Being in a romantic relationship can provide some obvious benefits, including a baked-in sense of support and a defense against loneliness. It's no surprise, then, that research suggests those who are in one experience slightly higher levels of well-being than those who aren't.
Or is it?
Romantic relationships can also be incredibly stressful – even the best ones include conflict, misunderstanding and compromise, as well as the risk of betrayal and hurt. With that in mind, does everyone receive a boost in well-being when they are romantically attached?
Nope. That's the takeaway from a recent study, published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, which found that some people are just as happy being single as they are being in a relationship.
The distinction hinges on a person's level of “avoidance social goals,” which the researchers define as the "motivation to maintain social connections by avoiding conflict or disagreements." Note that this does not reflect the desire to avoid relationships altogether, just the negative, thorny, confrontational aspects of them.
According to the study – which included two experiments, the first conducted with 189 college students and the second with a nationally representative survey of more than 4,000 New Zealand residents – those who scored high on the “avoidance social goals” spectrum reported similar life-satisfaction/well-being levels when single as when in a relationship. For this particular group, the researchers speculate, any benefits derived from a romantic relationship (connection, support, etc.) are negated by "the potential vulnerability of experience hurt and conflict."
On the flip side, individuals who reported low avoidance social goals – in other words, those who don't shy away from confrontation in personal relationships – received a higher-than-average boost in well-being from a romantic partnership.
The study doesn't refute previous research that suggests being in a relationship generally leads to higher levels of well-being. But it does reveal that this equation isn't true for everyone. For individuals hyper-attuned and hyper-averse to conflict, it appears that the inherent freedom of being single makes up for the benefits derived from being in a relationship.