How Do Relationships Affect Your Well-Being?
The Overall Connection between Romantic Relationships and Well-Being
Our romantic relationships are inseparably intertwined with our happiness in more ways than one. Relationship satisfaction is associated with higher levels of subjective well-being regardless of relationship status (Dush & Amato, 2005). Commitment, trust, and intimacy in romantic relationships emerge as being especially highly related to subjective well-being (Drigotas, Rusbult, & Verette, 1999; Mehta, Walls, Scherer, Feldman, & Shrier, 2016; Uysal, Lin, Knee, & Bush, 2012).
Marriage in particular has been studied extensively. Marriage has been cited as one of the leading sources of both support and stress for adults (Walen & Lachman, 2000). Marriage has been linked to lower psychological distress and higher well-being in adulthood as well (Diener, Gohm, Suh, & Oishi, 2000; Efklides, Kalaitzidou, & Chankin, 2003; Glenn & Weaver, 1979; Holder, 2012; Wu & Hart, 2002).
Why Are Romantic Relationships and Well-Being So Linked?
So why does this type of relationship in particular play such a critical role in defining our happiness? The answer may seem obvious, but there are some subtleties worth exploring that could make us all better partners in our relationships.
For one, the universal human need for financial, emotional, and social support. (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Buss, 2000).
Married individuals benefit from having a partner to share life’s burdens, problems, and struggles with which can help boost trust and intimacy between partners and decrease the distress linked to life’s hardships (Gove, Style, & Hughes, 1990; Williams, 1988).
Not only are partners beneficial for providing support when one is undergoing stress, but they also provide the opportunity to reciprocate with support as well. Providing and receiving social, emotional, and instrumental support between you and your romantic partner is a crucial factor in predicting your happiness.
Additionally, providing care, love, and support for a spouse may boost your self-esteem, provide greater purpose in your life, and increase a sense of mastery over a salient developmental task (Gove et al., 1990).
The utility of sharing positive news and confiding in a romantic partner may also help explain the link between relationship status and well-being. In fact, how your partner receives your good news is more related to relationship stability than how they receive your bad news (Gable, Gonzaga, and Strachman, 2006)!
Yet another potential mechanism that explains the link between well-being and romantic relationships is felt understanding. The feeling that your needs and perspectives are being understood by others is associated with higher well-being (Reis, Clark, & Holmes, 2004; Reis, Lemay, & Finkenauer, 2017). Feeling understood by the person that you’re closest to seems to carry more weight than felt understanding from strangers, friends, or other social relationships.
So as you think about your relationship with your romantic partner, ask yourself how each of you are coming to the table with support. Are you supporting them financially, emotionally, and socially? Are they supporting you? When they bring you good news or bad, are you present and emotionally supportive? Does your partner leave you with the sense that they understand your needs and perspectives?
Try these out and be honest with yourself. And if it’s not where you feel it could or should be, make an attempt to be better and don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your partner about it! The satisfaction and happiness of both of you are on the line!
- Banse, R. (2004). Adult attachment and marital satisfaction: Evidence for dyadic configuration effects. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2, 273-282.
- Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.
- Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American couples: Money, work, sex. New York: William Morrow.
- Brown, S. L. (2000). The effect of union type on psychological well-being: Depression among cohabitors versus marrieds. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 241-255.
- Buss, D. M. (2000). The evolution of happiness. American Psychologist, 55, 15-23.
- Cassidy, J. (2000). Adult romantic attachments: A development perspective on individual differences. Review of General Psychology, 4, 111-131.
- Chambel, M. J., & Curral, L. (2005). Stress in academic life: Work characteristics as predictors of student well-being and performance. Applied Psychology, 54, 135-147.
- Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59, 676-684.
- Cotton, S. J., Dollard, M. F., & de Jonge, J. (2002). Stress and student job design: Satisfaction, well-being, and performance in university students. International Journal of Stress Management, 9, 147-162.
- Cutrona, C. E., & Russell, D. W. (1987). The provisions of social relationships and adaptation to stress. Advances in Personal Relationships, 1, 37-67.
- Davis, K. E., & Latty-Mann, H. (1987). Love styles and relationship quality: A contribution to validation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 409-428.
- Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 80-83.
- Diener, E., Gohm, C. L., Suh, E., & Oishi, S. (2000). Similarity of the relations between marital status and subjective well-being across cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31, 419-436.
- Drigotas, S. M., Rusbult, C. E., & Verette, J. (1999). Level of commitment, mutuality of commitment, and couple well-being. Personal Relationships, 6, 389-409.
- Dush, C. M. K., & Amato, P. R. (2005). Consequences of relationship status and quality for subjective well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 607–627.
- Dush, C. M. K., Taylor, M. G., & Kroeger, R. A. (2008). Marital happiness and psychological well-being across the life course. Family Relations, 57, 211-226.
- Efklides, A., Kalaitzidou, M., & Chankin, G. (2003). Subjective quality of life in old age in Greece. European Psychologist, 8, 178-191.
- Gable, S. L., Gonzaga, G. C., Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 904-917.
- Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245.
- Glenn, N. D., & Weaver, C. N. (1979). A note on family situation and global happiness. Social Forces, 57, 960-967.
- Gove, W. R., Style, C. B., & Hughes, M. (1990). The effect of marriage on the well-being of adults: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Family Issues, 11, 4-35.
