When it comes to learning from the best, we should turn to our elders more often. After all, science has confirmed that wisdom really does come from old age.
That’s why a study that came out last year and focused on older couples who were born in 1953 or earlier is worth revisiting. According to these findings, the secret to a happy marriage might just be tossing back a few glasses of wine—or beer or margaritas or whatever—with your spouse.
Researchers from the University of Michigan were interested in getting a better understanding of how alcohol use impacts marriage quality. A number of previous studies have investigated the role drinking plays for newly married couples, but, the study’s authors reasoned, it’s important to understand how drinking affects older couples’ marriages; stress from criticism or other negativity is often associated with negative health outcomes and well-being. They proposed that drinking compatibility would become more important with age because “as people age and perceive time as more limited, they become more invested in attaining emotion-focused goals which emphasize the importance of maintaining emotionally close and meaningful relationships.”
The study’s authors analyzed the responses of 4,864 married individuals who’d participated in a nationally representative longitudinal study. Couples had been married for an average of 33 years—goals!—and approximately two thirds of them were still in their first marriage. In addition to gathering demographic information, the survey also inquired about alcohol use (how often and how much they drink, etc.) and the negative qualities of their marriage (how often their spouse criticizes or disappoints them, etc.).
Overall, more than half (62 percent) of the sample reported drinking alcohol, and husbands were more likely to indulge than wives. The most prevalent pattern, however, was that husbands and wives were more compatible in their drinking. “Among 45 percent of couples, both wives and husbands reported drinking, followed by neither wife nor husband drinking (29 percent), husband only drinking (17 percent), and wife only drinking (8 percent),” the study states. “Thus, in terms of drinking any alcohol, concordance and discordance characterized 74 percent and 25 percent of couples, respectively.”
Moreover, “drinking concordance among drinkers but not among nondrinkers was associated with reduced negative marital quality.” Or, in other words, going tit for tat with your husband at the bar (of course, in moderation) means you’re more likely to have a better relationship than if there’s only one drinker in the household.
“We’re not suggesting that people should drink more or change the way they drink,” lead study author Kira Birditt, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan, told Reuters 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.”
As you can see, the keyword is together. That concept was echoed in a 2015 study from Cornell University that interviewed more than 700 individuals wedded for a total of 40,000 years. One of the top five takeaways from that project? “Learn to work as a team.”