Most people desire to make to a long-term commitment to another person. Long-term relationships and marriage can bring out both the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals involved. Even when choosing a partner wisely, there are many issues to be faced and potential stumbling blocks that need to be navigated.
Individuals change throughout life. Learning to change individually as well as together as a couple usually presents challenges. When the challenges are navigated well, the emotional and physical health of the parents are enhanced. Married men are healthier than those who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce. A 32-year, long-term study (2021) of 10,000 men found that men who perceive their marriage as unsuccessful are at a higher risk of premature death and stroke compared to happily married men.
Additional challenges and rewards occur when children are brought into the family. Many studies show that marital relationship functioning declines during the transition to parenthood. Once the child arrives, the personal dedication and relationship confidence dropped for cohabiting fathers, compared to married fathers. After the birth of the baby, cohabitating couples broke up more frequently than married couples. Additionally, there is a so-called ‘happiness penalty’ that parents of small children experience compared to nonparents, usually a result of increased demands on their time, poorer sleep, and increased responsibilities. Yet, parenthood can lead to happiness and the parents’ well-being is influenced by their personalities, ages, family structure, parenting styles, and bonds developed with the children. Except for stress, people who live with children tend to feel more fulfilled and happier in English-speaking countries. Family relationships become more important to well-being as individuals age, the needs for caregiving change, and their social ties in the workplace diminish.
Constructively managing the additional stresses and joys of expanding the family is challenging and facilitated by having a support system. When the challenges are not met effectively, psychologists can be very helpful.