall apart, this can lead to very old, hidden memories triggering a fight-or-flight response to seemingly small issues (like you no longer bringing her flowers all the time). “The good news is that the two of you are in it as a team,” says Lucas. “These two styles can provide the fuel for shifting those old, less-than-optimal attachment styles into much healthier ones, leading to a relationship that’s better than it ever was.”
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