There is a longstanding notion that married couples enjoy significantly greater health than unmarried individuals.
Research consistently finds that married men and women are:
- More likely to live longer
- More likely to be physically healthier
- More likely to be mentally healthier
- More likely to be happier
- Recover from illness quicker and more successfully
- Generally, take care of themselves and avoid risky behavior
However, making a blanket claim such as, “Married people are healthier than single people,” ignores how nuanced relationships are. We now have new research that shows the relationship between health and marriage is much more complicated than that.
A study published this month by researchers at Brigham Young University explored the relationship between health and “ambivalent marriages” – marriages that sporadically fluctuate between being supportive and unsupportive, good and bad, etc.
The study found that men and women in ambivalent relationships consistently posted higher systolic blood pressure readings during the day than those in supportive marriages.
Of course, even the best marriages have their peaks and valleys, but Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York suggested it is the unpredictable nature of ambivalent relationships that could pose health risks.
“Being sometimes supportive and sometimes not supportive is not the same thing as being moderately supportive all the time,” he said. “Part of the issue may be the unpredictability. When you know someone is not going to be supportive, you acclimatize to that. But if they are sometimes one way and sometimes the other way, it’s much harder.”
These findings are relevant for people who find themselves in marriages that might be on the fritz. Clearly, staying in an unhappy marriage can have a number of negative effects.
Those consequences can extend to children as past research has found that marital discord can lead to long-term emotional problems for children. These findings show how counterproductive it is to stay in a marriage that has turned sour solely for the sake of the children.
The unfortunate reality is that there are instances where divorce is truly unavoidable and the best decision for the entire family. Although divorce is linked with its own set of health risks, the experience can eventually be a harbinger to happier days.
That said, ending a marriage should be considered a final resort. All efforts possible should first be made to try to save your marriage.
Try talking things out with your spouse. Discuss ways to work through those times when you each feel unsupportive. If necessary, enlist the help of a marriage counselor.
If all this fails, you still need to consider all the ramifications of divorce. A divorce will impact your love life, your children’s lives, your other family members’ lives, even your friends’ lives. And it will likely be the single biggest financial decision you ever make.
Are you prepared for all that?
The overarching point of all this is that relationships, marriage and divorce are incredible complex. No relationship is black and white.
Research now shows that not all marriages are healthy, but you should still do much soul searching before making the leap to dissolve your relationship.