20 November 2012 18:45 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor, MSN Him

Is marriage worth it for men?

One expert says couples’ expectations of marriage are too high. So should men bother at all?

Married couple under water (© Getty Images)

Marriage rates are falling and divorces are on the rise. Now add to that sense of gloom the news that a senior high court judge who has presided over thousands of divorces thinks that too many of us have elevated expectations of what married life should be.

Is there a crisis of marriage? Judge Sir Paul Coleridge, who also founded a pro-marriage charity called the Marriage Foundation, seems to think so. He believes our focus on high-profile celebrity marriages can lead to a greater sense of disappointment in our own.

On top of that, other evidence suggests men are being turned off marriage by stories of the penury and misery that can accompany marriage breakdown, especially when there are children involved. Groups like Fathers4Justice claim that men are still given a very short straw when it comes to access to families after a failed marriage.

Which all begs a fundamental question. Is marriage worth it for men anymore, or are we better off not bothering with marriage at all?

Celebrity marriages

According to Sir Paul, the fairytale weddings and jetset lifestyles of celebrity couples are creating a sense of disappointment in our own relationships.

“There is a disconnect between the nature of real long-term relationships and the dramatised and apparently more exciting versions portrayed on screen,” said Sir Paul.

“This must create a false expectation within the participants that in some way their relationships will be better, easier and, above all, more exciting than the average.”

William and Kate (© Getty Images)

The answer to that, of course, is not to have such high expectations. Your marriage is likely to be pretty bog standard. Sir Paul compares marriage to a cricket Test match, where “most of the time not very much happens.”

He is a supporter of marriage, and his aim is to give people realistic expectations of their married life, but it’s not much of an advert for matrimonial bliss, is it? Wouldn’t we be better off staying unbetrothed?

Marriage rates declining

That’s certainly what many people must be thinking, with married couples now making up less than half the population. The number of unmarried adults has also reached record levels.

“One of the main reasons for the decrease in the married population and the increase in the single population is the growth of cohabitation by unmarried couples,” says the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

How content are those of us who are married? Well, half of all divorces occur in the first seven years of marriage, and according to Kate Figes, author of Couples – The Truth (Virago), “many of these are triggered by a sense of disappointment, rather than by irretrievable breakdown.”

Arguing couple (© 4FR, Getty Images)

There’s no longer any social pressure for men to marry the first woman they sleep with, or even a woman they make pregnant, and cohabitation - often for long spells and even lifetimes - is increasingly the norm.

Add that to the fact that the average wedding now costs north of £25,000, the lack of fairness some men suggest is inherent in divorce law, and the fact that even supporters of marriage admit it’s a long, often mundane slog, and you understand why many men are deciding to give the whole thing a miss.

But marriage is good for men

All that might be true, but the flip side is that - despite everything - marriage is good for us. And according to research, it’s particularly good for men.

And by good, we mean healthy. A major survey of 127,545 American adults found that married men are healthier than men who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce or widowhood.

In another study, scientists evaluated 3,682 adults over 10 years. Even after taking major cardiovascular risk factors such as age, body fat, smoking and cholesterol into account, married men had a 46% lower rate of death in that period than unmarried men.

Kissing older couple (© Guido Mieth, Getty Images)

There’s a proviso to all this, mind. A study of 9,000 British civil servants found that stressful marriages might increase a man’s chances of heart disease, so it could be that only happy marriages give men the full health benefits.

Why might marriage be good for men’s health? Well, married men are nagged by their wives, as we all know. But if they’re nagged to go to the doctor when they’re sick, that’s a plus. Studies have also revealed that married men tend to curtail self-destructive habits - like eating junk food and binge drinking - more than unmarried men.

Finally, a study by Harvard University found that socially isolated men have an 82% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with men who have strong interpersonal relationships. The strongest interpersonal relationship many men will form is with their spouse.

Is marriage worth it?

In terms of health and wellbeing, marriage does appear to be worth it for some men, but only if the marriage is a good one. Men who want the health benefits of marriage would be better off copying the behaviour of married men - by making wise lifestyle choices, going to the doctor regularly and forging close social relationships - rather than dragging an unsuitable partner up the aisle.

As a romantic endeavour, marriage does seem to be declining, with many men choosing to cohabit or stay single instead.

So is marriage worth it for men? Yes, if (as Sir Paul would advise) you see it as a Test match rather than a fairytale, and are prepared to work hard at it. If that doesn’t sound like the life for you, you may be better off giving marriage a miss.

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