Does Being Married Make You Healthier?

Research over the years has indicated that married people enjoy better physical and emotional health than those who are single. In fact, just last March, the American College of Cardiology announced that married adults were less likely than singles to develop coronary artery disease. A lower risk of aortic aneurysms and cerebrovascular disease were a few of the other health benefits cited. Interesting to note though: The health risk difference between married and single folks was only found to be 5%.

Other recent studies, however, have determined that simply being married doesn’t mean a whole lot by itself. And it shouldn’t, right? Would simply having a legal document really mean that you now are in better health? Recent research revealed that the heart-healthy benefits only apply to “good” marriages and being in a “bad” marriage actually cancels out any health-protective features! This finding applies regardless of the length of marriage — whether you’ve been together for four years or for forty years.

Since most people don’t have marriages that are 100% good or 100% bad, what does this really mean for the clear majority of relationships that fall somewhere in the middle?  

Newer research has been conducted to shed some light on the above question regarding those “ambivalent” marriages. Researchers at Brigham Young University, in their analysis, referred to these couples as “frenemies“ who experience both high and low points together.

This BYU study determined that people who considered their relationships as primarily supportive were more likely to have lower blood pressure than individuals who described their marriages as lacking intimacy and who felt invalidated by their partner.

Study participants who felt unappreciated and disconnected from their partners, as well as those who experienced more volatile levels of positive and negative qualities in their relationship, tended to have higher blood pressure. Therefore, a disconnected and primarily unsupportive relationship actually has a negative effect on any heart-protective benefits of marriage.

The study also found no difference in gender, affecting both men and women similarly. Relationship happiness was determined to be the key differentiating factor.

Michigan State University confirmed these findings, according to research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. While this study focused on older couples, it also concluded that the quality of marriages was directly tied to the quality of couples’ health. The length of a marriage made no difference, although wives were found to face greater health risks than their husbands.

Not surprisingly, those who expressed being happy and satisfied with their relationship had a higher chance of experiencing positive health benefits. And it also appears that a bad marriage is worse for your health than a good marriage helps your health!

Fortunately, it is never too late to improve the state of your marriage and the state of your wellbeing. Even marriages with a history of problems and a lack of support can change and aren’t doomed. Those in long-term relationships can benefit as well as those in newer ones. Everyone can learn to listen, share, and become more supportive of their partners.

If you consider yourself to be in an “ambivalent relationship” with lots of ups and downs, I suggest you try the following:

  1. Commit together to work on and improve your relationship.

  2. Identify the areas that you struggle with the most.

  3. Communicate and address these problems.

  4. Decide on positive steps to take together (to overcome problems).

  5. Seek the guidance of a skilled couples counselor if you reach a stalemate, or have complex personal issues that could benefit from professional intervention.

Remember that very few marriages are all good or all bad, and most marriages can be improved. With research consistently pointing out that the quality of our relationships has a huge impact on our health and happiness, regardless of our ages, don’t let another day go by. Take positive steps to strengthen your marriage now, and reap the benefits for years to come.

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