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In a Sudden Medical Emergency, Will a Spouse Save Your Life?

single in an emergencyWhy marriage isn’t the key to a happy life.” That was the subtitle of a post on another website, written by Buddhist physician Alex Lickerman. I agree that marriage does not transform miserable single people into blissfully happy married people. Research shows that most single people are already happy, and that getting married does not result in lasting increases in happiness. (If you marry and divorce, it may not result in even temporary boosts in happiness.)

Consider, though, Lickerman’s first two paragraphs:

“I remember thinking when I was lying on my bedroom floor, bleeding internally so badly that I’d lost the ability even to crawl, that if I hadn’t been married I would have bled to death. I was home after a laparoscopic appendectomy, had awakened at 3 a.m…and had found myself unable to move (due to rapid blood loss). Luckily, my wife could do so normally and called an ambulance. I was transported to the hospital and ultimately saved by a second operation later that afternoon.

“Apart from the rare instances in which the presence of a spouse is literally life-saving, however, I don’t believe a married life is necessarily any happier than a life lived alone (as much as I love my wife and have felt my life to be enormously enriched by her presence in it).”

It is a common misperception that if something horrible happens to you and you are married, your spouse will be right there with you to save the day. The parallel belief is that if you are single, you would never have anyone else anywhere near you; if you suddenly had a post-surgical emergency, you would simply die.

Fortunately, I have had surgery only once (other than minor out-patient procedures). There would be some recovery time before I could drive or totally fend for myself in other ways. My family showed up and stayed for a while. Friends invited me to stay with them (which ended up being unnecessary). If something horrible had happened to me at 3 a.m., there would have been someone right there in my home to help out.

Now consider something that happened to my father. He and my mother had been married for 42 years. For each, it was their first and only marriage. I have three siblings, and the four of us would have done anything my parents needed or wanted. But on one fateful night, my father was hospitalized for undiagnosed pains. My mother stayed late with him, then went home.

Shortly after she left, my father was lying on the floor in the hospital bathroom. Later we would learn that he had an abdominal aneurysm that ruptured and killed him, probably before anyone had ever discovered him. He was married. He had four children. He was in a hospital! But he died before anyone learned that he was in desperate need of help.

Marriage is not a “get-out-of-death free” card. And living single is not a death sentence.

Photo by Lee Cannon, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

In a Sudden Medical Emergency, Will a Spouse Save Your Life?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2011). In a Sudden Medical Emergency, Will a Spouse Save Your Life?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Oct 2011
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