Health In Happy Couples: The Michelangelo Effect

The Mental Health of Happy Couples

Ever wonder whether there is better overall health in happy couples? Or whether there is better psychological and physical health in happy couples compared with unhappy partners? Let’s first start with depression because it affects about 20 million adults in the U.S. alone and is therefore one of the most common diseases. The bad news here is that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Depression is correlate very highly with other markers of mental health.

Researchers using data from the largest national studies ever done[i] found that marriage reduces the blues in both men and women. Here’s the skinny:

  1. In studies of those continuously married versus, those single or living together, researchers found that entry into marriage significantly reduces depressive symptoms in women (and men).
  2. Single and stable women reported increases in depression over a five-year period while the married women did not.
  3. Depression isn’t a factor in the decision to get married. In other words, the problem of self-selection in experimental designs doesn’t appear to screw up the results.
  4. In short, we now know that a stable marriage helps women ward off the blues. Other studies[ii] show that when we look at overall mental health, married women are emotionally healthier than singles.

What about the argument that marriage is better for men than it is for women?

We know that married men are far better off than single men. Granted, men may benefit from marriage even more than women, but those differences can be accounted for by the nature of male single life: the bachelor tends to have more unhealthy habits and is less likely to have emotional social support than the bachelorette. So when he marries, he steps up to a much healthier lifestyle.

Single women on the other hand, are not significantly different in their lifestyles than their married counterparts. So where do married women suffer relative to singles? In two areas: when they are in bad marriages or when they have kids. It’s as simple as that. Women in bad marriages report having trouble sleeping, not feeling OK and being more stressed than gals who say they are in a satisfying marriage. In other words, a woman’s emotional health in a happy couple may contribute a lot more to her well-being than we previously thought.

Married with Children

As to having kids, women with young kids have more stress than women without kids. Duh! Oh, and they feel they have no time for…

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