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Published: Monday, 4/1/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Happily married couples believe they are healthier

Study suggests single peers' health doesn't compare

BY KIM HONE-McMAHAN
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
Becky Costello of Akron, Ohio, has been widowed for two years. She and Tim were married 36 years. It wasn’t a perfect marriage, she noted, but Tim was perfect for her. And their marriage was happy. Becky Costello of Akron, Ohio, has been widowed for two years. She and Tim were married 36 years. It wasn’t a perfect marriage, she noted, but Tim was perfect for her. And their marriage was happy.
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL Enlarge

AKRON — Many folks are skipping marriage these days, but a new study shows that happily married couples consider themselves healthier than their unmarried peers.

GUIDE TO HAPPINESS

Kathaleen Stevenson, a counselor with Kessler Psychological Services in Hartville, Ohio, notes that whether single or married, those who are the happiest:

Don’t keep grudges. They forgive easily and wisely, keeping healthy relationships by being active participants in creating positive interactions.

Have a sense of purpose for their lives, engaging outside of their relationships to contribute to the greater good, thus enriching their relationships and personal joy.

Do not accept any form of abusiveness in their relationships.

Follow the Serenity Prayer, which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

A University of Missouri assistant professor found that, in all stages of marriage, positive or negative relationships affect a person’s perception of his or her health. So spouses should note that the way they treat each other, and how happy they are in their marriage, affect both partners’ health. In other words, cool it with the unnecessary arguments.

“Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people’s spirits and well-being and lower their stress,” Christine Proulx, who analyzed data from more than 700 married folks, said in a news release.

So, is the study accurate?

“I know from experience that being in an unhappy marriage can be very unhealthy physically and mentally for a person. I was in an unhappy marriage for 19 years and paid the price for it with my health,” offered Suzanne Cordner of Uniontown, Ohio, who is now remarried. “The stress I was under created havoc in my body. It weakened my immune system, leading to many illnesses, and I still, to this day 14 years later, have medical issues that I need to see a doctor every week for.”

Lynn Ruediger of Richfield, Ohio, agrees that a bad marriage is certainly terrible on a person’s health — physical and mental.

“Negativity can be so destructive on a human being that having an unhappy partnership should be assessed and possibly ended,” said Ruediger, who has been married for 46 years. “I feel there are times when married people who still enjoy their lives together are happier and healthier. Often, a loving spouse is the reason you take better care of your health. You socialize often with like-minded people, and you generally feel cared for.”

Proulx suggested health professionals consider a patient’s personal relationship when designing a treatment plan.

“I suspect we’d have higher rates of adherence if medical professionals placed more of an emphasis on incorporating families and spouses in patients’ care,” she said.

But Dave Egan, of Stow, Ohio, who has been married for 38 years, said that while mental and physical health can be attributed to a happy marriage, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the happily married are more fit than their unmarried counterparts.

“To personalize it, I have a happy marriage and satisfy the requirement of being mentally and physically healthy. However, could I be just as healthy if I were single? There is no way to test that unless I were to get a divorce, allowing for a comparison,” noted Egan, adding he’s not interested in trying that out.

But what about a person whose spouse has died? Does the happiness from a good marriage linger enough in the heart to keep the person healthy?

Becky Costello of Akron, Ohio, has been widowed for two years. She and Tim were married 36 years. It wasn’t a perfect marriage, she noted, but Tim was perfect for her. And their marriage was happy.

“During my period of acute grief, I was not as robustly healthy as I had been prior to Tim’s death. I lost interest in food (Tim was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and a talented chef) and I had difficulty maintaining a healthy diet and meal schedule, and as a result I lost weight,” she said. “My sleep habits were also affected; four or five hours of sleep each night constituted a new good night’s sleep.”

Mentally, the bereaved Costello lost her ability to feel joy, hope and other emotions.

“But I know the happiness from loving Tim and being his wife was still in my heart even during the time of acute grief. And as I worked through the acute grief, I began to reconnect to those feelings, including the happiness and love from our marriage, which remain with me to this day.”



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