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?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.