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Marry My Friend ?

A well respected Rabbi I knew told me to marry my friend. At the time I didn’t get it. I thought friends are friends and you marry someone you’re madly in love with. I was in my early 20s and he was 75. This Rabbi was so wise. Fast forward years later and I’m meeting young brides and grooms looking to me for guidance. Not only am I a cantor who officiates Jewish weddings, I help brides and grooms learn about what makes a successful marriage. I’m not an expert by any means but have been officiating weddings for 20+ years and also have been happily married for many years as well.

I shared the following with a bride and groom that came to meet me to officiate their Jewish wedding ceremony that according to a study recently published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, married couples who said their spouse was their best friend reported significantly higher rates of life satisfaction than less friendly couples. About half of married or co-habitating couples said their partner was their best friend, and they get almost twice as much “additional life satisfaction” from the relationship than other couples. This finding was consistent even when the researchers controlled for age, gender, income, and health, and was still higher for married buddies than cohabitating couples who said they were best friends.

The benefit of having your spouse be your best friend was much higher for women than for men, but women were also less likely to say that their spouse was their BFF (perhaps because women tend to have lots of close female friendships, while men tend to have fewer.

Marriage rates have declined by 60% since 1970 in 2013 the U.S. marriage rate was the lowest in 100 years (only 31.1 marriages per 1,000 married women). But according to researchers Shawn Grover and John F. Helliwell, who compiled the study on marriage and happiness for the NBER, marriage is strongly correlated with increased happiness, even in less fun periods of life like middle age (this is not to say that middle-aged married people are super happy, they’re just happier than unmarried middle-aged people). They found that even when controlling for the possibility that naturally happy people may be more likely to get married in the first place, marriage comes with a significant increase in life satisfaction. And that increase in life satisfaction endures past the newlywed phase and often result in increased happiness in the long term.

And while marriage is increasingly becoming a “luxury good” common among the rich and college-educated, Grover and Helliwell controlled for income in their research, which means that the well-being that comes from marriage isn’t the same as the well-being that comes from wealth.

I get so much pleasure from speaking and singing at a Jewish wedding ceremony, but I feel fulfilled as a human being when I can share what I know with hopeful couples who are about commit to each other for the rest of their lives.

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