perks of marriage and long-term relationships.
By Rebecca Felsenthal Stewart
From the WebMD Archives
Conventional wisdom holds that married people live longer
and are healthier than singles. And research suggests that may be true. Studies
show that married people, particularly men, are less likely to die early and
are less likely to die from heart disease or stroke. But why? And what about people who are in committed relationships
but haven't said "I do"? Or those who are happily single? Experts
weigh in on long-term love and your well-being.
What's So Healthy About Marriage?
Safer behavior. Christopher Fagundes, PhD, psychologist
and researcher at The Ohio State University, says there is less risk-taking and
when couples marry -- even less than if they just move in together.
"If you’re married, ideally that’s your closest relationship," says
Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, S. Robert Davis Chair of Medicine at The Ohio State
University. "That means there’s a partner and close source of support
On the other hand, says psychiatrist Sudeepta Varma, MD, of NYU Langone
Medical Center, people who are alone and unhappy may run the risk of social
isolation. That can lead to depression and neglecting one’s health. Health helper. UCLA psychologist Theodore
Robles, PhD, says, "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." That means your spouse can help you maintain healthy habits." People who are in happy marital relationships
are also more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations, research shows.
What About Other Long-Term
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 says.
"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.Continued
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. But the flip side is also
true. Being in an unhappy marriage can be unhealthy. Why? One reason may be that chronic
from a bad marriage may affect the immune system, and women may be particularly
Women are more sensitive to
hostility in a relationship than are men, Kiecolt-Glaser says. Her team
videotaped couples disagreeing. "Couples who were more hostile during
disagreements showed steeper changes in stress hormones and healed wounds less
quickly," she says. In short, more hostility may hamper the immune system
for couples with chronic relationship troubles.
But relationship quality can also
affect men. "We now know that depression, obesity, and hypertension
can all result from women suffering in unhappy marriages," Varma says.
"But I also see a lot of substance abuse and depression
in my male patients in the same situation." Based on her practice, Varma
believes that men and women are equally affected by unhappy relationships
-- the results just manifest differently.
Of course, people can thrive on
"If someone is single, it may
or may not point to a difficulty in establishing close relationships,"
Varma says. "For some, this is the case. For others, it's simply that they
have not found their life partner yet. The key would be to surround yourself
with good people that care for you, and that you are willing to help."
The same goes for people who divorce.
Divorce is linked to a greater risk
of premature death, especially in men, notes David Sbarra, PhD, associate
professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson. But "most divorced adults
fare very well in time and enjoy a high quality of life after the end of their
marriage," Sbarra says. "Therefore, it is likely that if you're in an
unhappy marriage and have tried to work it out but just can't, divorce is a
real and reasonable option. If you divorce and feel happy, then I wouldn't
worry too much about the potential negative health effects."
Women may fare better on their own
than men do. "When we look at singles and health, we see that women tend
to be OK and men not so much, most likely for the same reasons men benefit more
from marriage," Fagundes says.
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