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Does a Better Relationship Mean Better Health?

The perks of marriage and long-term relationships.
By Rebecca Felsenthal Stewart
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Conventional wisdom holds that married people live longer and are healthier than singles. And research suggests that may be true. Studies show that married people, particularly men, are less likely to die early and are less likely to die from heart disease or stroke. But why? And what about people who are in committed relationships but haven't said "I do"? Or those who are happily single? Experts weigh in on long-term love and your well-being.

What's So Healthy About Marriage?

Safer behavior. Christopher Fagundes, PhD, psychologist and researcher at The Ohio State University, says there is less risk-taking and substance abuse when couples marry -- even less than if they just move in together.

Socially connected. "If you’re married, ideally that’s your closest relationship," says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, S. Robert Davis Chair of Medicine at The Ohio State University. "That means there’s a partner and close source of support readily available."

On the other hand, says psychiatrist Sudeepta Varma, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center, people who are alone and unhappy may run the risk of social isolation. That can lead to depression and neglecting one’s health.

Health helper. UCLA psychologist Theodore Robles, PhD, says, "Your spouse is a large force of influence in your own behavior. You have someone to remind you that you shouldn’t eat that; that you should have one less drink." That means your spouse can help you maintain healthy habits."

People who are in happy marital relationships are also more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations, research shows.

What About Other Long-Term Relationships?

Living with your significant other may also have health benefits. "The general consensus is that, yes, cohabiting has positive effects but not to the same degree as marriage," Fagundes says.

Much of the research in this area has been done on heterosexual couples. But the experts interviewed for this story didn't see why the benefits of having a partner shouldn't extend to same-sex partnerships.

"The love and support -- and how this translates into us taking better care of ourselves when we have someone who is invested in our happiness -- is immeasurable," Varma says.

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