Can You be just as Happy Staying Single?

A study published last month in the journal Social, Psychological and Personality Science addressed the age-old question: Does being in a relationship make you happier?

It’s a general myth, accepted by most of society, that relationship status is tied into happiness. When couples break up and marriages dissolve, there is often implicit pressure on each individual to find a new partner, and do so rather quickly. The change from being part of a couple to becoming single can sometimes even make friends and family uncomfortable. Being alone is equated with loneliness and, of course, no one wants to be that “third wheel” in a social situation, right?

The recent research, mentioned above, suggests we need to reexamine these beliefs. With the single adult population on the rise in Western countries (it’s estimated that about half the adults in the US are single), this is an important topic. These latest findings, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, reveal that single people can be just as happy and fulfilled as those who are coupled.

There are certainly advantages to being single. Making your own decisions, without the need to consult a partner, is an obvious one. Studies have also found that single people tend to have closer relationships with family and friends. Other research points out that singles are generally more physically fit and better rested than those who are coupled — statistics probably explained by having more personal time for self-care and not sleeping two to a bed.

However, according to the above research, the main factor determining whether someone can be as happy single as in a committed relationship, depends on how they feel about relationships in general.

Individuals who view conflict, and the ups and downs of a relationship, as a source of stress do seem happier when on their own. On the other hand, people who do not view the challenges of being in a relationship as troublesome, tend to be more satisfied when coupled.

So what does this mean?

As an experienced relationship expert, I believe there are multiple paths to finding happiness, and I respect each individual’s choice.  However, it should be mentioned that just because singles are happy not being in a relationship doesn’t mean they can’t be happy in a relationship.

Someone who is uncomfortable with conflict, and finds it stressful, likely grew up in a high-conflict family environment. Or, alternatively, had a family experience of the opposite extreme and never witnessed any conflict. If you have rarely, if ever, experienced or witnessed a healthy outcome from a disagreement, conflict would naturally be something to avoid — sometimes at all cost.

On the other hand, singles who witnessed give-and-take adult exchanges that ended well at least some of the time, are able to tolerate disagreements without much difficulty. They view conflict as acceptable and don’t avoid it in their own lives. In other words, they associate conflict as a natural part of a healthy relationship, and are happiest when they are in one.

I believe even singles who shy away from relationships, and struggle to tolerate their ups & downs (and the inevitable disagreements that ensue) can in fact be happy in relationships. It typically requires them to go to counseling, and work through the issues that contributed to their stress and conflict avoidant tendencies. However, they can learn to tolerate and better cope with relationship ups and downs, and appreciate the positive aspects of having a partner in their life.

The preference to stay single is perfectly fine, of course. But these individuals need to be honest with themselves. They are choosing to avoid the conflict and stress that is often a part of relationships. I would recommend looking at all lifestyle options, and working through any issues in individual or couples counseling, if appropriate. (Conflict avoidance is a fairly common tendency that also affects many people in relationships too!)

Paradoxically, someone who is truly content and happy being single, is actually in the ideal spot to embark a potentially healthy relationship without any desperation or neediness. Singles are certainly better off staying single until they are ready to be in a healthy relationship for the right reasons.

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