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Does Marriage Really Make You Healthier?

Does Marriage Really Make You Healthier?

I had the serious pleasure of attending a fascinating panel called “Why Marriage” as part of my university’s Pride Week last Monday (one of the things I will miss most about college is the opportunity to go to so many amazing talks and panels – I feel lucky to have a year left!). 

The panel included (among others) Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a Princeton professor, author, and pundit, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the new executive editor of Feministing, and Paula Ettelbrick, an LGBT-rights lawyer and activist, and the lively hour-long conversation delved into why the institution of marriage is so contentious in the U.S.  Their conclusion dovetailed nicely with my own feelings about marriage – that while same-sex marriage rights are crucial and overdue, the institution itself has a much more troubling history and its complexity should be dealt with head-on.

With all this in mind, I was interested to see Tara Parker-Pope’s article on marriage and health in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.  Parker-Pope examines the research of two (fittingly, married) academics named Ronald Glaser and Jan Kiecolt-Glaser who work at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.  They took on the question of what exactly happens to the body during marital disputes.  This is in the wake of research that has shown that while happy marriages lead to longer lives and better mental and physical health, unhappy marriages, divorces, or spousal deaths can erase these benefits.

Their research showed, in Parker-Pope’s words, that “a hostile fight with your husband or wife isn’t just bad for your relationship. It can have a profound toll on your body.”  This means that seriously acrimonious marriages can result in poor health, and that the severity of the fighting matters a lot.  Conflict is inevitable in marital relationships, but the way that couples fight can mean worlds of difference for their overall health.

My question for this article is, like the panel, why marriage?  What is it about married couples that makes for such fertile ground for research?  What about cohabiting couples or same-sex couples who are not yet married?  It’s interesting research, but I wonder if the specter of divorce has something to do with it – divorce is difficult, and for many people, marriage is thought of as forever. 

What do you think?  If you’re married, does this research seem true to you?  And if you’re in a long-term relationship, does it seem any different to you?

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92 comments

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4:30AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

Dissolving a marriage is complicated and expensive, since a court must dissolve the union, and often creates more negatives that can influence your life for year.

Wedding Planning San Francisco

7:50AM PDT on Apr 28, 2010

Hi, I have read your passage from the reserch that these people have done, and your answer about same sex, and those who live together there is no differance at all I can see, I thought it only depended on the indavidual with in the relationship, and besides the true and genuine couples do ok in theres. I think your right about the deviorse issue, I must comment on one of your writters they tend to forget that JESUS never once said anything about over looking the sin of homosexual acts but to love the sinner so don't quote anything from the Bible unless you have read it.You and us tend and will forget that the true reason for JESUS to die and arise from the grave is that we live under grace which means we do have a choice how we live but it is JESUS who will let us know why we didn't follow his teaching from the holy bible. We must read thew bible first and understand the trueth that only is given from JESUS not our human understanding of the Bible. Sorry I get a bit carried away please forgive me. Bryan

8:16AM PDT on Apr 27, 2010

it is absolutely the same for committed couples too - not just married ones! but i appreciate hearing about a study that doesn't just say 'married people are happier, more well off, healthier, etc'. it's a start to the truth i think!

4:34PM PDT on Apr 25, 2010

Oooooops my message got posted on the wrong issue, How'd ya manage that care2!?
It should have gone on the one about the TV Ad that got pulled, oh well.

2:57PM PDT on Apr 23, 2010

"Why did I get married?" by Tyler Perry. Some people are fit for it and some are not.

6:26AM PDT on Apr 22, 2010

I happen to believe that there is little enough love in this world that we have the right, obligation or any other justification to impose our beliefs on two consenting adults and their relationship with each other. I find the narrow mindedness in some of these posts appalling. For the anger and the hatred to spew forth shows that love is not a big part of their lives.

There are those lucky enough to find the person they can spend the rest of their lives with and I say "Good for you!" and do not begrudge them n it is cracked up to be, demanding the giving up of much of who one is and that doesn't go for just women but men as well. Marriage is a reality and we need to take off the rose colored glasses and see it for what it really is not what we wish it to be. For many, many people marriage is just not healthy.

6:24AM PDT on Apr 22, 2010

I happen to believe that there is little enough love in this world that we have the right, obligation or any other justification to impose our beliefs on two consenting adults and their relationship with each other. I find the narrow mindedness in some of these posts appalling. For the anger and the hatred to spew forth shows that love is not a big part of their lives.

There are those lucky enough to find the person they can spend the rest of their lives with and I say "Good for you!" and do not begrudge them n it is cracked up to be, demanding the giving up of much of who one is and that doesn't go for just women but men as well. Marriage is a reality and we need to take off the rose colored glasses and see it for what it really is not what we wish it to be. For many, many people marriage is just not healthy.

7:55PM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

Do not get married if only you have children because it does not mean you love that person. Instances where children are in a marraige that is not loved then you might have just lived on your own and be happy...Being happy does not mean marrying just for the hell of it..

11:56AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

Marriage is for ONE man with ONE woman. Gays, polygamists, child exploiters and bestialists can move to the Moon if they don't like it here.

10:12AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

Gemma A., You said it succinctly.
Dissolving a marriage is complicated and expensive, since a court must dissolve the union, and often creates more negatives that can influence your life for year.
Marriage makes sense if there are children in most cases, and that is the only reason I can see for getting married.

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