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Health & Balance

Only Happy Marriage Is Healthy for Women

Marriage Satisfaction Key to Women's Health Benefits
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Marriage Different for Men, Women

There's still that nagging question of why the average marriage is healthier for the average man than for the average woman. Timothy J. Loving, PhD, assistant professor in the University of Texas' Department of Human Ecology, has looked at this issue.

"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."

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