Marital Struggles and Men’s Health

Many studies show that married men are healthier and live longer than unmarried men. Yet, little research has focused on how marital quality (and specifically how marital quality changes over time) can affect men’s health. However, a study from researchers at the University of Bristol and University of Glasgow examined the risk of cardiovascular illness in fathers participating in a long-term study from 1991.  

Details of the Study

During the study, these men had different body functions tracked, which included:

  • Blood pressure
  • Body weight (BMI)
  • Fasting glucose levels
  • Resting heart rate

The data was collected between 2011 and 2013 and included 620 married men in Great Britain, (who were already participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children or ALSPAC). The researchers were specifically interested in determining the impact of marital quality on men’s health. They also factored out other potential variables such as income levels, age, and height when generating the results.

Research Results

The results of the study determined that more satisfying relationships were connected to improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Furthermore, poor relationship quality was associated with more health problems, such as higher blood pressure levels and cholesterol. Interestingly, the overall research found that cardiovascular indicators were affected when marriage quality changed (when quality increased or when it deteriorated). Yet when marriage quality was stable – including when it was consistently good or consistently poor – there was no noticeable health impact.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

The researchers noted that their study was observationally based and that they could not conclusively show that very low-quality marriage leads to significant health problems. They discussed that the health benefits of being married vs. unmarried was connected to the social aspects of being married vs. single. This is especially significant for men since their spouse likely accounts for most, if not all, of their social connections. Women typically have a broader base of social ties. This might be one reason why their health hasn’t been linked to their marital status.

Questions to Consider

Future research should examine if marriage counseling is the best course of action for improving men’s health. Another thought to consider is when is the “point of no return” for men from a health and relationship perspective. In other words, is there a point when it is too late for counseling or other measures to both improve a man’s relationship and their health?

An additional consideration is that the study used marriage as the indicator for long-term relationships. It did not examine couples that were in committed cohabitating arrangements. This is important since currently, many more couples are choosing cohabitation before marriage or as an alternative to marriage.

What Does This Mean for Men?

So what should men take away from this research? One, that it’s always important to get regular physical checkups in order to keep track of any health concerns (including cardiovascular health). Also, men should take ownership of their health by watching what they eat and exercising regularly. However, it is also important for men to take steps to improve their relationships in order to maximize psychological and physical health. Having a periodic relationship check-up with your partner is a good idea. This way you are both are on the same page and can maximize your relationship satisfaction. Some things to keep in mind when gauging the health of relationship:

  • Do you both communicate consistently or are important topics ignored?
  • Are you and your partner finding quality time with one another?
  • Is your sex life satisfying?

If you realize that you and your partner are struggling with these issues, it’s time to strongly consider couples counseling. A skilled therapist can help you reconnect with your partner and open up the communication channels again. Remember, improving your marriage quality is not just important for your relationship, but for your physical health as well.

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