To stay healthy, make marriage happy

U. MISSOURI (US) — Couples who are happily married are both mentally and physically healthier than their widowed or divorced peers, research shows.

The study finds that in all stages of marriage, positive or negative relationships affect health.

Married people are less likely to develop chronic conditions than people who are widowed or divorced—and aging people with failing health could particularly benefit from improving their marriage.

Spouses should be aware that how they treat each other and how happy they are in their marriages affect both partners’ health and consider their relationship when thinking holistically about their health, says Christine Proulx, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri.

“We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age,” Proulx says.

“Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people’s spirits and well-being and lower their stress.”

Health professionals should consider patients’ personal relationships when designing health promotion programs or treatment plans, Proulx says.

“Physicians should recognize that the strength of patients’ marriages might affect their health. I suspect we’d have higher rates of adherence to treatment plans for chronic illnesses if medical professionals placed more of an emphasis on incorporating families and spouses in patients’ care. If spouses understand their partners’ disease and how to treat it at home, and the couple has a strong marriage, both people’s health could improve.”

Proulx analyzed data from 707 continuously married adults who participated in the Marital Instability Over the Life Course panel study, a 20-year, nationwide research project started in 1980 with funding from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Research and Statistics and the National Institute on Aging. The findings are scheduled for publication in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Most study participants were Caucasian, had more than high school educations, and earned more than $55,000 in annual family income in 2000. Because of these characteristics, the participants probably had some protection against marital and health challenges more commonly faced by people of different ethnicities or with less education or income, Proulx says.

Source: University of Missouri