Couples that get drunk together stay together. Or rather, older married couples who have a closely-matched alcohol consumption are more likely to stay married. Those are the findings of a new study published in the Journal of Gerontology, which looked at the effects of alcohol on the relationships of older people.
The study looked at a sample of 2,767 married couples over the age of 50 and found that the more similar they were in their drinking habits, the more likely they were to get along. The important number wasn’t the amount that they drank, but the fact that they matched each other in terms of average intake.
To make it clearer, consider the most problematic relationship found by the researchers: a man who drinks little, while his wife drinks a lot. "When wives drank and the husbands didn’t, wives reported they were more dissatisfied with their marriage," reports Reuters.
"We’re not sure why this is happening," lead author Kira Birditt, of the University of Michigan, told Reuters, "but it could be that couples that do more leisure time activities together have better marital quality."
To determine both the drinking habits and the happiness levels of the participants, Birditt’s team interviewed them over 10 years. The questionnaire covered the frequency and amount of drinking, and whether or not they drank at all. It also covered the marriage, "including whether they thought their spouses were too demanding or too critical, if their spouse was reliable when they needed help and if they found their spouse irritating," says Reuters Health.
Husbands were more likely to drink than wives, but in more than half of all couples, both drank.
Other interesting results arose from the study. Drinking among older people is on the rise, "especially among baby boomers, who seem more accepting of alcohol use," said Birditt. Also, 20% of the men and 6% of the women in the study were problem drinkers.
Positive marital quality is important for the long-term health of married people. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that marital strain accelerates a decline in health, and that this effect is stronger the older one gets. The effects of negative marital quality were also found to be cumulative, which means that as we get older, marital harmony is very important.
The key, then, is to try to stay matched, drinking-wise. If one member of the marriage has to stop drinking, then the other should do so, too, or at least make a reduction to close the gap. Equally, in a mismatched couple, the heavier drinker should cut down. Failure to do so could have negative health effects on both in the future.
Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it's interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.