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Only Happy Marriage Is Healthy for Women

Marriage Satisfaction Key to Women's Health Benefits

Marriage Different for Men, Women continued...

"Men identify their wives as their main support, someone who is there to talk to," Loving tells WebMD. "Women maintain a larger support network. They are able to use other relationships for support. Wives don't gain as much from marriage, on a psychosocial level, as a husband would."

That's true says Boston University psychologist Deborah Belle, EdD. Belle has studied the health effects of relationships for more than 20 years. She's also found that only happily married women benefit from marriage, but that married men get a benefit whether the marriage is happy or not.

Why? One reason, Belle says, is that women appear to be more sensitive to the negative aspects of relationships than men. Another reason: Women support their partners better than men do.

"What is most striking is that men's' support is so heavily dependent on one partner -- the wife," Belle tells WebMD. "Women specialize in providing support. Women's socialization and subordinate social status trains women to focus on others' needs -- and more than men, they believe that others' needs can be met. Often women dedicate their lives to providing support for others."

This doesn't mean that men don't -- or can't -- be supportive partners. They certainly can. And women can be terrible partners. But, on average, women as wives tend to be supportive. The average husband gets more support from his wife than the average wife gets from her husband.

Evidence comes from studies of men's and women's relationships. Men and women are less lonely when they report spending time with women. Time spent with men has no effect on reducing loneliness, Belle says. And in times of stress, both men and women turn to women for emotional support.

"I'm widowed after a long marriage to a wonderful man," Belle says. "I married again a month ago. I have a wonderful spouse. I don't think men are incapable of support. It's just that not all men achieve it."

Are Single Women Doomed?

Even though her study showed that happily married women are healthier than unmarried women, Gallo doesn't think all women must marry or suffer ill health.

"If we'd been able to break down the group of single women in our study, we'd probably find that it contains a subgroup of single women who are very content," Gallo says. "They have friends. They have careers. They get some things that women with high marriage satisfaction get. I guess it is possible to fulfill those needs in another way. It is just more the social norm to get married."

Of course, there's nothing magic about marriage. Gallo warns that while a happy marriage is good for a woman, an unhappy marriage is a horse of a different color.

"Women who aren't in happy marriages are at most risk," she says. "So just getting married isn't as important as getting a quality partner."

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