10 Ways Marriage Can Affect Your Health, For Better or Worse
Studies show that marital status can correlate with both your physical and mental health. When you share your life with someone it normally entails sharing a lot of the same habits, and this in and of itself can significantly impact the health outcomes for both you and your partner. In addition to the habit sharing that is associated with marriage, having a stable partner who can act as an emotional and social support net can also significantly impact your health in positive ways.
While a lot of the health effects are positive, it is important to note that sometimes marriage can actually affect your health for the worse.... The stress associated with bad marriages or the end of a marriage can impact health in a negative way and negate all the positive effects we discuss. We also must note that though there are a lot of health effects associated with marriage, some diseases can not be cured or mitigated just through partnership. Social factors like emotional support and emotional resiliency can do a lot in terms of positive health outcomes, but sometimes genetics, environmental factors and other things play a more serious role. Regardless, it is important to note the different ways that marriage can affect your health so that you and your partner can play up the positive effects, while working to mitigate the negative aspects.
The following are some ways that marriage can affect your health, for better or for worse:
Better overall health at older age
Married people tend to take less risks than single people. Think about it, if you have someone who is going to worry about you as much as or even more than you worry about yourself, you are likely to be more cautious. In addition to being more cautious, studies show that married couples tend to eat better, maintain regular health appointments and take things like physical therapy, follow-up appointments and recommendations from doctors more seriously than single people. Engaging with health care in a preventative way has significant benefits to your health, because you are able to catch things early and often. These behavioral factors may have to do with the risk aversion associated with marriage, or they may just be associated with having a partner. All these tendencies mean that married people normally maintain their health better than single people, which can lead to better health at all ages, but especially better health at an older age. Healthy living can prevent a lot of the lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease that complicate life as people get older and older.
Healthier long term habits
Like we mention above, marriage is associated with more aversion to risk, which can lead to better health outcomes. In addition to this, marriage is often associated with healthier habits like less alcohol consumption and less drug consumption compared to single people in the same age group. Married couples tend to consume less alcohol and drugs than non-married people, which can significantly impact long term health in terms of liver and kidney disease. While these types of consumption tend to decrease during marriage, studies have shown that married people tend to gain a bit more weight and be heavier than their single peers (more on that below). But if you and/or your partner are committed to a healthy lifestyle it can often rub off on the other person and encourage healthier behavior for both individuals. Establishing health accountability as a part of your marriage can help ensure that both you and your partner are staying on top of your health and committing to maintaining healthy habits.
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Lower risk for certain types of heart disease
Studies show that married men and women have lower blood pressure. Lower blood pressure is often correlated with both better heart health and lower risk for certain types of heart disease. Specifically, lower risk of heart attack. It’s hard to know exactly why marriage correlates with lower blood pressure, but it could be due to the fact that married couples tend to make healthier choices, like regularly seeing primary care physicians, seeking preventive care (see below) and following up on treatment plans and doctors orders. Being married often increases individual accountability, because health choices affect more than just the individual themselves. Additionally, marriage is often associated with less stress, which is better for heart health.
Men get more preventative care
Quick definition, preventive care normally just means annual/bi-annual/routine physical and dental check-ups that can catch things in the early stages before complications arise. Preventative care has to do with things like changing your diet, and increasing exercise so that you can prevent the onset of chronic disease and avoid taking medication. Studies show that married men are more likely to routinely schedule preventative care than single men, which can greatly benefit their health. This may be due to the risk aversion associated with marriage, or it may be the fact that living with a partner makes you more aware of your health. For example, if your partner is super on top of their health care scheduling and appointments, it might encourage you to do the same. Or they might just schedule them for you.... For whatever reason marriage does not cause women to get more preventative care, but women are typically more risk averse than men, which may explain why single women and married women are fairly good at seeking preventative care.
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Men live longer
Recents studies have shown that married men actually live significantly longer than single men. Significantly longer as in TEN years longer than single men. And while women still tend to live longer on average, ten years is not something to overlook in terms of positive health outcomes related to marriage. The increased life expectancy is related to several different factors. One factor is the fact that married men often make significantly more money than bachelors, and more money leads to more financial security, which greatly reduces stress and stress-related diseases and illness like diabetes and heart disease that can plague many people (especially men, who are often the primary income earner of the family). We also can’t overstate the importance of seeking preventative care. Regular doctors appointments can catch diseases in early stages, before things get complicated and riskier. The fact that married men seek more preventative care likely increases their longevity as compared to single men.