- Hawkins, D. N., & Booth, A. (2005). Unhappily every after: Effects of long-term, low-quality marriages on well-being. Social Forces, 84, 451-471.
- Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1994). Attachment as an organizational framework for research on close relationships. Psychological Inquiry, 5, 1-22.
- Hendrick, C., & Hendrick, S. (1986). A theory and method of love. Journal of Social and Personal Psychology, 50, 392-402.
- Hendrick, S. S., Dicke, A., & Hendrick, C. (1988). The relationship assessment scale. Journal of Social and Personal Relationship, 15, 137-142.
- Holder, M. D. (2012). Predictors and correlates of well-being. In Happiness in children: Measurement, correlates, and enhancement of positive subjective well-being. SpringerBriefs in Well-Being and Quality of Life Research (pp. 35-38). Springer, Dordrecht.
- Horwitz, A. V., McLaughlin, J., & White, H. R. (1998). How the negative and positive aspects of partner relationships affect the mental health of young married people. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 39, 124-136.
- House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241, 540-545.
- Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2001). Social ties and mental health. Journal of Urban Health, 78, 458-467.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Newton, T. L., (2001). Marriage and health: His and hers. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 472-503.
- Kim, J., & Hatfield, E. (2004). Love types and subjective well-being: A cross-cultural study. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 32, 173-182.
- La Guardia, J. G., Ryan, R. M., Couchman, C. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Within-person variation in security of attachment: A self-determination theory perspective on attachment, need fulfillment, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 367-384.
- Lee, J. A. (1977). A typology of styles of loving. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 3, 173-182.
- Li, T., & Fung, H. F. (2014). How avoidant attachment influences subjective well-being: An investigation about the age and gender differences. Aging and Mental Health, 18, 4-10.
- Love, A. B. & Holder, M. D. (2015). Can romantic relationship quality mediate the relation between psychopathy and subjective well-being? Journal of Happiness Studies, 17, 2407-2429.
- Mastekaasa, A. (1994). The subjective well-being of the previously married: The importance of unmarried cohabitation and time since widowhood or divorce. Social Forces, 73, 665-692.
- Mehta, C. M., Walls, C., Scherer, E. A., Feldman, H. A., & Shrier, L. A. (2016). Daily affect and intimacy in emerging adult couples. Journal of Adult Development, 23, 101-110.
- Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Pereg, D. (2003). Attachment theory and affect regulation: The dynamics, development, and cognitive consequences of attachment-related strategies. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 77-102.
- Myers, D. (2000). The funds, friends and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55, 56–67.
- Perry-Smith, J. E. (2006). Social yet creative: The role of social relationships in facilitating individual creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 49, 85-101.
- Proulx, C. M., Helms, H. M., & Buehler, C. (2007). Marital quality and personal well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 576-593.
- Resnick, M. D., Bearnman, P. S., Blum, R. W., Bauman, K. E., Harris, K. M., Jones, J., et al. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 823-832.
- Richards, M., Hardy, R., & Wadsworth, M. (1997). The effects of divorce and separation on mental health in a national UK birth cohort. Psychological Medicine, 27, 1121-1128.
- Riehl-Emde, A., Thomas, V., & Willi, J. (2003). Love: An important dimension in marital research and therapy. Family Process, 42, 253-267.
- Reis, H. T., Clark, M. S., & Holmes, J. G. (2004). Perceived partner responsiveness as an organizing construct in the study of intimacy and closeness. In D. J. Mashek & A. P, Aron (Eds.), Handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 201-225). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Reis, H. T., Lemay, E. P. Jr., & Finkenauer, C. (2017). Toward understanding understanding: The importance of feeling understood in relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11, e12308.
- Sampson, R. J., Laub, J. H., & Wimer, C. (2006). Does marriage reduce crime? A counterfactual approach to within-individual causal effects. Criminology, 44, 465-508.
- Schiffrin, H. H. (2014). Positive psychology and attachment: Positive affect as a mediator of developmental outcomes. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23, 1062-1072.
- Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 971-980.
- Sprecher, S., & Cate, R. M. (2004). Sexual satisfaction and sexual expression as predictors of relationship satisfaction and stability. In J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 235-256). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Stack, S., & Eshleman, J. R. (1998). Marital status and happiness: A 17-nation study. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 527-536.
- Taylor, Z. E., Doane, L. D., & Eisenberg, N. (2013). Transitioning from high school to college: Relations of social support, ego-resiliency, and maladjustment during emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 2, 105-115.
- Umberson, D., Williams, K., Powers, D. A., Liu, H., & Needham, B. (2006). You make me sick: Marital quality and health over the life course. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47, 1-16.
- Uysal, A., Lin, H. L., Knee, C. R., & Bush, A. L. (2012). The association between self-concealment from one's partner and relationship well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 39-51.
- Van Buren, A., & Cooley, E. L. (2002). Attachment styles, view of self and negative affect. North American Journal of Psychology, 4, 417-430.
- Walen, H. R., & Lachman, M. E. (2000). Social support and strain from partner, family, and friends: Costs and benefits for men and women in adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17 , 5-30.
- Whisman, M. A. (2007). Marital distress and DSM-IV psychiatric disorders in a population-based national survey. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 638-643.
- Williams, D. G. (1988). Gender, marriage, and psychosocial well-being. Journal of Family Issues, 9, 452-468.
- Wu, Z., & Hart, R. (2002). The effects of marital and nonmarital union transition on health. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 420-432.