What is it about?

Nearly everyone would intuitively agree that romantic relationships greatly affect how we feel. 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). 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. Our findings revealed that especially happiness increased around positive events (moving in together and marriage) and especially sadness increased around negative events (separation and divorce). 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.

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Why is it important?

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. 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.

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This page is a summary of: Changes in happiness, sadness, anxiety, and anger around romantic relationship events., Emotion, August 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/emo0001153.
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