Marriage Remains a Reliable Indicator of Health, Happiness
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
- Marriage remains a proven path to happiness and good health.
- Over time, married people actually do better financially.
- Marriage is also the safest arrangement for children.
“You know how the story is going to end as long as you are covenant people.” —Rick Miller, family studies professor at Brigham Young University
If you believe many of the day’s headlines, it’s tempting to conclude that marriage is something to be feared, put off, or simply avoided.
But the scientific research about marriage doesn’t match the media hype, said a family studies professor at Brigham Young University.
Professor Rick Miller recently spoke to BYU students at a workshop that focused on understanding and overcoming fear of commitment in relationships and marriage.
His key argument? Marriage remains a proven path to happiness and good health.
Professor Miller began by saying his reluctance to jump off the high dive at the public swimming pool comes from fear: he’s afraid his attempt at a textbook dive will end in a painful and humiliating belly flop.
Similar fears about marriage seem to grip many young people, both in and out of the Church. “They are scared to death that they will be miserable for the rest of their life,” he said.
Their fears, he suggested, may come from news reports and other outside sources. More and more, becoming a husband or wife is depicted as something unfulfilling. “There’s just not a good portrayal of marriage in our society.”
In fact, some surveys of young people suggest only 30 percent believe marriage “is a good idea.”
Cohabitation prior to marriage has become a popular alternative to marrying. Many believe it allows a relationship “test run” before fully committing to matrimony. Couples living together without entering a legal union are most common in low-income populations.
But family history research reveals cohabitation prior to marriage is a high-risk arrangement. Professor Miller said men and women who cohabitate before they marry are more likely to be unhappy and experience a divorce.
“Cohabitating,” he said, “is just overrated.”
Studies also reveal marriage is good for your health. Professor Miller said married men in particular live healthier lifestyles. They eat better and visit the doctor with higher regularity—often times at the gentle prodding of their wives.
“It’s usually the wife who says to her husband, ‘Put down the Twinkie and let’s have family prayer,’” said Professor Miller, drawing laughter from his young audience.
Beyond the physical benefits, married people are also less likely to experience depression or anxiety, he added. They often live longer and make better life choices than their unmarried counterparts.
Professor Miller said young men and young women sometimes put off marriage until they realize a higher level of financial stability. They worry marriage will undermine their bottom line. But, again, family history research tells another story.
“Over time, married people actually do better financially,” he said.
Marriage is also the safest arrangement for children, he added. The likelihood of a child being abused increases significantly when his or her mother is living with a man outside of marriage, particularly if the live-in boyfriend is not the child’s father.
It’s often said “half of all marriages end in divorce.” That’s not entirely true, according to Professor Miller. Statistically, about 45 percent of all marriages will not survive. But that number is decidedly lower for Latter-day Saint couples who marry in the temple.
The professor acknowledged that there are unhappy husbands and wives in the Church. Besides teaching at BYU, he works as a marriage counselor and sees, firsthand, “crummy marriages.”
But the “vast majority” of Latter-day marriages, he said, do well.
A healthy marriage need not be a perfect marriage. Conflicts are found in most relationships. But successful marriages are most likely to occur when members come to view their spouses with eternal eyes. Always consider a husband's or wife’s eternal potential.
Professor Miller said he once counseled with a wife who was unhappy with her husband because he always put off his home teaching until the end of the month. The woman felt her husband was not adequately committed to his Church duties, and those feelings weakened their marriage.
LDS husbands and wives should not expect perfection in their spouses. Instead, expect them to be covenant keepers. “You know how the story is going to end as long as you are covenant people,” he said.
Professor Miller counseled his young audience to choose wisely and prayerfully during dating and courtship—but also take care to ensure one’s expectations of a future spouse are not unrealistic or unattainable.
Latter-day Saint marriages, he added, are most likely to succeed when spouses have similar goals—particularly in the matters of eternity.