Study Reveals Surprising Effects of Marriage on Health

Not all marriages are created equal. Are you prepared for a happy, healthy union?

Study Reveals Surprising Effects of Marriage on Health

Photo: Heather Waraksa

couple dancing

Studies consistently demonstrate a host of health benefits experienced by married individuals: better heart health, fewer symptoms of depression, and a longer life. But new research suggests that these health benefits may be dependent on the quality of your marriage, and even a "so-so" marriage can lead to negative health outcomes.

A study recently published by researchers at Brigham Young University attempted to answer the question: How good does your marriage have to be in order to experience health benefits? Ninety-four heterosexual couples, married an average of 5.4 years and living with no children or other relatives, were quizzed about the levels of support and negativity they received from their partners. Then, the subjects were given blood pressure monitors that recorded their levels twice every hour for one day. Participants were instructed to record what they were doing and their mood at the time of each blood pressure reading.

After studying the questionnaires, researchers determined that 23 percent of the couples were in supportive, positive marriages. The rest were in "ambivalent" marriages, experiencing both positive and negative feelings for each other. Those in the ambivalent marriages demonstrated higher blood pressure readings than those in positive unions.

In fact, the negative effects of an ambivalent marriage were greater than the positive effects of a strong marriage, suggesting that a weak marriage can be truly detrimental to your health. But study author Wendy Birmingham pointed out that if couples aren't satisfied with the levels of positivity in their marriages, there's always time to make changes.

“There are certainly always options to increase the positivity within your marriage, especially things like spousal disclosure,” Birmingham said. “If you’re seeing these ambivalent feelings and negativity, it’s time to improve.”

An easy way to improve your marriage: say thank you! A recent study found that gratitude expressed between spouses was the most consistent predictor of marriage quality. If you haven't tied the knot yet, read this to help set realistic expectations for your marriage.

Opening photo by EDLT Photo