Better Relationship, Better Health: Couples and Singles
The links between health and marriage or other long-term relationships
By Rebecca Felsenthal Stewart
It’s as traditional as something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: the conventional wisdom that married people live longer and are healthier than single people.
“People who are married are healthier, live longer, and report more happiness, compared to people who are not married,” says UCLA psychologist Theodore Robles, PhD.
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Studies show that married people are:
- less likely to die early, particularly men
- less likely to die from heart disease or stroke
People who marry may already have a health advantage before they say their vows.
“Healthier people tend to get married,” Robles says.
“Supportive relationships are associated with better health,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, Ohio State University S. Robert Davis chair of medicine. “The absence of a supportive relationship is a risk factor.”
But why? And what about people who are in committed relationships but haven’t said “I do”? Or those who are happily single?
What’s So Healthy About Marriage?
Here are three reasons why marriage may make for better health:
Safer behavior. Risk-taking and substance abuse drop when couples marry — more than if they move in together, says Ohio State University psychologist and researcher Christopher Fagundes, PhD.
Socially connected. “If you’re married, ideally that’s your closest relationship. That means there’s a partner and close source of support readily available,” Kiecolt-Glaser says.
On the other hand, people who are unhappily alone may run the risk of social isolation. That can lead to depression and neglecting one’s health, says psychiatrist Sudeepta Varma, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center.
Health helper. Your spouse could help you keep healthy habits. “Your spouse is a large force of influence in your own behavior. You have someone to remind you that you shouldn’t eat that; that you should have one less drink,” Robles says.
People who are in happy marital relationships are also more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations, research shows.
What About Other Long-Term Relationships?
Living with your significant other may also have health benefits. “The general consensus is that, yes, cohabiting has positive effects, but not to the same degree as marriage,” Fagundes tells WebMD.
Much of the research in this area has been done on heterosexual couples. But the experts interviewed for this story didn’t see why the benefits of having a partner shouldn’t extend to same-sex partnerships.
“The love and support, and how this translates into us taking better care of ourselves when we have someone who is invested in our happiness, is immeasurable,” Varma says.
Just wearing a ring isn’t enough. A better marriage may mean better health.
A study of heart bypass patients showed better survival, over 15 years, among the happily married.
The flip side is also true: Being in an unhappy marriage can be unhealthy.
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