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Is it better to be in a relationship?

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Research has found that people in relationships are generally in better physical health than their single counterparts due to the decrease in opportunities to smoke, eat fast food and drink alcohol. Single people are, therefore, at a greater risk of illness and disease resulting from lifestyle factors than those in relationships.
  • Up to 32% of women say they are happy when single, compared with only 19% of men. This might be a result of females becoming tired and bored of relationships, and knowing that once they are again single they may experience a reduction in various pressures that come from being with a partner.

 

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Which is better: being single or being in a relationship? Let’s try to solve the vicious cycle of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

One single lady we interviewed said: “When we’re born, we’re born alone, so when we go anywhere, why shouldn’t we also go alone? I don’t see why I should have to worry about someone else. Being single is great. You don’t feel a duty to anyone.”  

A 35-year-old woman who has been married for 3 years shared her opinion on the matter, saying: “Single people don’t understand that when you find that special someone and spend your life sharing experiences with them, it can bring you a level of happiness that is impossible to put into words.”

A lady in her 50s who divorced her husband when she was 37 had another perspective, saying: “I am the sole carer for my child these days, and that isn’t a problem at all. I don’t see why you need a partner for life.”

There are sure to be numerous occasions in life when we are forced to consider which is better: being single or being in a relationship. The benefits of each differ in terms of emotional and health factors involved, and depend entirely on the individual’s existing foundations of physical and emotional health.

Whose health is generally better? Comparing singles and couples.

The annual Queensland Social Survey of 15,001 men and women in Australia on the topic of health found that people with partners were less likely to smoke, consume fast food and drink alcohol. This study leads us to conclude that from a social standpoint, single people are at a higher risk of illness resulting from unhealthy lifestyles than those in a relationship.

In terms of happiness, who fares better? Singles or those in a relationship?

Although happiness is not easily defined, we generally consider a person’s outlook on life to analyze if there are more positives than negatives. Having a positive outlook on life can depend on one’s prior experiences, the care provided by one’s family and at school teachers, and the guidance received from close friends, all of which can determine the extent to which we are flexible or open-minded.

A study from Mintel’s Single Lifestyles UK 2017 Report carried out in England into a group of 45–65 year old adults found that as many as 32% of single women in this age group were happy with their single lives, compared with just 19% of their male counterparts. This could be due to the natural tendency of women to be more caring and empathetic than men, meaning that they often work harder to build or maintain relationships for a sustained period of time. However, the amount of hard work women put into maintaining a relationship may eventually take its toll, causing them to feel fed up. Ending the relationship might release associated pressures. Singles can come home as late as they please, free from the responsibilities that come with being in a relationship. They can take up a range of new activities and meet up with friends as they wish.

Is it truly healthy to be in love?

The word ‘love’ is one that many of us shy away from using, whether we are referring to a family member or expressing love for a partner whom we may one day hope to marry. Should we eventually find the love of our life, we must be prepared to share with them both good and bad times well into old age. Only then can we say we have experienced true love.

Research shows that a number of hormonal processes are triggered as we enter the various stages of love. These stages include:

  • First sight: Adrenaline makes our heart beat faster and turns our face red.
  • Forming the relationship: Testosterone and estrogen, which are the male and female hormones respectively, cause feelings of passion, sensuality and sexual desire.
  • Becoming closer: Oxytocin, a hormone produced when we hug, make contact or have sex, is created in greater amounts and leads to our feeling a stronger bond with our partner. This can generally mean an increased understanding and mutual respect for one another. For some people, these feelings may be so strong as to trigger mild delirium, as well as an inability to eat or sleep properly.
  • Reaching the pinnacle of happiness: Endorphins are chemicals similar to morphine, and help our bodies overcome pain. When their production is triggered by a positive event, they lead to feelings of euphoria and naturally relieve any physical pain we may be feeling at the time. They tend to be produced during continuous exercise, as well as when we feel stressed, although they are most prevalent when we orgasm during sex.
  • Increasing our mutual understanding: Serotonin in the brain and central nervous system helps us control our appetite, sleep pattern and sexual desire. It is also responsible for our feeling at peace and can reduce aggressive tendencies. We often define this hormone as “the special one” because it can make us feel a sense of importance to the person we love. However, too much of this hormone in our body can result in heightened anxiety, overthinking, obnoxiousness and mood swings. On the other hand, a serotonin deficiency can cause depression or feelings of paranoia.

To conclude, being in love can have an indirect effect on a person’s happiness due to the hormonal processes that are triggered when we are with that special person. These processes are so powerful that they have the ability to reduce the stress we may feel in our daily lives. One research paper suggests that a person is up to 43% more likely to suffer an early death should they suffer from stress, although the authors of the research concede that this is only the case in those groups who believe in the dangers that stress can bring. For those who suffer from high stress levels but do not give it any serious consideration, the chances of them losing their lives earlier than their unstressed counterparts were significantly lower. The researchers therefore concluded that stress is only as dangerous as we allow it to be. If we can accept that stress is a normal part of life, manage it appropriately and adjust our outlook as necessary, there is no need for us to worry about stress taking over our life.

We can now safely assume that happiness is not directly associated with being single or being in a relationship. Instead, happiness is entirely dependent on numerous individual factors, meaning that we should not place our hopes and expectations of achieving happiness by entering into a relationship or remaining single.


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Supawong Assadamongkol, M.D. Summary: Preventive Medicine ,public Health Preventive Medicine ,public Health