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Matching Drinking Habits May Mean a Happier Marriage

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Here’s a tip for those of you looking for that special someone: Try to find somebody who drinks like you do. A survey of older adults has found that couples in which both partners drank—and those in which both abstained—reported less trouble in their marriages. The survey results were published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Studies have suggested that couples can benefit from compatible drinking habits, but social scientist Kira Birditt noticed that most of those studies were conducted on young people and focused on positive measurements like satisfaction. Birditt, who studies relationships across adulthood, wondered how the same issues would play out in older couples in longer marriages, and what the negative effects might be.

So Birditt and her colleagues collected data from 4864 married participants in the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study. The participants were heterosexual, between the ages of 52 and 92, and had been married an average of 33 years when the study began. Couples answered questions both in the lab and at home via mail-in questionnaires about their alcohol preferences, including whether they drank, how often they drank, and how much they had to drink. They were also asked to rate their negative feelings about their spouses: Were they too needy? Too critical? Unreliable? Irritating?

When it came to drinking habits, the results were not terribly surprising; 45 percent of all the couples were made up of two regular drinkers. Non-drinking couples made up another 29 percent. In 17 percent of couples, just the husband drank, while 8 percent reported a non-drinking husband and a drinking wife.

So just 25 percent of couples were mismatched in their drinking habits. But those people—especially the female members of those partnerships—were significantly unhappier than people married to their drinking or non-drinking buddies.

The most negative responses came from women who drank and were married to men who did not. The researchers aren’t exactly sure why female participants found these mismatches more problematic. It could be, they write, that wives are, and are expected to be, more observant about their relationships, and therefore more sensitive. It’s also possible that because our culture considers drinking to be more of a “manly” act, women who drink feel more strongly judged when their husbands abstain.

To be clear: “We’re not suggesting that people should drink more or change the way they drink,” Birditt told Reuters. “The study shows that it’s not about how much they’re drinking, it’s about whether they drink at all.”

There was one other group with unsurprisingly low scores: the 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women with drinking problems—a demographic that may be on the rise. Although we tend to associate binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse with youth, Birditt says problem drinking is increasing “especially among baby boomers, who seem more accepting of alcohol use.” A 2014 study in the UK found that each year, more and more people over 65 were being admitted to hospitals for alcohol-related issues.

So: Young people, if you’re reading this, now’s a good time to take stock of your drinking habits, as well as your partner’s.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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