Today’s episode is for those of you who just need to know that the hard work of creating a thriving, passionate marriage is worthwhile. Whatever you’ve been through, however difficult the road ahead appears to be: we really want to distill some hope for you today so that you stay committed to creating something beautiful with your spouse. Marriage is not always easy. But we want you to know it is worthwhile.
Today we’re going to take you through the top 5 benefits of creating a happy marriage. To come up with these top 5 benefits I asked our researcher Paul to go out and just survey the literature and see what the consistent themes are: the repeated positive outcomes that keep bubbling to the surface when researchers are studying marriage.
We are not knocking off anyone else’s top 5 list today: we put this one together from our own survey of the research. And good research at that: I am talking about the psychological journals where we have real researchers in the trenches trying to figure out the nuances and details of marriage every day, not just some Joe Average blogger’s opinion off the Internet.
So, let’s jump in. We’re going to work from the fifth benefit back to the first.
#5: Personal Growth
The research consistently shows that a happy marriage enables spouses to grow, both individually and as a couple. This comes through mainly in three different fronts.
It’s easier to meet personal challenges when you know someone has your back, right? Well married people often report that the level of support they get from their spouse is the strongest determining factor in how well they achieve their personal goals[i]. Your support of your spouse makes a big difference in his or her life. With your support, your spouse feels secure enough and has enough practical and emotional assistance to aim for their important goals in life, whatever they may be.
So creating a happy marriage ends up setting the stage for helping one another achieve personal goals. It is not hard to imagine how a distressed marriage takes up so much energy that it gets in the way of achieving those goals.
A cool study from 2011[ii] found that overcoming stressful circumstances with your spouse early in the marriage makes you far more able to deal with stress later in life. In this study high marital satisfaction (especially good communication and support) enabled couples to build up resilience to stress, which helped them adjust to stressful life events such as the transition to parenthood. Other research shows that high marital quality can help couples cope with difficult circumstances such as financial pressure and illness[iii].
This is brilliant too: of course, life throws all of us curveballs. But when you create a happy marriage you create a safe harbor, a place you can come to in order to recharge and renew yourself for facing those challenges. And this ends up making you stronger in the long term.
When your marriage is going well you start to embody the traits you admire in each other, allowing you both to grow as people. High satisfaction with your marriage and with who your spouse naturally leads to the admiration of your spouse. When couples admire each other they work to embody the positive traits they see in each other. In a well-functioning marriage both spouses, therefore “sharpen” each other and help make each other better[iv].
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17 NIV. That’s the principle at play here.
So you take these three together: facilitating personal goals, fostering resilience against challenges, and promoting personal development and you can really see how a happy marriage fuels personal growth. That’s a huge blessing that comes from creating a happy marriage.
High marital satisfaction has positive effects on both physical and mental health. This happens through various routes[v]:
- Lower stress: couples in a happy, conflict-free marriage will feel lower levels of stress, meaning that they will benefit from lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, better sleep, greater resistance to illness and stronger mental health overall.
- Support: being married gives you the incentive to look after yourself physically, so you’re likely to make good health and lifestyle choices. Your spouse can also provide emotional support to help buffer against mental illness. Rates of depression are therefore lower in happily married couples.
- Finances: married couples are often more well off than single people, allowing them to look after themselves more easily
- Happiness: greater happiness and life satisfaction also protect against mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.
You can see how these things begin to work together to create a positive upward spiral for a couple!
Looking at Life Satisfaction
Now, to help you guys figure out where you are at and how to start moving towards creating a happier marriage, we have included in this week’s bonus guide a questionnaire developed by researchers to measure people’s long-term happiness and life enjoyment. You can use the questionnaire to get an overview of where your life is at right now. You and your spouse will each complete this scale, without showing each other your answers and then there is a discussion guide so that you can start to open up this conversation and begin to set some goals to map out a path forwards. Any of our readers can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
Turns out there’s also a measurable impact on longevity! People are always looking for that secret elixir to a longer life…
Research shows that marital satisfaction can increase lifespan and reduce mortality[vi]. This has been found for both husbands and wives.
Why? Researchers who looked into this back in 1995[vii] argues that having a spouse with whom you have a strong bond will cause you to make healthier choices and look after yourself more thoroughly. People living alone may have less incentive to look after themselves and will have no one to check up on them if they are not eating healthily, exercising and taking good care of their health. Rates of unhealthy behaviors like smoking and excessive drinking are also higher in unmarried (and unhappily married) people.
Being married means your spouse will naturally be able to check up on you and encourage healthy behavior and can offer emotional and practical support during illness. But being happily married will also cause you to want to be healthy, as you won’t want to worry about your spouse (and children) by being unhealthy.
Marital satisfaction also increases happiness, and guards against mental health troubles, which can also increase physical health and protect against early mortality. So there’s a link from the emotional to the physical as you might expect as well.
