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The Importance of Being -- Married

There are many reasons to choose wisely and carefully when picking a spouse, but here's one you may not know: New research suggests that a good marriage is good for your health -- and that a bad one can be a real heartbreaker.

The Benefits of Wedded Bliss continued...

"There are physical benefits and mental health benefits," says Gottman. "You have less depression, less anxiety disorders, less psychosis, less posttraumatic stress disorders, fewer phobias. You also have fewer injuries due to accidents."

"The process gets reversed when relationships dissolve," he points out. This is especially true when one spouse dies. Oftentimes the surviving partner will die of what some call the "broken-heart syndrome."

"There is a bereavement process that is really well-documented," says Gottman. "People really go through [physical] grief and they secrete [the stress hormone] cortisol, and a lot of systems really shut down. [The grieving spouses] become more vulnerable to all kinds of infectious agents; their immune systems aren't working. So a person will get something like pneumonia and die very quickly. And they also lose the will to live."

In this scenario, men are more likely to be the one who dies of broken-heart syndrome, Gottman notes. But then again, men also typically reap the greater health benefits from being married while alive.

For Guys, for Better or for Worse Is Mostly for Better

"If it is a good marriage, the benefits are equally as great for women as for men; for men, just being married confers a tremendous amount of benefits," Gottman says. "One of the major ways in which marriage confers effects is to reduce risk: Men stop engaging in risky behavior like bungee jumping and driving drunk. ... [They start] getting their health looked at on a regular basis and eating well. Single men really don't do that; they sort of fall apart.

"Women are less prone to risky behavior, more likely to go to doctor when they are sick, and they take care of themselves better," he says. "The other big, big difference is men have lousy social support systems, and women have great support systems."

This just goes to show you how much men get taken care of in a marriage, says David Woodsfellow, PhD, director of the Center for Relationship Therapy in Atlanta.

"While the traditional role has man as the provider, that role is really as the provider of money," he says. "In that traditional role ... the woman is the provider of nurturing comfort, home, and often food, clothing, and furnishings. I think it is those roles and their vestiges that account for the finding that marriage is better for men."

Bridging the Differences

So being married can benefit your health. How can couples get the maximum benefit for both parties involved?

Woodsfellow offers these four tips for bridging the inevitable differences and keeping a marriage healthy and happy.

  1. Talk to each other every day. "Make a point of learning what the other one's day was like," he says. "That becomes one type of quality time: undivided attention."
  2. Say nice things to one another; give one another compliments. "Do this frequently," he says.
  3. Try not to reject each other. "Be aware of the little moments when your partner is reaching out to you and try to respond to them rather than turn your back to them, even if you are busy," says Woodsfellow.
  4. Develop your own little habits, rituals, secret words, or secret signals. "Little, special things become special bonds, special moments of intimacy," he says.

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