A new study discusses the health-related benefits that appear to be conveyed by being in a good relationship. Of interest is the discovery that the advantages of marriage are different for men and women.
In men, marriage appears to be linked to improved survival rates with the more satisfying the marriage, the higher the rate of survival.
As an example, University of Rochester researchers discovered happily married men who undergo coronary bypass surgery are more than three times as likely to be alive 15 years later as their unmarried counterparts.
The quality of the relationship is even more important in women. An unhappy marriage does not provide a survival bonus yet satisfying relationships increase a woman’s survival rate almost fourfold, the study found.
The study may be found in the journal Health Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.
“There is something in a good relationship that helps people stay on track” says Kathleen King, professor emerita from the School of Nursing at the University of Rochester and lead author on the paper.
Researchers believe the effect of marital satisfaction is on the same level as traditional risk factors.
Harry Reis, a coauthor and professor of psychology comments that the effects of marital satisfaction is “every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity, and high blood pressure.”
“Wives need to feel satisfied in their relationships to reap a health dividend,” explains Reis.
“But the payoff for marital bliss is even greater for women than for men.”
The findings by the Rochester researchers contrast with some studies that have not found a marriage benefit for women. Reis believe the difference is looking at the level of satisfaction of the marriage, rather than simply being married.
In the study, researchers tracked 225 people who had bypass surgery between 1987 and 1990. They asked married participants to rate their relationship satisfaction one year after surgery.
The study adjusted for age, sex, education, depressed mood, tobacco use, and other factors known to affect survival rates for cardiovascular disease. Fifteen years after surgery, 83 percent of happily wedded wives were still alive, versus 28 percent of women in unhappy marriages and 27 percent of unmarried women.
The survival rate for contented husbands was also 83 percent, but even the not-so-happily married fared well. Men in less-than-satisfying unions enjoyed a survival rate of 60 percent, significantly better than the 36 percent rate for unmarried men.
“Coronary bypass surgery was once seen as a miracle cure for heart disease,” says King.
“But now we know that for most patients, grafts are a temporary patch, even more susceptible to clogging and disease than native arteries. So, it’s important to look at the conditions that allow some patients to beat the odds.”
King believes aggressive medical care in the form of bypass surgery rarely leads to life-changing behavior. “The data show that many people go back to the lifestyle that they had before,” she says.
Researchers say the study demonstrates the importance of ongoing relationships for both men and women.
Supportive spouses most likely help by encouraging healthy behavior, like increased exercise or smoking cessation, which are critical to long-term survival from heart disease. King also suggests that a nurturing marriage provides patients with sustained motivation to care for oneself and a powerful reason to “stick around so they can stay in the relationship that they like.”
These are qualities of the relationship that likely existed before bypass surgery, and continued afterward, says King.
The study has some physiological basis as earlier research discovered people with lower hostility in their marriages have less of the kind of inflammation that is linked to heart disease.
Researchers believe this association may help explain why people in this study benefited from satisfying marriages.
Source: University of Rochester