Marriage the secret
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- October 25, 2013
For centuries couples have pledged to stay together in sickness and in health but now an academic study has found that a happy marriage could itself be the secret to good health.
Researchers in the US charted the ups and downs of more than 2,000 married people over a 20-year period and found a strong correlation between being happily married and in good health.
The team, made up of academics based in Utah and Nebraska, used information gathered during what was the longest study of its kind ever conducted into marital strife, from 1980 to 2000.
Participants were regularly questioned in detail about the state of their relationship and how they felt their spouse treated them.
But throughout they were also asked to rate their general health.
The team analysed the findings breaking the participants into two groups depending on age.
Although the younger people usually started off with better health, those who hard more tempestuous marriages later appeared to suffer poorer health.
Equally those who had overcome marital problems also appeared to see an improvement in their health.
Cody Hollist, an associate professor of child, youth and family studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who co-authored the study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, said although marital happiness and health appeared to go hand-in-hand it was still unclear how they were influencing each other.
“There is no way to tease out what caused what,” he said.
“But it is clear that marital quality and health run in tandem.”
Nevertheless the researchers concluded that couples who spoke of planning specific activities strengthen their marriage – such as so-called “date nights” – appeared not only to have stronger relationships but also better health on average.
Equally the team found evidence that relieving existing ailments also appeared to ease a couple’s marriage problems.
He said: “As health worsens, do marriages stay stable?
“What we found is that there’s a relationship between health and happiness for both age groups.
“If their health is good, their happiness is up.”
One finding which most surprised the researchers, led by Richard Miller of Brigham Young University in Utah, was that those who began the study with what appeared to be the most troubled marriages which nevertheless survived, also reported improved health over time.
“Stressful circumstances can be a wake-up call for some as it can motivate healthier and more adaptive pathways of behaviour over time,” said Mr Hollist.
The findings appear to back up the results of a study published last month which concluded that married people who undergo major heart surgery are three times more likely to survive than those who are unmarried.
Earlier this week new figures from the Office for national Statistics also pointed to a link between marriage and healthier lifestyles showing that married people are less than half as likely to smoke than unmarried people – even if they are in a stable long-term relationship.
Source: John Bingham, The Telegraph, September 27, 2013