People get married for various reasons, without concerning themselves about any effect(s) marriage might have on their health and wellness. However, in order to be able to optimize our physical and mental health, it is important for us to be aware of the health effects of every area of our lives, including marriage. Research shows that there is a close relationship between marriage and health. Generally, marriage is associated with better health and a longer life expectancy.
A 2016 study at the University of California found that married cancer patients were more likely to beat the disease than their unmarried counterparts. This was deduced from mortality rates observed in a group of 800 000 people who were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2009. Mortality rates were found to be significantly higher among unmarried patients, especially men.
In another study, which explored the survival rates among 25,000 patients who suffered a heart attack between January 2000 and March 2013, researchers from Aston Medical School and the University of East Anglia found that married patients were 14% more likely to survive a heart attack than unmarried patients.
Researchers believe that the relatively low mortality rates and other health benefits enjoyed by married patients are due to the social support that comes with marriage. Support from a spouse is believed to play an important role in helping patients recover from life-threatening conditions. A supportive spouse may provide help during recovery and also encourage behaviours that are conducive to better health e.g. adherence to medication, non-smoking/drinking, exercise, healthy eating, etc.
However, it is important to note that the health benefits conferred by marriage depend on marital quality. Studies indicate that greater marital quality is associated with better health. On the other hand, troubled marriages may negatively affect the couples’ physical and mental health. Single people are said to be better off than those who are unhappily married and scientists say staying in a bad marriage can be as detrimental to your health as smoking and drinking. Nonetheless, some people may feel obliged to stay in a bad marriage for a variety of reasons.
If walking away from a bad marriage is not the ideal option, it is crucial for couples to make effort to address their marital problems and improve the quality of their marriages so that their health is not negatively affected. This can be done through better communication or by seeking professional advice from marriage counselors. Several well known couples have gone through marriage counseling when their marriages hit rocky patches in the past. Among them are Beyonce & Jay-Z, Will Smith & Jada Pinkett Smith and Barack Obama & Michelle Obama. These powerful couples, whom many people look up to, have been married for more than 10, 21 and 26 years respectively and have all spoken about how counseling saved their marriages.
Stats show that a significant percentage of marriages end in divorce. Some couples choose to stay married even when they are no longer happy, usually for the sake of the children. While this may be beneficial for the psychological wellbeing of children, the negative health effects that an unhappy marriage may have on parents should not be overlooked.