Marriage Matters: Marriage, the magic wonder drug
By James and Audora Burg
Sturgis Journal January 11, 2008
What if there were a magic wonder drug that could confer all of the following benefits:
- Increase life expectancy
- Lower a cancer patient’s risk of dying from the disease
- Lower a surgical patient’s risk of dying in the hospital
- Strengthen the immune system
- Decrease rates of schizophrenia, alcoholism and suicide
The marketing campaign for such a magic pill would be almost too easy, especially this month. January is stereotypically the most health-conscious time of the year, when people often start diets or hit the gym with fresh resolve.
Imagine the sales pitch: "Want a longer, healthier, more satisfying life, both in and out of bed? It’s easy. Get a healthy marriage." This association between marriage and health was first reported in the ’70s.
“Oh,” you say. Some may receive that as a tough message, especially in January, a month marked by the greatest number of divorce filings in the year.
Clearly, not everyone agrees with marriage as miracle cure, but evidence accumulated since then suggests that it might be, at least for men. Research and statistics are there to back it up. Heart disease may reduce a man’s life expectancy by six years, but bachelorhood takes 10 years off a man’s expected life span.
But what if you are married, and the marriage isn’t healthy? What then?
According to researcher John Gottman, an unhappy marriage can increase the chances of illness by 35 percent, but that working on a marriage every day does more to promote health and longevity than working out at a health club.
It seems the unhealthy outcomes vary between men and women. While results of one study indicated marital stress may double a person’s risk of developing diabetes, a study in Sweden showed women in marital distress had a three times greater risk of a second heart attack.
Gottman is quoted in an article, "If it is a good marriage, the benefits are equally as great for women as for men; for men, just being married confers a tremendous amount of benefits."
Statisticians Bernard Cohen and I-Sing Lee, compilers of a catalog of relative mortality risks, were quoted, "Being unmarried is one of the greatest risks that people voluntarily subject themselves to."
That’s certainly a provocative statement.
So health and longevity-wise, maybe marriage isn’t a magical cure-all. But it does seem to be the best thing going.
James Burg, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue, Fort Wayne, and executive director of the Healthy Marriages Sturgis program. His wife, Audora, is a homemaker and free lance writer. They are parents of three children and reside in Sturgis.