3 Ways to Answer the “Would I Be Happier Single?” Question

5 min read
Ben Allan / Unsplash

Ben Allan / Unsplash

Many people come to therapy when their relationship is on the brink of collapse. They may say things like:

  • “I’m miserable in my relationship. How did it get this bad and what should I do about it?”
  • “I miss the days when I was single and could just do my own thing. I feel like I’m constantly responsible for my partner’s happiness. It’s an impossible situation.”
  • “Part of me wants to leave my partner for good. How can I be sure that it wouldn’t be a big mistake?”

If you feel this way, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for individualized guidance. Every relationship is different and, without knowing the full story, it’s difficult to reach any firm conclusions. Couples counseling is also a great idea for partners who are struggling to find common ground and wish to confront these feelings together.

However, there are some rules of thumb that can help guide your thinking on the “Would I be better off single?” question. Here are three.

1. Research offers clues, but can’t tell us if partnered people are happier than singles.

Some psychologists argue that being in a happy relationship makes you happier than being single, but a bad relationship can make you much unhappier than singlehood. In other words, relationships offer a happiness boost, but only the good ones.

Research on the topic, however, is far from clear-cut. Here are a few things we know:

  1. Some studies from the early 2000s suggested that married people were only slightly happier than unmarried people. And as alternatives to heterosexual marriage, including singlehood, have become more accepted in the years since, this gap may be shrinking.
  2. The happiness bump brought about by marriage may be temporary. One 2006 study found that happiness increased prior to marriage, leveled off in the first year of marriage, and then returned to its pre-relationship level.
  3. Happy people may be more likely to enter relationships in the first place, making it even more difficult to know if relationships make people happy or if happy people naturally gravitate toward relationships.
  4. According to some estimates, approximately half of adults find it difficult to be in long-term relationships.
  5. Generally speaking, jobs—especially ones that give us a sense of purpose and meaning—matter more to our happiness levels than marriage.

What can be deduced from this information? Perhaps the most obvious conclusion is that you can’t look to scientific research for a plan of action. You need to assess your specific situation—weighing the pros of your current relationship against the benefits of singlehood while invoking both short- and long-term viewpoints.

2. There are two sides to the regret equation.

The second thing to keep in mind is that no matter what course of action you choose you will experience some degree of regret. If you choose to stay in your current relationship, you may regret the fact you didn’t give yourself the opportunity to explore other avenues. If you choose to leave, you’ll regret what could have been.

A useful thought exercise is to think about which regret will sting more in the long run. More recent research suggests that people tend to experience deeper and more lasting regret for actions they didn’t take as opposed to things they did (and later regretted).

What might that mean for you? Does it mean that you’ll have more regret for not staying in your current relationship and giving it your best shot? Or does that mean you’ll never forgive yourself for not exploring other options? Only you know the answer to this question.

3. Test your levels of nostalgia and sentimentality.

Sometimes our desire to be single comes from a yearning to return to an earlier time in our lives when things felt more in place. And, while changes to our current way of life (relationships, jobs, living arrangements, etc.) can and do impact our happiness, it’s important to know that it’s impossible to recreate the past.

Check whether nostalgic feelings might be coloring your perceptions of singlehood versus partnership. Here is one scale to get you started. Think about how much you agree/disagree with these seven statements to gauge your level of nostalgia:

  1. I think about the past often.
  2. The past is very important to me.
  3. My feelings about my past are a large part of my present outlook.
  4. When I think about the past I well up with positive emotions.
  5. I am more sentimental than most people I know.
  6. If people knew my past, they would view me favorably.
  7. I long to return to a simpler time.

Singlehood Essential Reads

It’s important not to let a longing for the past dictate your present choices. Use it as information, but don’t expect to relive a time that has come and gone.


It’s always important to take stock of your current happiness levels and look for ways to improve your health, attitude, and outlook. Know that both singlehood and partnership have their pros and cons. Be honest with yourself and your loved ones—and approach your decision-making process with curiosity, rigor, and patience.

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