Better mental health
A lack of social support can often be a critical contributing factor to poor mental health because social isolation can lead to higher rates of depression and compromised immune functioning. Even if you might think of social support in terms of your friend group, it’s important to consider how your partner can play a critical role in your support system. Married couples have a built in support system with each other, which can often improve mental health. In addition to a social support system, married couples experience lower amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone) than single people do. Stress (and cortisol) is associated with lots of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. In addition to contributing to certain diseases, cortisol is known for impairing general immune function, which means that people with high levels of stress might be less able to fight off viruses and diseases like the flu or the common cold than people with lower stress levels. All this is to say that married couples often have better mental health, which as a result can lead to better physical health and lower incidence of diseases.
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Increase in survival and recovery after illnesses and surgery
Studies about people diagnosed with cancer and people who have coronary bypass surgery show that married people have higher rates of survival and recovery. This is not to say that marriage can prevent you from developing diseases, or that a civil union can completely negate the effects of a serious disease, but that it could play a beneficial role in the recovery process. This benefit could be due to emotional resilience, which is often higher for married couples. People that are in long-term relationships, like marriages, tend to have higher self-esteem, higher life satisfaction and lower amounts of stress which can lead to increased emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is what allows people to “bounce back” after a tough prognosis and move forward after illness or surgery. Having the support of another person greatly improves mental health and cultivates this kind of healthy, recovery-oriented mindset.
Packing on the pounds after marriage
After the wedding and the honeymoon, it is not uncommon for couples to start putting on the pounds after marriage. Life catches up to you after the initial honeymoon stage, and life as a newlywed can be hectic! And hectic lives often lead to easy/convenient/poor eating choices and skipping your typical workout regime. Studies show that marriage can also encourage a more sedentary lifestyle that leads to weight gain and poorer health outcomes for both men and women. While this is definitely the trend, it is not necessarily true for all marriages! It is also important to take into account the fact that we often gain weight as we age just as a natural part of the ageing process. While there’s no way to stop your metabolism from naturally slowing down, there are ways that you and your partner can work towards a healthy lifestyle together in order to avoid the weight gain that is often associated with marriage. While a little weight gain is okay, significant weight gain is almost never good for your health and can contribute to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Staying mindful of your weight is a good way to avoid packing on the pounds after marriage.
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The effects of a bad marriage
While marriage tends to have beneficial effects on health, bad, unhappy marriages can actually negatively impact a couple’s health in significant ways. Unhappy marriages that experience a lot of conflict do not actually benefit from a lot of the positive health effects that marriage is supposed to entail. Lots of conflict can cause damaging reponses in the body that worsen the health of couples. These damaging responses include things like higher amounts of inflammation, higher amounts of cortisol (that stress hormone we talked about), changes in appetite and interrupted sleep. All of these different responses at the very least can cause unhappiness and irritability if not other more serious health conditions related to stress and compromised immune response. This means that marital conflict is actually bad for your health! And that if you are experiencing conflict often, you and your partner should seek marriage counseling or coaching in some form so that you can avoid the negative health outcomes associated with marital conflict.
Higher risk of heart disease or widowed or divorced
Marriage has a lot of protective factors in terms of our health, and marriage can actually improve your health and longevity! As we mentioned above, married couples often have better heart health outcomes than single people. But these protective benefits end when the marriage does. Whether it’s through divorce or death (as morbid as it sounds...) marriages do not last forever. Divorce or widowing can take a significant toll on both your mental AND physical health. Aside from all the manifestations of grief that can occur at the end of a marriage, there is also significant evidence to suggest that widowed or divorced people have higher rates of heart disease. The higher rates of heart disease could be due to the stress that is often associated with divorce or widowing. We don’t mean to conflate the two in any way, but it’s important to understand how grief and stress can negatively affect a person’s health, no matter what the causes/circumstances are. It is often a good idea to seek emotional support during these times, whether it’s counseling or a support group, to help mitigate the health effects of stress and grief by learning coping mechanisms and finding social support outside of the marriage.
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