THE BLOG

For Better or for Worse: Does Marriage Make You Feel Happier?

31/05/2013 10:04 BST | Updated 30/07/2013 10:12 BST
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Since the earliest days of the music hall, the strife of married life has been a productive vein of comic material.

Mercilessly mined for one-liners by the likes of Les Dawson and the staple of many a classic sit-com, you could be forgiven for thinking that the majority of husbands and wives live in a constant state of depression and conflict.

A new piece of research, however, suggests that might not, in fact, be the case at all. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has produced the results of a survey examining the well-being of individuals living in the UK.

Whilst good physical health and having a steady job top the list of the most important factors in people feeling good about themselves, domestic bliss comes right behind.

The ONS research details how those who are either married or living in a civil partnership are happier than cohabitees and those who are single, divorced or widowed.

Given the popular perception of marriage as a byword for civil war and the high proportion of couples whose wedded relationships break apart, that finding might come as a surprise to some people.

It might be equally unexpected to find a divorce lawyer like myself agreeing with the survey results but they do bear out the experiences of myself and my colleagues at Pannone Solicitors for many years.

In my opinion, the majority of divorces do not conclude with spouses showing the sort of relief associated with the actress Nicole Kidman's expression of joy following the end of her 11-year marriage to Tom Cruise.

Certainly, it might be regarded as a happy event if it brings an unhappy or even abusive relationship to a close, although there was absolutely no suggestion of that being the case with Kidman and Cruise.

Many ex-husbands and wives consider divorce as similar in some ways to a bereavement and believe that the end of a marriage illustrates how they have failed.

That may not be true, of course, but it shows the impact which divorce can have on the way people view themselves.

It is true that the number of couples who choose to live together but not marry is on the climb.

Last year, the ONS also produced data illustrating that there were twice as many cohabitees in the UK as there had been only 16 years before, something written about by my colleague Claire Reid on the pages of the Huffington Post.

That they may be an increasing proportion of the population but not necessarily as happy as married couples could be down to the attitudes of those who do take the plunge and wed.

In the past, it seems, people may have got married because they felt that they had to. It was something expected of adults in much the same way as passing your driving test and starting to vote.

Nowadays, of course, living together without marriage no longer carries the social stigma that it once did. Marriage, however, is still commonly regarded as a stronger statement of commitment.

Therefore, those people who do marry or enter into a civil partnership are demonstrating a more solid commitment to one another which just may mean that they are less likely to separate or divorce than those who do not make their relationships legally binding.

It may not be enough of an insight to change the comical cliches and erase the welter of cartoons portraying hen-pecked husbands and bored wives but such a development might be a sufficient reason to give those taking an interest in household happiness plenty of cause to smile in the future.