Will Getting Married Really Make You Happier?

Photographed by Winnie Au.
We often think of marriage as the ultimate symbol of emotional connection with another person. But a new study suggests you don't have to go all the way to the altar to get that boost. Instead, you might be fine just sharing a home with your partner. ("How shocking." — Long-term, cohabiting couples everywhere.)

In the study, published recently in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers surveyed 8,700 people, all born between 1980 and 1984. For the study, they were surveyed every other year from 2000 to 2010. Each time, everyone was asked about their relationship status as well as their level of emotional distress, such as whether they were "feeling downhearted and blue."

The results turned up a few interesting gender differences. For instance, in their first serious relationships, women reported lower levels of emotional distress — regardless of whether they got married to their partners or were cohabiting. But men only saw that emotional boost if they got married. However, that difference disappeared when the researchers looked at participants' second major relationships: Both men and women got emotional boosts from moving in with or getting married to those partners.

"At one time, marriage may have been seen as the only way for young couples to get the social support and companionship that is important for emotional health," said Claire Kamp Dush, PhD, co-author of the study, in a press release. "[But] it's not that way anymore. We're finding that marriage isn't necessary to reap the benefits of living together."

As more and more of us in the U.S. decide to put off marriage in favor of simply moving in with our partners, this is an especially important time to study how that choice may affect us emotionally. And the good news is that, so far, it really doesn't seem to matter so much. As long as you're happy (whatever that means for you and your partner), you're good.

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