Is Marriage The Secret To A Longer Life?

married husband and wife
Does getting married help you live longer? It takes more than just a ring on your finger, but couples who tie the knot are more likely to be healthier and live longer.

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New research shows that getting married could lengthen your life for up to 17 years. A study published in The American Journal Of Epidemiology reveals that single men have a 32 percent higher chance of death than married men across a lifetime. That means they could die eight to 17 years before the average married man — of loneliness?

Single women fare a bit better: They have a 23 percent (or about seven to 15 years) lower life expectancy compared to their married peers.

But why? And what about people who are in committed relationships but haven’t said “I do”? Or those who are happily single?

Why is marriage so healthy?

Here are three reasons why marriage may make for better health:

  1. Safer behavior. Risk-taking and substance abuse drop when couples marry — more than if they move in together.
  2. Socially connected. If you’re married, ideally that’s your closest relationship. That means there’s a partner and close source of support readily available. On the other hand, people who are unhappily alone may run the risk of social isolation. That can lead to depression and neglecting one’s health.
  3. Health helper. Your spouse could help you keep healthy habits. Your spouse is a large force of influence in your own behavior. You have someone to remind you that you shouldn’t eat that; that you should have one less drink.

People who are in happy marital relationships are also more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations, research shows.

And long-term relationships…what about those?

Living with your significant other may also have health benefits. The general consensus is that, yes, cohabiting has positive effects, but not to the same degree as marriage.

Much of the research in this area has been done on heterosexual couples. But the experts interviewed for this story didn’t see why the benefits of having a partner shouldn’t extend to same-sex partnerships.

The love and support, and how this translates into us taking better care of ourselves when we have someone who is invested in our happiness, is immeasurable.

Quality Counts

Just wearing a ring isn’t enough. A better marriage may mean better health.

A study of heart bypass patients showed better survival, over 15 years, among the happily married. The flip side is also true: Being in an unhappy marriage can be unhealthy. Why? One reason may be that chronic stress from a bad marriage may affect the immune system.

Women may be particularly vulnerable. They’re more sensitive to hostility in a relationship than are men, research found. Also, hostility may hamper the immune system for couples with chronic relationship troubles.

Relationship quality also affects men.

Depression, obesity, and hypertension all can result from women suffering in unhappy marriages. But there is also a lot of substance abuse and depression in male patients in the same situation. Men and women are equally affected by unhappy relationships — the results just manifest differently.

Being a healthy single

Of course, singles can be happy as well.

If someone is single, it may or may not point to a difficulty in establishing close relationships. For some, this is the case. For others, it’s simply that they have not found their life partner yet. The key would be to surround yourself with good people that care for you, and that you are willing to help as well.

The same goes for people who divorce.

Divorce is linked to a greater risk of premature death, especially in men, notes David Sbarra, PhD, associate professor and director of clinical training in the department of psychology at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

But “most divorced adults fare very well in time and enjoy a high quality of life after the end of their marriage,” Sbarra says.

“Therefore, it is likely that if you’re in an unhappy marriage and have tried to work it out but just can’t, divorce is a real and reasonable option. If you divorce and feel happy, then I wouldn’t worry too much about the potential negative health effects.”

Women may fare better on their own than men do.