New research provides insight into how different emotions change before and after moving in together with a romantic partner, marriage, separation, and divorce. The findings, published in the journal Emotion, indicate that changes in psychological well-being due to these major romantic relationship events are only transient.
“Nearly everyone would intuitively agree that romantic relationships greatly affect how we feel,” said study author Eva Asselmann, a professor of differential and personality psychology at the Health and Medical University in Potsdam.
“For example, we are typically happier when getting married but sadder when breaking up. We aimed to find out how large such emotional changes are, how long they last, and if they vary for different types of emotions (e.g., happiness vs. sadness).”
The data for the new research came from the Socio-Economic Panel Study, a nationally representative household panel study conducted in Germany that began in 1984. Participants were asked yearly about major relationship events. They were also asked how often they had felt a variety of emotions and completed assessments of life satisfaction.
“Using data from more than 30,000 people in Germany, we examined how levels of happiness, sadness, anxiety, and anger change in the five years before and five years after moving in with a partner, marriage, separation, and divorce,” Asselmann explained.
Between 2007 and 2019, 4,399 participants moved in with a partner, 3,731 participants got married, 3,538 participants separated from a partner, and 1,103 participants got divorced.
“Our findings revealed that especially happiness increased around positive events (moving in with a partner and marriage) and especially sadness increased around negative events (separation and divorce),” Asselmann told PsyPost. “These changes were most pronounced at the time of the event and attenuated in the long run, so that people ended up with similar well-being levels five years after vs. five years before the event. Overall, well-being changes were much larger around negative vs. positive events, and changes in anxiety and anger were comparatively small.”
“Our study suggests that well-being changes due to major romantic relationship events (e.g., a marriage or breakup) are only transient. In the long run, they affect our well-being much less than one would intuitively assume. Other factors (e.g., how we behave and treat each other in everyday life) might be much more important for enduring happiness and satisfaction in and beyond romantic relationships. Targeted interventions could be useful to promote happiness beyond the first year of marriage or to screen for serious mental health impairments shortly after a breakup.”
Interestingly, the researchers observed that changes in well-being tended to start for many individuals several years before the actual relationship event occurred. For example, well-being tended to increase in the years before moving in with a partner and marriage. Similarly, well-being tended to decrease in the years leading up to separation and divorce.
“It would be interesting to further investigate whether the effects differ between people who experience certain events (e.g., a romantic breakup) for the first time or repeatedly. Future research may also look at specific contextual factors and, for example, examine whether breakups have different emotional consequences in people living with and without children.”
The researchers previously used data from the Socio-Economic Panel Study to examine changes the Big Five personality traits in the years before and after relationship events. They found that less agreeable individuals were more likely to experience both positive and negative events. In addition, they observed short-term changes in openness in the wake of moving in with a partner, getting married, and getting separated.
The study, “Changes in happiness, sadness, anxiety, and anger around romantic relationship events“, was authored by Eva Asselmann and Jule Specht.