Emotional Fitness

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Marriage Is a Heart-Healthy Way of Life

Researchers have observed since the mid-1800s that married people live longer.

A new study at Emory University, recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, has found that married adults who’ve undergone heart surgery have a 300 percent higher survival rate than their single counterparts over the first three months, which is a critical time.

Whether the patient was a man or a woman, the study shows that survival rates, both short and long term, were higher for married people. Researchers have observed since the mid-1800s that married people live longer, and science has been proving it.

Married heart surgery patients are also twice as likely to be living five years after surgery as those who are single, whether widowed, divorced, or never married. Another interesting and positive revelation is that “husbands were apparently just as good at care-giving as wives,” according to sociologist Ellen Idler, the lead author of the study.

I think there must be more than just good physical care going on here. There is an emotional component to be considered. Nursing a loved one involves nurturing the patient in ways no medication can.

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As a patient, having someone there to support you in your healthy behaviors, and who will insist that you stop doing things that can hurt you, will help you get better faster and stay healthier longer. This may be another explanation for why those who have tied the knot do better after surgery than those who are single

Being alone and trying to recover from serious surgery or an illness is difficult. Professional caregivers can be quite helpful, and yet are not as likely to give the kind of emotional support that a spouse will.

There is more to healing than meets the eye. All of the physical support and necessities may be there, but if the patient doesn’t have an emotional connection to life, the will to survive may be insufficient at crucial times, such as right after heart surgery.

Researchers in the Emory University study couldn’t provide definitive reasons for the significant difference in early survival rates between the married and unmarried patients, but attitude was shown to have played a part. The study found that when considering upcoming surgery, married patients felt they could more easily handle the discomfort and worry that would accompany it.

Whether anticipating surgery, recovering from a procedure, or struggling with physical health, you will probably benefit from having a deep, connected relationship with a partner. Although the study described here looked at married couples specifically, and didn’t appear to take into consideration those individuals in a committed relationship who are unmarried, it is still true that love is love and that care from a loved one helps you heal.

Mind you, having a need for surgery is not a reason to marry. But if both of you are devoted to the relationship, it sure wouldn’t hurt to tell the person you love that you would like to have him or her there for you during this very important time. The nurturing involved will serve the two of you—before, during, and perhaps long after the health issue has passed.

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Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, columnist, and radio host. His latest book is The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.

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