Well I'm sorry that it's been a while since I wrote for PT. But I just handed in the manuscript for my forthcoming book "Lasting Love" which will be out in January 2011. All of my last 90,000 words seemed to pour into that document. But I'm happy to be back on these pages and look forward to continuing the dialogues we've shared.
I think the key to understanding some of the conflicting research on marriage, health and happiness is the variable of marital satisfaction. Many studies simply did not measure marital happiness as part of their experiments or surveys. Of those that did, here's the overview: Bad or unsatisfactory marriages may contribute to health and psychological problems while a good marriage may protect a woman from certain diseases or help her to recover faster if she does get ill.
We can't go into all of the studies so here are a few. A study of long-term marriages in which the partners were unhappy, showed that women more than men were likely to suffer from high blood pressure and obesity[i]. Other studies have showed that poor marital quality was associated with depression, worsened physical health, poor sleep and metabolic problems.
We've also already showed that once a woman is divorced or widowed that her economic, health and general well-being are all adversely affected. In other words, there is a severe marriage penalty for being in a bad marriage or getting divorced that never-married singles don't pay. In fact, singles with strong social support have been found to be nearly as well off as married women in good relationships. That's because social support and love are probably the key drivers behind many of the positive findings in comparison studies of singles, married, living together and divorced gals.
So what about women in satisfying marriages? In comparison studies, they had the least atherosclerosis in their arteries and lived much longer if they did have heart disease. They had fewer doctor visits, lower blood pressure than singles or women in unhappy marriages. Studies of long-term couples showed that they report fewer headaches and back pain. Happy couples healed twice as fast from flesh wounds than those who demonstrated hostility toward each other. In fMRI studies of the brain, men and women in long-term marriages showed activation in the areas of the brain associated with dopamine, that is, the passion centers, as if they were newlyweds. There is no question then that the social support of a loving partner contributes to having a healthier, longer and happier life.
Bottom Line: Marriage by itself is not an answer to all of life's problems. Being single today coupled with a strong social network of family and friends, is a very viable alternative to even a healthy marriage. So relax.
If you do decide to tie the knot, choose a man who is a good match, someone who is devoted to you and committed to handling the inevitable bumps and potholes that you will face on your journey. Because if it does not go well and you divorce, the research suggests that you will suffer more than if you had never been married.
On the other hand, a good marriage is worth creating and working on because it can have other many positive effects on your health and well-being. And later in this chapter we'll look at one of those surprising benefits that I've been writing about that has been recently confirmed in research studies and dubbed the Michelangelo Effect. In my book, Love in 90 Days: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love, I take a close look at how great couples, like great sculptors, shape each other so that both move toward their own individual dreams and goals. They accomplish these feats by practicing eight habits that have been borne out by many research studies.
Diana Kirschner, Ph.D. is a frequent guest psychologist on The Today Show & best-selling author of "Love in 90 Days" out now in paperback online & at fine book stores with a new chapter on "Dating Games Men Play." Love in 90 Days was the basis of her PBS Special on love. Connect with Dr. Diana through her free relationship & dating advice newsletter.