The health benefits of marriage have been recognized and commented upon in recent years by scholars, public officials, health and human service practitioners, and the media. Married people, in general, are healthier and live longer. However, the meaning and practical significance of this finding is not clear. More recent studies find that it is the quality of the relationship with the spouse or significant other that matters most, not solely marital status. Studies show that positive and supportive relationships promote health and help healing while negative and destructive relationships are harmful to health.
The nexus between marriage and health represents a relatively new and still undeveloped area of research, and is somewhat constrained by various methodological limitations. However, the number and variety of studies across disciplines and diseases that find strong correlations among marriage, relationship quality and health outcomes for children and adults are impressive and intriguing, and all point in the same direction. There is clearly a relationship between marriage and health that warrants attention in current debates about how to improve health care and reduce costs.
Why should health care professionals and policymakers pay attention to these facts? What role can they play in helping people choose partners well and achieve healthy, safe and long lasting marriages that most desire? This Issue Brief summarizes research, and identifies promising marriage and relationship education (MRE) tools and program models designed to strengthen couple relationships that could be adapted and integrated into the health care system.
What Does the Research Tell Us About Marriage and Health?
The research on the marriage/relationship and health connection is scattered among different disciplines and draws upon analyses of general population surveys and studies of specific diseases and populations. Initially most research focused solely on marital status and did not assess relationship quality or include cohabiting couples (those living together in a romantic relationship). More recent studies distinguish between “unhealthy” marriages and those that are “healthy” or “good enough.” A few also examine health outcomes for couples who are cohabiting but not married, and a few examine differences between