I keep returning to the Harvard Study of Adult Development and the book about it called Triumphs of Experience. There are so many interesting findings in that study, that I decided to break it up into a few blog posts. Go here for an overview about the study if you are unfamiliar with it. Today I wanted to bring up some of its conclusions about love and marriage.
The study's main finding about happiness over the study subjects' lives, is that there are two main factors that produce it. The factors are 1) love and 2) finding ways of coping that do not push love away. Expressed in other words, the trick is to find lifelong love, and to be emotionally stable and mature enough to keep the lifelong love.
The majority of men in the study who flourished, which is the study's word for "lived long and happy lives", found love before the age of 30, and they flourished because of that love. That's an interesting statistic.
In the inner city cohort, ie. the more disadvantaged subjects of the study, 67% of the never married guys were in the bottom 20% of social relations, 57% where in the bottom 20% of income, and 71% where classified as mentally ill in some way. It is of course hard to know exactly what is caused by what. But we can draw the conclusion that going through life without marrying, is associated with a lot of unhappiness.
The study also found, that among the married men in the study, friendship and mutual dependence in marriage deepened later in life, creating happier couples as they became older. This is attributed partly to the empty nest-effect, when the kids have grown up and left the home. It is partly also attributed to age-related hormonal changes that "feminize" husbands and "masculinize" wives, which make man and wife more alike each other on a mental level, strenghtening the bond in a couple that perhaps didn't get along as well when they were younger.
It was also hinted in the study, that being comfortable with sex and having a good sex life, to be a major key for a long and happy marriage. The men who experienced poor marriages were six times as likely to give evidence about being fearful or uncomfortable about sexual relations, compared to men who were in happy marriages.
What about divorces? Could the study say anything about what caused couples to divorce? Yes. The single most important factor in the divorces of the study was alcoholism; 57% of the divorces in the study had occurred when at least one spouse was abusing alcohol.
So to summarize; a long and happy marriage is a strong factor for a long and happy life. Be comfortable in your sexuality and find someone to marry before the age of 30, then try to stay away from consuming too much alcohol, and you are set for a long and happy life!
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