Study: Bad Marriage, Bad Health

06 August, 2018

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Traditional wedding vows often include the promise to be by your spouse's side "in sickness and in health, 'til death do you part." Or something similar. Well, if you are in a bad marriage, the death part may come sooner than expected.

A new study finds that a stressful marriage may be unhealthy, especially for men. In fact, for some people it may be as bad as smoking.

But other studies say marriage helps us live longer

This finding seems to be opposite of many other studies that say marriage improves health. For example, one British study found that being married improved a person's chances of surviving a heart attack. The researchers said married people had shorter hospital stays.

And experts at Harvard Medical School write on their website that married people:

  • live longer
  • have fewer strokes and heart attacks
  • have a lower chance of becoming depressed
  • are less likely to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis and more likely to survive cancer for a longer period of time
  • and survive a major operation more often.
Oladipupo Baruwa, (left) and his wife Funke pose for a photograph at home in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 2018. Baruwa said,
Oladipupo Baruwa, (left) and his wife Funke pose for a photograph at home in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 2018. Baruwa said, "Marriage is a commitment, it is a hard work and when you are willing to work at it, you get better."

One way to make sense of conflicting findings about marriage is to consider the quality of the relationship. Do the partners support each other, or do they give each other long-term, chronic stress?

To find out how bad a stressful marriage is on health, researchers at two universities in the United States -- the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Michigan -- teamed up. They followed 373 couples for 16 years.

The researchers wanted to know if often conflicting over certain topics affected a person's health in a negative way. These topics included such things as children, money, in-laws and recreational activities.

They found a conflict-filled relationship harms the body in many ways. People in a stressful relationship can have damaging inflammation, extreme changes in appetite and increased levels of stress hormones. All these conditions can negatively affect many systems -- from heart function to how the body is able to fight diseases.

The researchers also found that a bad marriage was harder on men's health than on women's.

A key to a good marriage is communication

A good marriage is not without arguments, stress and disagreements. What seems to matter most is how a couple speaks to each other. How do they handle their differences? How do they resolve an argument?

One of the lead researchers is Rosie Shrout with the University of Nevada, Reno. In an interview with The Guardian, Shrout says, "Conflict can be particularly damaging for health if spouses are hostile or defensive during disagreements." She adds that arguing about the same topic over and over again without finding a solution can also damage a person's health.

Shrout also spoke with The Guardian about the health benefits of marriage. She said the act of getting married does not make people healthier. Instead, she said, the support married people give each other can help them stay healthier, heal faster, and have better mental well-being.

Tips for keeping your relationship healthy

On the website Women's Health, relationship experts and happy couples give their tips on how to keep a relationship healthy. Here are a few.

Stop keeping score. A healthy relationship is not about winning and losing. In the bigger picture, who made the most money or who emptied the dishwasher last is not important.

Touch more. It does not have to be sexual touching. Simply holding hands can create stronger feelings between people. But now that we're on the subject, relationship experts claim that having sex more does help a couple stay close.

Accept your in-laws. No family is perfect. Experts warn against complaining about your partner's family or trying to change them. Having a sense of humor is often the best approach.

Turn off social media, stop texting, hide your phone and just hang out. Turning off social media and technology gives a couple the space to just be themselves. Playing a game, cooking a meal or taking a walk allows a couple to have simple fun together.

Learn how to fight fairly. Even couples in healthy relationships disagree. A relationship expert suggests that understanding how the other person deals with conflict can help a marriage in a big way. And don't be afraid of losing a fight. Remember the earlier tip about not keeping score.

You can read all 43 tips in this online slide show.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report.

I'm Anna Matteo.

And I'm Bryan Lynn.

Anna Matteo reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

stress n. a state of mental tension and worry

depressed adj. having a serious medical condition that causes a person to feel very sad, hopeless, and unimportant

negative adj. harmful or bad : not wanted

in-laws n. people you are related to because of your marriage, especially the father or mother of your husband or wife

recreational adj. done for enjoyment

inflammation n. a condition in which a part of your body becomes red, swollen, and painful

appetiten. a physical desire for food

communicate v. to get someone to understand your thoughts or feelings : communication n. a technique for expressing ideas effectively (as in speech)

hostile adj. not friendly : having or showing unfriendly feelings

defensive adj. behaving in a way that shows you feel people are criticizing you

sense of humor noun phrase : a personality that gives someone the ability to say funny things and see the funny side of things

tip n. a piece of advice or expert or authoritative information

slide show n. any display in the form of a series of unmoving images, such as on a computer screen