How does drinking impact your marriage in retirement?

Last updated on 3 April 2024

According to a new theory, the couple that drinks together — stays together. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • The Australian Guidelines have recommended that healthy adults should drink a maximum of 10 standard drinks a week to cut the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury
  • A standard drink contains about 10 grams of alcohol — the amount your body can process in one hour, on average
  • Excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact your relationship

Although a great deal of research has examined the implications of couples’ drinking patterns for marital outcomes, the impact it can have on a person’s health is less clear.

In a recent study published in The Gerontologist, Kira Birditt, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, found that couples with shared drinking behaviour — that is, both members drink alcohol — would tend to live longer.

Professor Birditt said a theory in alcohol literature called ‘the drinking partnership,’ where couples who have similar patterns of alcohol use tend to have better marital outcomes, such as less conflict and longer marriages, was the inspiration behind the study.

She claimed behaviours that are good for marriage are not necessarily good for a person’s health.

“The purpose of this study was to look at alcohol use in couples in the Health and Retirement Study and the implications for mortality,” she said.

“We found, interestingly, that couples in which both indicated drinking alcohol in the last three months lived longer than the other couples that either both indicated not drinking or had discordant drinking patterns in which one drank and the other did not.”

Although that may sound like that’s a recommendation to drink more with your spouse, Birditt warned against people interpreting the findings in that way.

The study specifically looked at drinking patterns and defined ‘drinking’ very broadly, examining whether or not a participant had had a drink within the last three months.

However, it may suggest the importance of remembering how spouses can impact each other’s health.

Shared patterns of alcohol consumption in couples may be a reflection of compatibility among partners in their lifestyles, intimacy and relationship satisfaction.

“We’ve also found, in other studies, that couples who drink together tend to have better relationship quality and it might be because it increases intimacy,” Birditt said.

She added that further research would be needed to explore further questions related to couples’ alcohol consumption and how it affects their relationship.

“We don’t know why both partners drinking is associated with better survival. I think using the other techniques that we use in our studies, in terms of the daily experiences and ecological momentary assessment questionnaires, could really get at that to understand, for example, focusing on concordant drinking couples,” she said.

“What are their daily lives like? Are they drinking together? What are they doing when they are drinking?

“There is also little information about the daily interpersonal processes that account for these links. Future research should assess the implications of couple drinking patterns for daily marital quality and daily physical health outcomes.”

According to the Australian Government resource HealthDirect, excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact relationships and lead to:

  • arguments;
  • a reduced sex drive;
  • social alienation;
  • setting a bad example for your children.

If you or someone you know needs support or help with their drinking, you can contact:

  • your doctor;
  • your local community health service;
  • the Alcoholics Anonymous Australia website, or call 1300 222 222.

How do you keep your marriage alive and your bad habits at bay in retirement? Let the team at Your Retirement Living know and subscribe to the newsletter for more news, information and industry updates.

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