#2: Life Satisfaction and Purpose
As well as being strongly linked to the day-to-day experience of happiness, a happy marriage is also considered the strongest predictor of overall life satisfaction[viii]. Life satisfaction refers to whether you believe you have lived your life well, are happy with the choices you’ve made and are hopeful about the future.
Just pause and think about that. Think over what you anchor your definition of a well-lived life on right now. Is it on achieving some financial outcome? Even on launching kids or grandkids into college and life? Some of those things are merely materialistic. Others are very noble. But what I want to suggest to you is that a happy marriage needs to be at the core of what you’re grounding your legacy on.
For our readers who are Christians, this should particularly resonate since the picture of a husband and wife is a mirror of the relationship between Christ and the church. That is so central to our faith: and we need to give legs to that belief by enacting this in our marriage and placing a priority on that above so many other things that can distract us.
Of course, marital satisfaction is also strongly linked to a sense of purpose and meaning in life. A study in 1996[ix] found that intimacy in marriage is the strongest predictor of both life satisfaction and having a sense of meaning in life.
I thought this was a really good one to stop and do a self-check on. Am I really focused on finding meaning in the right places? It’s easy to get distracted, right? First things first: I hope all of our readers have their marriage at or very, very near the top of their list for creating meaning and purpose.
So that’s four of the top five benefits to a happy marriage. Pretty impressive already, right? And the number one benefit according to research is…
#1: Happiness (and Consequences Thereof)
Marital happiness is very strongly linked to overall levels of day-to-day happiness[x]. This is echoing the subject of our previous episode.
In fact a good marriage it is often considered the strongest predictor of global happiness. For example a study in 1988[xi] collected data on over 1500 participants about their overall happiness and level of happiness in specific areas including marriage, work, finances, community, and health. They found that marital happiness was more strongly linked to overall happiness than any of the other factors.
That begs the question: are you looking for happiness in the right place? Again, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe our ultimate joy is in God but don’t forget that one of the primary places God gives us to discover and enjoy this is within marriage. He has given us marriage as a gift of grace where we can experience happiness.
But there’s more to happiness than just feeling good. Happiness goes on to have positive outcomes across all areas of life: happy people are more optimistic, confident, sociable, kind and adventurous, leading them to be more successful in many areas. Specific benefits of happiness include[xii]:
- Greater success at work and higher job satisfaction
- Higher income
- More friendships and higher-quality relationships
- Better physical health
- Improved mental health
In other words, happiness itself has positive outcomes.
So there you have it: you may be in the trenches fighting for your marriage today. I hope this helps you to be reminded of why you are fighting for your marriage and to keep moving forward!
As always, if we can be of any help we have experienced, effective marriage counselors on staff at OnlyYouForever who would be glad to help you guys create a truly happy marriage.
[i] Joachim C. Brunstein, Gabriele Dangelmayer, and Oliver C. Schultheiss, “Personal Goals and Social Support in Close Relationships: Effects on Relationship Mood and Marital Satisfaction.,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71, no. 5 (1996): 1006–19, https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.116.
[ii] Lisa A. Neff and Elizabeth F. Broady, “Stress Resilience in Early Marriage: Can Practice Make Perfect?,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101, no. 5 (November 2011): 1050–67, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023809.
[iii] Clinton G. Gudmunson et al., “Linking Financial Strain to Marital Instability: Examining the Roles of Emotional Distress and Marital Interaction,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 28, no. 3 (September 1, 2007): 357–76, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-007-9074-7.
[iv] Niels van de Ven, Marcel Zeelenberg, and Rik Pieters, “Why Envy Outperforms Admiration,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37, no. 6 (June 1, 2011): 784–95, https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167211400421.
[v] Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Wendy A. Birmingham, and Kathleen C. Light, “Influence of a ‘Warm Touch’ Support Enhancement Intervention among Married Couples on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Oxytocin, Alpha Amylase, and Cortisol,” Psychosomatic Medicine 70, no. 9 (2008): 976–85.
[vi] Richard G. Rogers, “Marriage, Sex, and Mortality,” Journal of Marriage and Family 57, no. 2 (1995): 515–26, https://doi.org/10.2307/353703.
[viii] William Pavot and Ed Diener, “Review of the Satisfaction with Life Scale.,” Psychological Assessment 5, no. 2 (1993): 164.
[ix] E. Mark Cummings et al., “Resolution and Children’s Responses to Interadult Anger.,” Developmental Psychology 27, no. 3 (1991): 462–70, https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1618.104.22.1682.
[x] Steven Stack and J. Ross Eshleman, “Marital Status and Happiness: A 17-Nation Study,” Journal of Marriage and Family 60, no. 2 (1998): 527–36, https://doi.org/10.2307/353867.
[xi] Norval D. Glenn and Charles N. Weaver, “The Contribution of Marital Happiness to Global Happiness,” Journal of Marriage and Family 43, no. 1 (1981): 161–68, https://doi.org/10.2307/351426.
[xii] Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, and David Schkade, “Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change.,” Review of General Psychology 9, no. 2 (2005): 111–31, https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2622.214.171.124.