Are you dating someone seriously and thinking of moving in together? Or already living with your significant other and considering marriage? You might be interested—or even surprised—to know that being married has significant benefits over living together.
In the research I’ve done over the past 20 years or so, I’ve heard from countless married couples that the promise they made to each other on their wedding day has carried them through both the joys and the struggles of “doing life together” as a married couple.
Their lifelong commitment provides a secure foundation for persevering through the valleys that are part of life. Without the option of seeking greener pastures when the going gets tough, their determination—and ability—to see those tough times through is stronger. And the perspective of a lifelong relationship allows them to savor the sweetness of their mountaintop experiences even more.
Other research echoes these benefits of marriage. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center compared some key aspects of happiness between married couples and those living together. The study found that marriage led to higher scores in the areas of trust and satisfaction.
How do these findings play out in real-world relationships? Let’s take a look.
Married couples are more trusting of their partners.
In the Pew study, one of the assessments asked participants to evaluate how much they trusted their partner to act in their best interest. Married adults scored higher in this area than those living together. I found a similar response in the research for my book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. Specifically, happily married couples answered that they wanted the best for their spouse almost 100% of the time. And even among the most struggling couples, 97 percent said they cared about their mates.
Knowing that your spouse cares about you and wants the best for you provides a foundation of trust that allows you to feel more secure in your relationship. Imagine that your significant other has taken a joke a bit too far and hurt your feelings, has offered advice on dealing with your testy boss that goes against your instincts, or has initiated a difficult conversation about your relationship. Being confident that as a spouse they truly have your best in mind can influence your attitude . . . and, as a result, both your emotional and your verbal reaction.
Married couples are more satisfied with their relationships.
The Pew study found that “about six-in-ten married adults (58%) say things are going very well in their marriage; 41% of cohabiters say the same about their relationship with their partner.”
My research for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages found that the happiest married couples are happy to a large degree because they took—and they keep taking—the risk to go all in on their relationship. They fully invest themselves in all kinds of ways—emotionally, financially, relationally—instead of holding back to protect themselves.
One husband we interviewed said, “I honestly was a little worried about the commitment. It felt like I was jumping off a cliff. But what I found is that being intentional makes committing easy. You’re taking one step at a time, so instead of the commitment being like jumping off the cliff, it’s more like walking a staircase. And this is going to sound so sappy, but my personal experience has been that it’s the stairway to heaven, so to speak.”
That staircase of commitment creates an environment that allows—that causes—the relationship to flourish.
Commitment creates contentment.
One researcher’s study inspired him to make a real-life commitment. Harvard professor Dan Gilbert studied a group of students who had taken two photographs and were given the option to only keep one. One group could not change their mind. Their selection was final—an unchangeable decision. The other group made a changeable decision—they could change their mind at any time and exchange their picture for the other photograph. Gilbert followed up and recorded their satisfaction about their decision. The results proved overwhelmingly that those who made decisions that could not be changed were more satisfied with their decision than those who wanted to keep their options open.
Commitment creates contentment.
A friend interpreted these results for Gilbert by comparing them to the difference in satisfaction between those living together (a changeable decision) and those that get married (an unchangeable decision). Gilbert was so impacted by the truth of the science and his friend’s correlation that he went home and proposed to his live-in girlfriend. Regarding his decision to marry, he said “I love her so much more now that we’re married, now that I can’t get out of this relationship no matter how fast I run. She is the love of my life, and I didn’t realize that when I was always thinking, should I stay or shouldn’t I stay. There’s a lot to say about making commitments.”
When you’ve found “the one,” go all in.
Similarly, another husband we interviewed, who was in a happy second marriage, said, “Keeping my options open leads to anxiousness because I am worrying about the what-ifs or ‘What am I missing?’ I’m unsettled. There’s an uncertainty, and that certainly leads to a lack of peace. Whereas if I’m all in, I’m committed; it makes it easy. There’s peace because that’s the only option. Knowing there’s an eject seat will always contribute to dissatisfaction . . . Many people don’t realize that commitment causes love. Causes passion. Today, I see it is a great thing.”
The benefits of going all in on your relationship and committing to marriage are clear from both a research standpoint and from the real-life perspective of married couples. Once you have decided that your significant other is “the one” for you, go all in. Commit fully. And experience the rewards—trust, security, satisfaction, and contentment—that the lifelong commitment of marriage will bring.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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