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Only Happy Marriage Is Healthy for Women
Sounds right to me. At least for women, I don't think marital status
matters. If you surround yourself with positive people and
relationships, and keep a positive attitude, I think you have a better
chance of being healthy. Being in an unhappy marriage is the worst. I
thank God every night for the peace in my life now that I am no longer
in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage. I'm so glad I decided
to stop putting up with it.
This article is from the WebMD
Medical News Archive
Only Happy Marriage Is Healthy for Women
Marriage Satisfaction Key to Women's Health Benefits
By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Medical News Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
on Monday, September 15, 2003
Sept. 15, 2003 -- Married men are healthier men. But for women, the
health benefit of marriage depends on the health of the marriage.
Over and over again, studies show that marriage is good for men's
health. For women, the picture has been less clear. Some studies suggest
that women need marriage like a fish needs a bicycle.
That's true, a new study finds -- but only for women who aren't highly
satisfied. Women who say their marriages are very satisfying have better
heart health, healthier lifestyles, and fewer emotional problems, report
Linda C. Gallo, PhD, and colleagues.
"Women in high-quality marriages do benefit from being married," Gallo
tells WebMD. "They are less likely to get heart disease in the future.
And in terms of emotional distress, satisfied women reported more social
support and being less angry, depressed, and anxious."
It isn't just that the less-satisfying marriages were bad. The women in
good marriages also were healthier than divorced, widowed, and single
women. So top-notch marriages are healthy in and of themselves.
The Toll of Unsatisfying Marriage
Gallo and colleagues studied women enrolled in the University of
Pittsburgh's Healthy Women study. This long-term study is designed to
weed out the factors responsible for women's increased risk of heart
disease after menopause.
The study collected data from 490 women in their 40s -- nearly all of
them married -- and followed them for 13 years. The findings appear in
the September 2003 issue of Health Psychology.
Women who got little satisfaction from their marriages came to the study
in worse health. They didn't get better over time. Happily married women
started out in pretty good health and aged well.
"Women in distressed marriages -- and in this group, this meant they
were not all that distressed, but less happy than other women -- already
suffered the negative effects of being in a less-than-happy marriage,"
Gallo says. "The women in happy marriages were thinner, gained less
weight over time, and had lower cholesterol levels. The less happy women
tended to exercise less."
What's going on? Is there something magic about saying "I do?"
"It doesn't necessarily have to be heterosexual cohabitation," Gallo
says. "Human connectedness is a basic fundamental need for people.
Marriage or being in a close relationship is an important part of life.
When it is good, it doesn't just make life pleasurable. It is good for
health. When people are in happy situations, maybe they exercise
together; maybe they sit down to healthy meals together. It is
Marriage Different for Men, Women
There's still that nagging question of why the average marriage is
healthier for the average man than for the average woman. Timothy J.
Loving, PhD, assistant professor in the University of Texas' Department
of Human Ecology, has looked at this issue.
"Men identify their wives as their main support, someone who is there to
talk to," Loving tells WebMD. "Women maintain a larger support network.
They are able to use other relationships for support. Wives don't gain
as much from marriage, on a psychosocial level, as a husband would."
That's true says Boston University psychologist Deborah Belle, EdD.
Belle has studied the health effects of relationships for more than 20
years. She's also found that only happily married women benefit from
marriage, but that married men get a benefit whether the marriage is
happy or not.
Why? One reason, Belle says, is that women appear to be more sensitive
to the negative aspects of relationships than men. Another reason: Women
support their partners better than men do.
"What is most striking is that men's' support is so heavily dependent on
one partner -- the wife," Belle tells WebMD. "Women specialize in
providing support. Women's socialization and subordinate social status
trains women to focus on others' needs -- and more than men, they
believe that others' needs can be met. Often women dedicate their lives
to providing support for others."
This doesn't mean that men don't -- or can't -- be supportive partners.
They certainly can. And women can be terrible partners. But, on average,
women as wives tend to be supportive. The average husband gets more
support from his wife than the average wife gets from her husband.
Evidence comes from studies of men's and women's relationships. Men and
women are less lonely when they report spending time with women. Time
spent with men has no effect on reducing loneliness, Belle says. And in
times of stress, both men and women turn to women for emotional support.
"I'm widowed after a long marriage to a wonderful man," Belle says. "I
married again a month ago. I have a wonderful spouse. I don't think men
are incapable of support. It's just that not all men achieve it."
Are Single Women Doomed?
Even though her study showed that happily married women are healthier
than unmarried women, Gallo doesn't think all women must marry or suffer
"If we'd been able to break down the group of single women in our study,
we'd probably find that it contains a subgroup of single women who are
very content," Gallo says. "They have friends. They have careers. They
get some things that women with high marriage satisfaction get. I guess
it is possible to fulfill those needs in another way. It is just more
the social norm to get married."
Of course, there's nothing magic about marriage. Gallo warns that while
a happy marriage is good for a woman, an unhappy marriage is a horse of
a different color.
"Women who aren't in happy marriages are at most risk," she says. "So
just getting married isn't as important as getting a quality partner."
SOURCES: Gallo, L.C. Health Psychology, September 2003; vol 22. Linda C.
Gallo, PhD, assistant professor, department of psychology, San Diego
State University. Deborah Belle, EdD, professor, department of
psychology, Boston University. Timothy J. Loving, PhD, assistant
professor, department of human ecology, University of Texas, Austin.
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