Going on a date with your spouse for an evening could seem like a thing of the past. Married couples may find themselves slacking on their weekly date night plans because of various commitments, such as work and kids, that end in a tight schedule. But it may be time to finally prioritize date night, as married couples who are happier are in better health, according to a recent study.
Findings published online in the Journal of Marriage and Family show a strong correlation between good health and happy marriages. Researchers conducted a 20-year study that followed 1,681 people to observe how content they were in marriage, comparing this to their health. The researchers examined data collected from 1980 to 2000, which was provided by Penn State researchers who analyzed the causes of marriage instability for 2,000 married people. The team decided to divide the participants into two groups: people aged between 18 and 39 and people aged between 40 and 55.
In the study, marital happiness was measured using an 11-question scale that asked the participants how happy they were in various aspects of their relationship. The respondents were asked questions on things such as whether their spouse understood them, did activities with them, agreed with them, and provided love and affection, the Daily Mail reports. Marital problems were measured using a 13-question scale to define how the couple struggled with issues, such as jealously, anger, and infidelity. The health status of the participants was measured by asking them to rank their health as excellent, good, fair, or poor.
The younger group participants, on average, were 30 years old and were married a little less than eight years at the start of the study. The older group participants averaged 46 years old and were married for approximately 22 years. The researchers found that a married couple’s happiness was positively correlated with good health — no matter how old they were. For the younger group, as marital happiness improved, so did individual health. For the older group, the lessening of marital problems was strongly correlated with an improvement in physical health.
"We wanted to compare the health trajectory with the happiness trajectory," said Cody Hollist, co-author of the study and a marriage and family therapy expert at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to Medical Xpress. "As health worsens, do their marriages stay stable? What we found is that there's a relationship between health and happiness for both age groups. If their health is good, their happiness is up."
A surprising finding for the researchers was that the participants who began the study with marital problems showed an improvement in health over time. Hollist believes that this result could be due to the resiliency of people during adversity. “Stressful circumstances can be a wake-up call for some as it can motivate healthier and more adaptive pathways of behavior over time,” he said.
The study affirms that marital quality and health are strongly linked. This belief has been echoed in a previous study that found married cancer patients have better survival rates than unmarried cancer patients.