Lately, there’s been a burst of new research into how living with a life partner in marriage (or in some other arrangement) can positively influence your well-being.
The results of these studies?
For some folks, researchers have found that living with a significant other means they enjoy extended life expectancy and less illness. But, for other couples, the relationship can be a significant drag on health.
How Your Love Life Can Help Heart Health
When it comes to your physical health, maintaining a strong, healthy heart is easier when you’re married. For example, a study in Europe shows that if you’re married and are suffering from heart failure, you have a better chance of recovery. If you’re single and unattached, you have a lower chance of survival during the ten years after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.1
The researchers believe this happens because married people generally have better social support systems that help them deal with the issues surrounding heart disease and the related medical treatments.
“Social support helps people managing long-term conditions,” says researcher Fabian Kerwagen, M.D. who is with the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center at the University Hospital Würzburg, Germany.
“In this study, unmarried patients exhibited fewer social interactions than married patients, and lacked confidence to manage their heart failure.”
Along with that research, a study at Emory University in Atlanta finds the same kind of thing is true for people with coronary artery disease.2 In this study, the researchers discovered that in four years of follow-up on people under treatment for heart problems, being single increased the odds of dying by a whopping 45 percent!
But merely being married is not necessarily a life extender.
Is Being Married Better For Longevity?
A large study in Israel found that men who perceived their marriage as “unsuccessful” had a higher risk of premature death – a risk, say the researchers, that’s comparable to smoking or not exercising. This research involved analyzing health data from 30,000 men over the course of 30 years.3
In this study, the men who ranked their marriage as very troubled ran a 69 percent increased risk of dying from a stroke compared to men who were happy with their married relationship. And researchers found that the general risk of dying from any cause was 19 percent higher in the unhappily married men than it was in the happily married men.
What qualities of an unhappy marriage might make this so? Poor communication is one of them. The research shows that keeping your feelings of dissatisfaction away from your spouse is a life shortener – for both men and women. A 17-year study at the University of Michigan revealed that when men and women suppress anger at their spouses, they are both at increased risk of premature death.4
That’s not surprising. And it’s why sometimes a visit to the therapist can help you with more than just your mental and emotional health.
Of course, this research is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the decades of science on relationships’ impact on health.
Happy Relationships “mostly” Improve Health
There have already been many studies examining how relationships influence health. Here are some of the most interesting studies. For example:
Marriage lowers your risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia – A study of 800,000 people in multiple countries shows that being married lowers your risk for memory problems. In this research, being married lowered the risk of dementia by 42 percent compared to never marrying.5
Men’s bone health improves if they wait to get married after age 25 – According to researchers at UCLA, if men marry too young their bones may weaken as one of the results from the stress of trying to support a young family. But there’s less stress if they get married later. However, the study didn’t find any significant effects on women’s bone health from marital status.6
Low-income people who get married suffer less depression – Researchers at Georgia State University say that if you have few financial resources, getting married can lift both your financial health and your mood. But for high income folks, it doesn’t matter if they’re single or married because they’re already financially well off and don’t suffer from the stresses of trying to make ends meet.7
Post-menopausal women who get married drink more alcohol and gain more weight – Older women who stay unmarried drink less and lose more weight than women who marry after menopause, according to a study at the University of Arizona. Plus, older women who stay unmarried have lower blood pressure than the women who married after menopause. What’s more, if a post-menopausal woman divorces, she will likely lose weight and drink less than she did while married, according to the researchers.8
“Dad bod” is real – For men, having kids expands the waistline. Research in England shows that when a man starts a family, he gains weight. So, if you are a man planning on starting a family, you might want to start also planning how you’re going to keep your weight under control.9
The research is clear that maintaining healthy relationships, whether marital or social, is critical to your good health and longevity. This latest study is a good reminder to urgently address any negative issues that come up in your marriage or in your social relationships as healthfully as possible. It’s also a reminder to value people in your life, whether it’s a spouse, close friends, or family members. Spend time with them on a regular basis and foster a healthy connection. Your health depends on it.