Study Finds a Happy Marriage Can Lead to Living Longer

The health of your relationship can weigh heavily on your actual health

Updated 02/22/19

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Research has shown that there’s a connection between a good marriage and good health. Just look at one of the greatest actresses of all time, Meryl Streep. She’s almost 70 years old—can you believe that?—and just celebrated her 41st wedding anniversary with husband Don Gummer; talk about #relationshipgoals.

There’s a robust body of research that suggests marriage is good for your physical and mental health. (One 2018 study even found that simply holding your partner’s hand can help decrease pain.) But researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder wanted to know if there was any association between how happy your marriage is and how long you actually live.

It turns out, there is.

For their analysis—their findings were published in the journal Health Psychology last November—the study’s authors looked at data from 19,246 married individuals between 1978 and 2010. In order to measure marital satisfaction, these participants were asked, “Taking things all together, how would you describe your marriage? Would you say that your marriage is very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”

A simple enough question, right? When the authors concluded their analysis, they found that the odds of dying when a couple was very happy or pretty happy were significantly lower than when a person said they were not too happy. In fact, when it was all said and done, people who expressed dissatisfaction with their marriage had about 25 percent greater odds of dying compared to those who felt at least somewhat happy about their lifelong union.

Anna Gilmour, a graduate student in clinical psychology at CU Boulder and one of the authors of the study, noted in a statement: “Mortality is arguably the most detrimental health outcome and so even though there are a lot of studies showing that relationship quality can be impactful on less severe health outcomes, it was really intriguing to see that we did find a significant difference even for mortality.”

She added: “Everyone knows that being physically inactive is bad for your health and can lead to a reduced lifespan, but you don’t really hear doctors talking about your relationship with your partner as something you should boost to potentially live longer.”

So, in other words, we need to pay attention to the health of our marriages just like we need to go to the gym.

In fact, maybe if we all worked harder on maintaining the health of our marriages, we could do something about the life expectancy stats for Americans. According to data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018, people in the United States are dying at a faster rate than the previous year, and at an average age of 78.6. That’s about a tenth of a year sooner than what was reported in 2017.

If you’re really concerned about ensuring your marriage turns out to be rock solid—thus potentially avoiding an early death—you may want to heed this advice from Meryl Streep. The key to a successful marriage, she once told a New Zealand publication, was communication. "You have to talk about all the issues that arise, even the smallest things," she said. "You have to listen to your partner's problems, suggestions, and advice, and accept that you're not always right.”

No wonder she’s considered one of the greatest of her generation.

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