5 Ways Our Relationships Influence Our Health

From mortality to synchrony, the quality of our relationships impacts our health

Posted Mar 09, 2019

Wikimedia Commons
Can our partner's health impact our own?
Source: Wikimedia Commons

People who are married tend to have better health, but simply having that life partner is not enough to reap benefits. The relationship has to be good. Toxic relationships can be worse for your health than no relationship at all. According to a recent review of the literature by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Stephanie Wilson, here are five ways that our most intimate relationships can affect our health:

1.       People who have higher quality relationships tend to live longer. In fact, having good, supportive relationships is one of the strongest predictors of mortality (even stronger than quitting smoking, according to a meta-analysis conducted by Holt-Lunstad and colleagues in 2010).

2.       People in higher quality relationships sleep better. If you are happier in your relationship you tend to sleep better, and your partner may benefit as well! In the reverse direction—people in more strained and unhappy relationships experience worsening sleep over time (Yang et al., 2013)

3.       Hostile relationship

s could lead to weight gain. Stress and depression are linked to weight gain, and Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues found that couples who had more hostile interactions during conflict had lower postmeal energy expenditure (burned fewer calories). Marital discord also makes it more likely you’ll turn to less healthy, high-fat comfort food.

4.       People in distressed relationships benefit less from health interventions. People who are depressed and in distressed relationships do not experience the same benefits from drug or therapy-based depression treatments as people in higher quality relationships. On the other hand, when people are able to treat their relationship problems, many of their health problems show improvements as well.

5.       Your partner’s health matters for your own health. Relationship partners are likely to share a lot of the same health behaviors and emotional experiences, especially if they are close. These shared moments lead to similar health outcomes. But more than that, partners can impact each other. If one partner is obese, the other partner’s risk for obesity nearly doubles. In better news, if one partner undergoes treatment for a health problem, the other can benefit as well—husbands of women in a weight intervention study lost weight as well, and they lost significantly more weight if their wives were in the weight-loss condition compared to the control condition.

Our relationships and health are closely linked – a bad fight with a spouse might worsen your sleep or lead to poor eating behavior. These health behaviors impact your mood and physical health. Grumpy and feeling bad? This can affect how you interact with your relationship partner. When you end up facing a significant health risk, the quality of your relationship may play a role in how well you deal with that health risk and response to treatment. A distressing marriage and a partner who is not supportive or who is overly controlling might hamper your recovery. On the other hand, a supportive and confident partner who is responsive and believes in you might help you recover quicker. And while you are recovering, your partner may get some of the side benefits of your healthier lifestyle.

How has your health been impacted by your closest relationships?

References

Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Wilson, S. J. (2017). Lovesick: How couples’ relationships influence health. Annual review of clinical psychology, 13, 421-443.