Married couples who have similar drinking habits tend to be happier than couples where only one partner drinks alcohol, researchers have suggested. Analysis of data for a nationally representative sample of heterosexual US couples over the age of 50 found that women in particular were more dissatisfied in their relationship when they, but not their husbands, were drinkers.
Overall, couples had better marriages if both partners drank alcohol or if both partners abstained. “We’re not suggesting that people should drink more or change the way they drink,” said Dr Kira Birditt of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who studies relationships across adulthood and authored the report.
She told a news agency Health: “We’re not sure why this is happening, but it could be that couples that do more leisure time activities together have better marital quality.”
The research, published in Journals of Gerontology B: Psychological Sciences, took into account survey responses from 2,767 married couples participating in a long-term Health and Retirement Survey. Over a period of ten years, all participants sat interviews with researchers and answered questions about their drinking habits – whether they drank, how many days a week they drank and how many drinks they had each day.
The couples were married for an average of 33 years, and around two-thirds were in their first marriage. In more than half of the couples studied, both members drank alcohol. While wives were overall less likely to drink alcohol than their husbands, they reported greater dissatisfaction within their marriage when they were the lone drinker within the relationship.
“The study shows that it’s not about how much they’re drinking, it’s about whether they drink at all,” said Ms Birditt. But, she emphasised, drinking among older adults is becoming an increasing problem, “especially among baby boomers, who seem more accepting of alcohol use.”
Around 20 per cent of men and 6 per cent of the women surveyed proved to have significant drinking problems. Dr Fred Blow, another researcher at the University of Michigan said: “Problem drinkers are a whole different kettle of fish. Serious heavy drinkers have disruptive relationships with people, particularly their partners. That’s an important issue that should be looked at going forward.”
Speaking on the report,
Elaine Hindal, Chief Executive of the alcohol education charity Drinkaware said: “Alcohol can also have a negative effect on relationships if not drunk in moderation. Alcohol works on the brain to lower our inhibitions which can lead you to say something in an argument which you may come to regret."