Previous research has revealed that those who are single—unmarried, widowed, or divorced—are more likely to develop chronic health problems than married individuals. Now a University of Missouri expert has argued that people who are in happy marriages are more likely to rate their health as better as they age.
Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, studied the long-term correlation between self-rated health and marital satisfaction. She noted that every stage of marriage affects the individual’s health.
“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 quoted. “Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people’s spirits and wellbeing and lower their stress.”
“Physicians should recognise that the strength of patients’ marriages might affect their health,” she said. “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.”
In her research, she analysed data from 707 adults who had been married for a long time and who participated in the Marital Instability Over the Life Course panel study, a 20-year study that started in 1980. A majority of the participants were Caucasian, had studied beyond high school, and had family annual earnings of over $55,000 in 2000. These characteristics meant that these participants had an advantage—in terms of a better marital and health conditions—over others who lacked education or were financially challenged.
Aging adults whose physical health is declining could especially benefit from improving their marriages. Besides emotional benefits like joy and companionship that marriage offers, this study proves that it bestows a rather rational benefit, namely good health.