In Sickness and in Health

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, til death do you part...

The institution of marriage has gone through a radical transformation over the past few decades, including a rising divorce rate, the redefinition of marriage itself, and the rise of common-law marriage as an alternative to traditional marriage.   Still, psychologists and researchers have been investigating how quality of marriage affects psychological well-being for decades.   Fairly consistently, research looking at different measures of marital satisfaction has linked having a strong marriage to life satisfaction, general happiness, and mental health. 

But does having a good marriage improve physical health as well?     Various reviews published over the past few decades indicate that it does though those studies have been relatively limited to date since they largely focus on comparing married and non-married individuals.   Newer research studies have found that simply having a strong social support network  can have powerful health benefits.   Only recently have research studies investigated whether whether the benefits of marriage are necessarily greater than other types of long-term committed relationships that many people have as an alternative. 

Two possible explanations have been suggested for why intimate relationships can improve health.   First of all, being integrated into a strong social support network provides people with a sense of identity, purpose, and control as well as getting positive reinforcement for behaviours that promote health (and punishment for behaviours that are harmful to health).    Also, having strong social support through meaningful relationships can help protect people from the daily stress that we all experience.    This protection can come from the emotional support we receive as well as the active help people in our social support network can provide.    To read more, check out my new Psychology Today post.









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