Marital Health: Are You Seeing The Big Picture?
There’s an old joke that couples who are together for a long time begin to resemble each other. It’s not that their faces rearrange themselves or anything so improbable as that. Rather, couples pick up each other’s habits, in how they stand or gesticulate, and they also tend to mirror each other’s health behaviors – gaining weight together, for example.
Couples’ unconscious mirroring can be dangerous, or it can support your overall health, if you stay alert and work to build healthy habits together. Consider how these 3 habits inform your marital life and ask, is your marriage helping you live longer or is it hurting your health?
A Weighty Matter
As noted above, married couples have a tendency to gain weight together, and that weight gain isn’t just the natural course of aging and a slowing metabolism. Rather, research shows that one’s risk of becoming obese increase 37% if your spouse is obese, and with that weight gain come the cascade of negative health outcomes, like developing heart disease and diabetes. Paying close attention to your common meal time behaviors can help, but the effort can’t stop at home; when eating with others, we’re prone to consume 33% more calories than we would eating alone.
As for losing weight, unfortunately, couples don’t thrive when they try to diet together. Rather, when dieting together, one partner’s success can discourage the other and derail their efforts. If you do want to lose weight together, focus your attention on exercising instead. When wives exercise more, husbands up their activity by 70%, according to a Johns Hopkins University study reported by AARP. Meanwhile, when husbands boost their activity levels, women tend to exercise 40% more.
Do you and your spouse like to travel? While certain types of travel, like hiking, can encourage exercise, what really makes traveling good for your health is that it benefits your mental health and builds closeness as a couple. You don’t have to travel to exotic locales, either. A day trip to a neighboring city can be as beneficial as a bigger trip. Or, consider spending a few days in Canada – you’ll need to report your marital status on your eTA if you’re coming from a country that requires one – and spend a few days exploring, building up a storehouse of positive emotions that will serve you in the long-run.
The Hope Of Happiness
Though it may seem silly, being a happy person, but especially being a happy, married person, yields significant health benefits. Women in unhappy marriages, for example, have an increased risk of heart disease. On the other hand, happily married people who are diagnosed with cancer are more likely to survive, in part because married people are less likely to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis than single individuals. This could be because have a close relationship with one’s spouse motivates people to take care of themselves, but also because spouses can pressure patients to see a doctor sooner.
Marriage obviously can’t eliminate innate health risks, such as a genetic predisposition to disease, nor can it correct for dangerous behaviors like smoking, yet its protective powers remain. That’s a helpful reminder on those days when your spouse is frustrating you – you are each other’s keepers. How are you supporting each other?