Older married couples who drink together (or not) tend to be happier together, compared with couples where only one partner drinks. This is according to a U.S. study that analysed just over 4,800 married men and women aged 50 and above -- who've been married for more than 30 years.
Of the pairs analysed, 45 percent both reported drinking. "Couples who both reported drinking reported decreased negative marital quality over time," the study noted.
This effect appeared to be stronger for wives than husbands.
In contrast, where wives drank and the husbands didn't, wives reported more dissatisfaction with their marriage.
Wives who drank but had husbands who did not drink reported increased negative marital quality over time
"The study shows that it's not about how much they're drinking, it's about whether they drink at all," one of the study authors, Dr Kira Birditt told Reuters.
This shows that drinking status appears to be more important among older couples than frequency or quantity of consumption, the study contends.
The authors reasoned that this may be so because older individuals are less likely to engage in heavy drinking. It could also be that older couples have over time learned to adapt to their spouse's heavy drinking or variations in levels of drinking, the study notes.
"We're not suggesting that people should drink more or change the way they drink," said Birditt. "We're not sure why this is happening, it could be that couples that do more leisure time activities together have better marital quality." And this is not limited to drinking alcohol, Birditt noted.
The authors believe the report's findings are important because improving relationship quality may be associated with other positive health outcomes such as improved health behaviours, especially among older adults who might be more distressed by the negative aspects of their relationships.
They also note the findings' correlation with compatibility theories of marriage that suggest that couples who are similar tend to fare better.