The answer to this question of the ages is found within an insightful, detailed 3,800 word article by Tara Parker-Pope over at The New York Times. Although lengthy, it explores the research into this issue and focuses on the work by Ronald Glaser and Jan Kiecolt-Glaser from Ohio State University who’ve been studying the intersection of psychology on the biology of humans since the 1980s:
The two scientists were fascinated by each other’s work, which they often discussed over meals or while jogging together. Glaser suggested that they collaborate professionally, but finding common ground was a challenge: he studied virology and immunology; she was a clinical psychologist who focused on assertiveness and other behavior. In the early 1980s, however, Kiecolt-Glaser came across a book on the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology, which concerns the interplay between behavior, the immune and endocrine systems and the brain and nervous system. The couple were intrigued by a science that lay at the intersection of their disciplines. […]
In their first research collaboration, they sought to measure the effect of psychological stress on the immune system. Although earlier studies had established that trauma and other major stress — like the death of a loved one or prolonged sleep deprivation — weakened the immune system, the Glasers wanted to know if lesser forms of stress, like those associated with the workplace or graduate school, had a similar effect.
Who would’ve thought that two scientists in unrelated fields would find a way to work together like that? It’s exactly those kinds of pairings that can result in startling new insights into a field where the common wisdom may be entrenched. Borrowing from other fields can allow us to look at old problems with new eyes.
Getting back to the question — does marriage help your health and happiness? Sure, as long as it’s a good marriage. Unhealthy marriages don’t help an individual’s health, and in fact may hurt it. Research has shown that people in unhealthy marriages might as well not be married at all — they are more susceptible to illness than happier couples, for instance.
Kiecolt-Glaser told me that the overall health lesson to take away from the new wave of marriage-and-health literature is that couples should first work to repair a troubled relationship and learn to fight without hostility and derision. But if staying married means living amid constant acrimony, from the point of view of your health, “you’re better off out of it,” she says.
But are you? The University of Chicago study last year on 9,000 couples suggested that once you’re divorced or widowed, you may suffer from physical health effects that you never fully recover from (It said nothing of the emotional health effects from such events). They had more chronic health issues, and they reported more problems with everyday activities, like climbing stairs.
Maybe staying single is the answer: “But in the Chicago study, people who had divorced or been widowed had worse health problems than men and women who had been single their entire lives. In formerly married individuals, it was as if the marriage advantage had never existed. “
Indeed, the real answer from the research suggests there is no clear answer. That even being married comes with its own pitfalls in terms of the health benefits, all of which seem to disappear in the wake of a divorce (within our control) or the death of your spouse (out of our control). So grab a cup of your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and enjoy the read.
Read the full article: Is Marriage Good for Your Health?