Women are happiest with first love and men with 'serial monogamy', study finds

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Men are happiest when they are "serial monogamists" - having a succession of faithful relationships but never getting married, a study published today shows.

Men are happiest when they are "serial monogamists" - having a succession of faithful relationships but never getting married, a study published today shows.

While marriage to their first love is the healthiest option for a woman's mental well-being, the male of the species is best off when he has a series of serious relationships which end before marriage, research indicates. The study of more than 4,000 Britons found that although weddings work for women, they are emotionally bad for men.

The term "serial monogamy" came into popular parlance as a description of men like the romantic but marriage-phobic character played by Hugh Grant in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Researchers from the University of London used findings from the annual British Household Panel Survey to look at how men and women are affected by the breakdown of relationships. They found that women who married the first man they had a relationship with had the best mental health. Women who had experienced several relationships and splits were found to be in the worst emotional state. Even single women who had never married or lived with a partner were happier than those who went through a split and found a new partner.

The happiest men were those who had cohabited with at least two different women before forming another relationship. Men who lived with their first partner but did not get married were also happier than those who wed their first love, the researchers found. While men became depressed when a relationship broke down, their mental state improved when they found a new partner. Women suffered more long-term effects from breaking up with a partner, and their mental health became worse the more splits they experienced.

Experts analysed answers from 4,430 men and women for their study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Dr Michaela Benzeval, the author of the study, said: "Oddly, the best mental health was observed in men who had undergone two or more partnership reformations. However, the mental health of women became worse as the number of partnership splits rose or similarly as the number of partnership reformations increased. The poorest mental health was among those women who had experienced multiple partnership splits."

The researchers want to conduct more studies to find out how the timings of relationships affect men and women.

Women's need for marriage to their first love is being undermined by a growing trend away from weddings and towards serial monogamy. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that weddings in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 1897. Marriage rates have halved in the past century, and brides and bridegrooms are getting older.

At the beginning of the 20th century, men married at an average age of 25, whereas women were 23. Now the typical bridegroom marrying for the first time is 30 years old, whereas his bride is 28.