People in unhappy marriages fall ill more frequently, new research suggests.
Researchers at Brigham Young University followed 1,681 married people for 20 years, in what is believed to be the longest study of the links between married life and health to date. The subjects were asked to rank their health and provide details of any marital problems, such as arguments about in-laws and money.
They found a clear link between conflict with spouses and both ill health and unhappiness at work:
“The results showed that negative marital interaction was associated with significantly lower work satisfaction and poorer health for men. Higher negative marital interaction scores were significantly related to elevated depression scores for both women and men.”
Researcher Rick Miller said:
“The implication is that marital conflict is a risk factor for poor health. Couples that fight or argue frequently should get professional help to reduce their conflict because it is affecting their health.”
Similarly, concludes Miller, happy marriages support health by encouraging a healthier lifestyle and providing emotional support during stressful times.
“When spouses have a bad day, in a happy marriage, they’re more likely to support each other and empathize with each other. That support reduces stress and helps buffer against a decline in health.”
The study was entitled “What Happens at Home Does Not Necessarily Stay at Home”: The Relationship of Observed Negative Couple Interaction With Physical Health, Mental Health, and Work Satisfaction. It appears in the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Rick Miller is a professor in the Brigham Young University Family Life department.