Is a Committed Relationship Good for Your Health?

Tying the knot can have its health benefits but it depends on the quality of your partnership.

Updated on June 10, 2022

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Having someone with whom to share your life can be good for your heart and cognition. But it might not be so great for other aspects of your health, like your waistline. In many cases, the overall health benefit of a partnership depends on whether the union is a happy one.

“Being married isn’t going to guarantee a stress-free life and excellent health,” says Taly Drimer-Kagan, MD, a psychiatrist in Madison, Tennessee. “What matters here is the quality of the relationship, regardless of whether somebody is married or not.”

Here are some surprising ways a committed relationship can play a role in your health.

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It might slash your dementia risk

One in nine people over age 65 has dementia and there’s some evidence your significant other may play a role in reducing that risk. A 2017 review in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry analyzed data from 800,000 people across Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. People who were never married were 42 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who were. Widowers had a 20 percent greater chance.

“Social interaction can increase cognitive reserve, so this means that a person has a greater ability to cope with all the neuropathological damage that is done by dementia,” says Dr. Drimer-Kagan. Partners might also motivate each other to engage in healthy habits such as eating right, getting physical activity, going to regular checkups with a healthcare provider (HCP), and making and keeping friends—all of which mean good things for your brain. Partners may also lend encouragement to cut out bad habits linked to dementia, like smoking or drinking.

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It could lower your risk of heart disease

A happy marriage might keep your heart happy, too. A 2016 study in the International Journal of Cardiology looked at how marital status can affect the likelihood of surviving a heart attack. Researchers tracked 929,552 patients, some of whom already had a heart attack and others who just had risk factors for a heart attack, including high blood pressure and cholesterol. At the end of the 13-year study, researchers found married people had a 14 percent higher chance of surviving after a heart attack than those who were not married. Married people with risk factors also had a higher chance of survival.

One reason spouses might fare better, heart-wise: “Being happily married decreases stress,” says Drimer-Kagan. Lower stress could mean lower blood pressure and less risk of inflammation, a well-recognized cardiac risk, according to Drimer-Kagan. A married person can also ensure their spouse is taking care of their heart, as well as going to healthcare provider appointments and heart screenings.

What's more, couples can discourage bad habits linked to heart issues. “People who are in a happy relationship are less likely to drink excessively or smoke or engage in other risky behaviors,” says Drimer-Kagan.

It is important to note that a happy intimate relationship is the key to good health. According to a 2017 analysis in American Psychologist, unhappy relationships causing stress and strain can have detrimental effects on the heart.

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It may help your mental health

Can being coupled up really affect how happy and stress-free you are? Studies suggest it can.

According to a review of the effects of marriage on health, it may reduce symptoms of depression. Furthermore, people who are married may have smaller increases in symptoms over time. On the flip side, getting a divorce can increase symptoms of depression.

Experts believe marriage offers an emotional and social support system, which could explain findings like these. Other research that included a variety of types of relationships found that having a partner or any kind when people are younger (in their 20s) and older (in their 50s) can improve mental health, particularly among women.

Again, the benefits vary depending on the happiness of your relationship. A single person might have better mental health than a couple who is constantly fighting. “This is a very important point to make because being married and miserable is actually going to increase the chance of depression,” says Drimer-Kagan. 

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It could help keep your bones strong

A 2014 study published in Osteoporosis International took measurements from the lumbar spine and femoral neck bone (located in the hip) of 632 adults. Both areas are signifiers of healthy bones. Married men or those in stable marriage-like relationships had greater bone strength than men who were never married, divorced, widowed, or separated from their spouse. Women who reported having more spousal support also had a higher bone density.

Good bone health among married couples could be attributed to the way significant others take care of each other. “Being with somebody who is caring and loving and reminds you to take your medication and go to see your primary care physician when it's the time to go can affect overall health,” says Drimer-Kagan.

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Relationships are linked to weight gain for some

Being married can cause some men to pack on a few extra pounds. In a 2014 study in Families, Systems, & Health, researchers analyzed data from a survey of 1,853 adults. While the women did not seem to see changes in their weight after getting married, the men who were polled did. The married men were more likely to be overweight. Similarly, in a 2017 study published in Social Science & Medicine, married men were observed to have a higher BMI, with the increase occurring in the time period just after marriage. BMI decreased in men immediately before and after divorce.

“People in relationships that are not satisfactory also gain weight,” notes Drimer-Kagan. "The explanation here is that being unhappy leads to eating behavior and sleep problems, which can cause weight gain."

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Sommerlad A, Ruegger J, Singh-Manoux A, Lewis G, Livingston G. Marriage and risk of dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2018;89(3):231-238.
Beam CR, Dinescu D, Emery R, Turkheimer E. A Twin Study on Perceived Stress, Depressive Symptoms, and Marriage. J Health Soc Behav. 2017;58(1):37-53.
Grundström J, Konttinen H, Berg N, Kiviruusu O. Associations between relationship status and mental well-being in different life phases from young to middle adulthood. SSM Popul Health. 2021;14:100774. Published 2021 Mar 17.
Smith TW, Baucom BRW. Intimate relationships, individual adjustment, and coronary heart disease: Implications of overlapping associations in psychosocial risk. Am Psychol. 2017;72(6):578-589.
Dupre ME, Nelson A. Marital history and survival after a heart attack. Soc Sci Med. 2016;170:114-123.
Miller-Martinez, D et al. Marital histories, marital support, and bone density: findings from the Midlife in the United States Study. Osteoporosis international. 25,4 (2014): 1327-35.
Berge, J. M., Bauer, K. W., MacLehose, R., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2014). Associations between relationship status and day-to-day health behaviors and weight among diverse young adults. Families, Systems, & Health, 32(1), 67–77.
Reczek C, Pudrovska T, Carr D, Thomeer MB, Umberson D. Marital Histories and Heavy Alcohol Use among Older Adults [published correction appears in J Health Soc Behav. 2016 Jun;57(2):274]. J Health Soc Behav. 2016;57(1):77-96.
Dupre ME, Nelson A. Marital history and survival after a heart attack. Soc Sci Med. 2016;170:114-123.
Jaremka LM, Belury MA, Andridge RR, et al. Novel Links between Troubled Marriages and Appetite Regulation: Marital Distress, Ghrelin, and Diet Quality. Clin Psychol Sci. 2016;4(3):363-375.
Syrda J. The impact of marriage and parenthood on male body mass index: Static and dynamic effects. Soc Sci Med. 2017;186:148-155.

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