How our mate affects our health
When I was young, one piece of wisdom passed on to me by my father was, “Be careful how you choose a wife. She will have a big influence on your success in life.” Sound enough advice, but he didn’t tell me that she would have a big influence on my physical health as well. When two people fall in love, they are not especially thinking of how the other will impact their cholesterol levels, but there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that our choice in partner can have huge effects on our physical wellbeing.
It’s not hard to understand some influences. For instance, if one spouse of a smoking couple quits, the other is not only more likely to quit, they are six to eight times more likely to quit. A similar process happens with a drinking couple. One partner stops drinking, the other is five times more likely to quit. Romantic partners tend to have more influence on our behaviors than anyone else. A couple that starts dating might find themselves going out to bars and restaurants a lot and consuming more alcohol, coffee, cheese and rich food. Studies have shown that love birds tend to trade vices such as smoking, drinking and drug use.
When two people marry, their habits tend to become even more alike. Researchers have discovered that spouses influence each others’ exercise habits, physician visits, alcohol consumption and marijuana use. When one soul mate has an illness, in many instances, it increases the likelihood their make will have the same illness. This has been found to be true for cancer, stroke, arthritis, hypertension, asthma, depression and peptic ulcer disease. One study shows that you are twice as likely to be hyperten- sive if your spouse has high blood pressure. Spouses can even develop health problems as a result of their mate’s emotional health. One study shows that men who have wives are frequently upset by their work are three times more likely to develop heart disease.
There are subtle effects we have on our mates. The wife of a man who snores loudly develops insomnia and suffers the effects of chronic sleep deprivation. When there is hostility in a marriage, the woman is more likely to have coronary artery disease then those in more sanguine relationships. Men in controlling relationships, whether they are the boss or the one being bossed around, have more coronary artery disease then those in more equal relationships.
On the positive side, some pairs minimize the risk of physical maladies by attending couples therapy. Therapy is likely to provide beneficial affects on controlling or hostile behaviors or mediate stress prone dispositions that can weaken the health of one or both partners. While it has long been demonstrated that psychotherapy can improve physical health, it only stands to reason that therapy that improves the emotional health of the relationships would, in turn, contribute to increase health benefits for both.
So to rephrase my father’s advice, “Be careful how you choose your spouse. They may well determine whether you live a long and healthy life or a short one prone to illness.”