If you want to be content with your partner, don’t have children

There’s nothing to keep us together if we’re not happy with each other


Having dyed my hair a shade somewhere between deep aubergine and mangy fox for my entire adult life, I can’t tell you whether blondes have more fun. Maybe it just looks like they’re having fun because they’re easier to spot in a dark room. Gothy types like me are probably lurking in a corner, wondering if absinthe will render us blind or merely provide an interesting diversion.

This, you see, is the kind of behaviour I can indulge in, with only partial disapproval from onlookers, because I don’t have children. This week saw the release of a new study by the Economic and Science Research Council which suggests that childless couples are happier with their partners than couples who have children.

Amazingly, in spite of being on the receiving end of an almost constant parade of criticism for everything they do, mothers are the happiest of us all, at least among the 5,000 people sampled by the study. But they aren’t so happy with their partners: whereas the childless – and the study made special mention of those in lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender relationships – turn out to be happier with their mates.

At least in part, you have to assume that it’s because childless couples have nothing to keep them together if they’re not happy. No one has to stay together for the sake of anyone (pets and ruinous mortgages notwithstanding), so we stay together because we continue to want to be with one another. That, and the fact that if my partner ever left me, I would be found standing in the middle of our flat, weeping, and wondering which of the many machines beneath our TV actually plays DVDs.

When asked who the most important person in their lives was, only 47 per cent of fathers said it was their children. Dads were more likely to consider their partner their most significant other: just over half of them picked their wives. Meanwhile, almost 75 per cent of mothers picked their children. This makes it all the more astonishing that mothers notch up so much happiness. The thought of having your attention focused on someone so small seems terrifying to me. The more I think about it, the more it seems a triumph that any mother allows their child out of their sight at all. Why are they not all standing at the school gates, howling?

This, in case you’re wondering, is why I don’t have children. I spent last year writing a book in which someone experiences my greatest fear – losing the love of her life in shocking circumstances. There were times when I could barely stand to see my partner leave the building in case something similar happened to him. And he is tall and has had years of practice crossing roads and not getting into fights.

The study went on to observe that small acts of intimacy – cups of tea in bed and watching telly together – tend to have a greater impact on our happiness than grand gestures. And that, of course, is what child-free couples can spend their time doing. No worrying about babysitters before deciding to go to the pictures. No arguing with a small fascist about the virtues of eating vegetables. The only person who has to finish homework before sitting down to a DVD marathon in our flat is me. And being responsible for yourself is much easier than being responsible for another person.

The sheer logistics of being a couple work in your favour. Two diaries fit together pretty easily. Throw in violin lessons and beginners’ judo, and suddenly it all goes wrong. Perhaps it’s no surprise that couples without children are happier with their other halves. They’re all we have, all we want, and we cherish them accordingly.

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