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Health & Balance

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Only Happy Marriage Is Healthy for Women

Marriage Satisfaction Key to Women's Health Benefits
WebMD Health News

Sept. 15, 2003 -- Married men are healthier men. But for women, the health benefit of marriage depends on the health of the marriage.

Over and over again, studies show that marriage is good for men's health. For women, the picture has been less clear. Some studies suggest that women need marriage like a fish needs a bicycle.

That's true, a new study finds -- but only for women who aren't highly satisfied. Women who say their marriages are very satisfying have better heart health, healthier lifestyles, and fewer emotional problems, report Linda C. Gallo, PhD, and colleagues.

"Women in high-quality marriages do benefit from being married," Gallo tells WebMD. "They are less likely to get heart disease in the future. And in terms of emotional distress, satisfied women reported more social support and being less angry, depressed, and anxious."

It isn't just that the less-satisfying marriages were bad. The women in good marriages also were healthier than divorced, widowed, and single women. So top-notch marriages are healthy in and of themselves.

The Toll of Unsatisfying Marriage

Gallo and colleagues studied women enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh's Healthy Women study. This long-term study is designed to weed out the factors responsible for women's increased risk of heart disease after menopause.

The study collected data from 490 women in their 40s -- nearly all of them married -- and followed them for 13 years. The findings appear in the September 2003 issue of Health Psychology.

Women who got little satisfaction from their marriages came to the study in worse health. They didn't get better over time. Happily married women started out in pretty good health and aged well.

"Women in distressed marriages -- and in this group, this meant they were not all that distressed, but less happy than other women -- already suffered the negative effects of being in a less-than-happy marriage," Gallo says. "The women in happy marriages were thinner, gained less weight over time, and had lower cholesterol levels. The less happy women tended to exercise less."

What's going on? Is there something magic about saying "I do?"

"It doesn't necessarily have to be heterosexual cohabitation," Gallo says. "Human connectedness is a basic fundamental need for people. Marriage or being in a close relationship is an important part of life. When it is good, it doesn't just make life pleasurable. It is good for health. When people are in happy situations, maybe they exercise together; maybe they sit down to healthy meals together. It is adaptive."

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