The Importance of Being ... Married
Till Death Do Us Part
The Benefits of Wedded Bliss
Baker's research joins a small but growing number of studies
pinpointing the varied health effects of marriage. One study, for example,
showed that marital stress can double a person's risk of developing diabetes.
Another study, out of Sweden, showed women in marital distress had a
three-times greater risk of a second heart attack. And a third showed that
positive marital interactions can boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart
disease by keeping stress hormones low.
"The benefits are better physical health, more resistance
to infection, fewer infections, and a reduced likelihood of dying from cancer,
from heart disease, from all major killers," psychologist and author John
Gottman, PhD, tells WebMD. "The other health benefit is longevity: People
live longer if they are in marital relationships, particularly if they are in
good, satisfying relationships." Gottman, considered by many to be a
pioneer in the field of marriage research, is the James Mifflin Professor in
the department of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"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
"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
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.