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Why Relationships Make People Stronger

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Wondering if single and childless gals have greener grass on their side? Experts say they don't.

Man lifting and hugging woman

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Many people obsess about relationships (okay, at least I do) because pairings make food for our soul. Without close human connections to feed us encouragement, tender criticism, and undying acceptance, we can never feel truly happy. We can never really know ourselves. And we can never enjoy our paychecks like we should -- that is, if we are able to be commercially successful at all. We are born to attach. Then in this life, through a series of fortunes or misfortunes, we are taught to attach in certain ways to certain people. But make no mistake: Pairing is a natural human behavior with ethological roots and massive psychological consequences.

And research backs me up. Close relationships are good for our minds and our bodies. Many studies link marriage with physical health, and one recent study even went so far as to say that the health gain for married versus single people is equal to giving up smoking. Men are more likely to see a doctor if their wife encourages them, and married women report less stress than single women. A study by University of Virginia's sociology department finds that the single most important factor in women's marital happiness is the level of their husbands' emotional engagement -- not money, the division of household chores, or other factors. Duh! If only guys knew this.

And parenthood, one of life's most important relationships, can also bring happiness. A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, entitled "Children and Life Satisfaction," emphasizes the importance of couples being married with children, versus unmarried with children. The study concluded that single, separated, or cohabiting people with children reported negative experiences as opposed to married couples with children, who reported positive experiences. The study also concluded that the more children a married couple has, the greater the life satisfaction, especially for women. Maybe that's what Octomom knew all along.

Finally, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history from Harvard University has been following 268 men since the 1930s. In it, three keys to happiness have come to light: Having a healthy outlet for stress, a tendency to ride with life's ups and downs, and finally, relationships. The subjects who spent tons of time alone found it harder to be happy. The happiest subjects were those who had solid relationships with friends and family.

People are born to connect. But today we are living in a high-tech age where our culture and circumstance run interference against that course of evolution. Healthy attachments are threatened every day by a permissive society, a sexualized media, too much opportunity that creates "Love ADD," and some notion that "individual rights and freedom" gives a hall pass to selfishness over sacrifice. If there is a silver lining, it is that the recession has lowered the divorce rate to its lowest in 30 years, and as people stay together to ride out this bump, they may feel empowered about this accomplishment -- and stay together for all the other benefits of relationships as well.

next: Cheap 'Travel' with Your Kids!
3 comments so far | Post a comment now
b January 23, 2010, 5:10 PM


nicciwrite January 28, 2010, 2:47 PM

wonderful, inspiring article.

Vicky Chiappinelli December 21, 2010, 5:23 PM

I would like to take half a minute of my time to leave you a comment by saying: please keep going with your articles, I truly likethem.

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