Sunday, June 29, 2008

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Living together happily ever after is the outcome we long for in marriage, but I think most of us are suspicious of the probability or even possibility of that really happening. Marriages fail all around us with depressing regularity. find happiness, is it better to marry and stay married, or to try a second or third marriage, or is it better to keep one's options open by just moving in together?

Social science has done some measuring on the happiness question. It turns out that the best chance for happiness comes with a wedding band, and keeping that same band on one's finger for a lifetime.

"Happy" better describes married people than any other relationship group. Marrieds are less likely to report psychological distress, anxiety and distress than the single, widowed or divorced. One tabulation found that 40% of the married described themselves as "very happy" with life in general compared to under 25% of those single or cohabiting. 15% of the separated reported themselves to be very happy as did 18% of the divorced and 22% of the widowed. While not every marriage is very happy or even happy at all, the potential is clearly highest there.

Certainly, walking down the aisle is no guarantee of happily ever aftering. Living on the flip side of the high happiness ranking are those marrieds who are not very happy at all.

But, is a period of unhappiness in a marriage necessarily terminal? Interestingly, in one study, an astonishing 9 in 10 considering separation who stayed together were still married five years later -- and 3 in 5 of those had changed the rating of their marriage from unhappy to very happy or quite happy! These are impressive statistics and argue strongly for sticking it out and working out the kinks.

In our post modern, cynical society, marriage must seem sometimes like a relic out of an unenlightened past, an unnecessary impediment to adventures in relationship. But the truth is this: the old relic works, and properly cared for, it is the very best chance of happily ever after we are likely to find in this life.

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