In the November 2014 issue of SUCCESS, we explore how family affects health. Marital status—the effect of family you choose rather than the genes you inherit—has a major effect on your health. Here we delve into a reader’s concern and deliver the “why” to you.
Q: I’ve read that married people are healthier than singles. Why is that? And does that mean my little brother, who is still single, is doomed?
A: Overall, getting hitched is good medicine for men of all ages. Men rely on their wives more than anyone else for emotional support in happy and even less-than-happy marriages, so when they are single, they have no emotional safety net. For women, marriage is most beneficial for married women over 50, although studies show there’s a small health benefit for women under 50 if they’re happily married.
A strong union is one of the best routes to a healthier heart, a higher survival rate after a cancer diagnosis, and a longer life. While you might think the benefits are because making healthier choices is easier as a couple (eating better, quitting tobacco, exercising more), that’s not the reason for improved health. The major factor is a lower effect from stress due to companionship, including the effect of the bonding-hormones oxytocin and dopamine—those chemical handcuffs produced from falling in love. These natural chemicals tamp down stress hormones like cortisol, which can raise blood pressure and lead to heart disease. But you need to continually reinvent the marriage to keep the bonding hormones active.
Of course, the better the match, the healthier the people in the marriage. A bad marriage can actually negatively affect your heart, raising blood pressure and causing chronic inflammation. So we recommend that your brother—and all single people—be patient in finding their soul mate. In the meantime, encourage him to invest in his social networks: Strong relationships with friends, family, and even pets can lead to health benefits similar to the ones from a spousal relationship. Having great friendships is much healthier than being in an unsatisfied or unhappy marriage.
For those of you who are married and want to improve your relationship, here are 4 tips that can see you through rocky times and make the good times even better:
1. Do the little things. Sometimes we think that relationships are made or broken on the grand gestures—the big fights or the four-foot teddy bears won at the carnival. But we can strengthen our relationships immensely with more attention paid to the details, which can in turn help keep the big problems from surfacing.
Aside from scheduling weekly date nights, focus on doing something positive every day—a kiss on the cheek, a helping hand on a home project, a well-timed compliment (“great hair, honey”) to keep you from taking each other for granted.
2. Tend to the marriage as much as you do your kids. When you have children, your world naturally revolves around these little creatures. But remember that what created your family in the first place is the relationship with your partner.
We know it’s hard to give your marriage TLC when life is crazy, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that the happier you are as a couple, the easier it is to deal with the demands of raising children. Bonus: Tending to your marriage shows your children what a loving partnership looks like, which gives them a good example to follow when they grow up.
3. Communicate. There are exceptions, but women are typically more in tune with relationship issues than men and have a better handle on communication. So ladies, you may have to teach the man in your life how to better relate—and don’t assume he knows what you want (even if you think it should be obvious).
4. Focus on your own happiness. Data found from the Framingham Heart Study found that if one spouse became happy, the likelihood that the other spouse would become happy increased by 8 percent. And happier individuals make happier couples.