Research shows that married people have better mental and
physical health than their unmarried peers and are less likely to develop
chronic conditions than their widowed or divorced counterparts.
A University of Missouri expert says that people who have
happy marriages are more likely to rate their health as better as they age;
ageing adults whose physical health is declining could especially benefit from
improving their marriages.
Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the MU
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, examined the long-term
relationship between self-rated health and marital quality. She found that, in
all stages of marriage, positive or negative relationships affect the
individuals’ health. Spouses should be aware that how they treat each other and
how happy they are in their marriages affect both partners’ health, and they
should think more about their personal relationships when thinking holistically
about their health, she said.
“We often think about the ageing 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 said. “Engaging with your spouse
is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve
both people’s spirits and well-being and lower their stress.”
Strong marriage good
Proulx suggests that health professionals consider patients’
personal relationships when designing health promotion programmes or treatment
“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
Proulx analysed data from 707 continuously married adults
who participated in the Marital Instability Over the Life Course panel study, a
20-year, nationwide research project started in 1980 with funding from the
Social Security Administration’s Office of Research and Statistics and the
National Institute on Aging.
Most study participants were Caucasian, had more than high
school educations, and earned more than $55 000 in annual family income in
2000. Because of these characteristics, Proulx says the participants probably
had some protection against marital and health challenges more commonly faced
by people of different ethnicities or with less education or income.
The study, “The Longitudinal Associations between Marital
Happiness, Problems, and Self-Rated Health,” will be published in the upcoming
issue of the Journal of Family Psychology. Proulx co-authored the study with
Linley Snyder-Rivas, an alumna of the Department of Human Development and
Family Studies in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.
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