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The Marriage Advantage?

June 25, 2010

For many years (going on 150),  scientific opinion sided with the notion that marriage is good for you. The first (1858)  study of medical statistics used birth and death records to examine the possible benefits of the “conjugal condition.”  Among the groups of married, celibate (then defined as never married) and widowed, the married far outlived the celibate who outlived the widowed. The “marriage advantage” even makes it into recent books on happiness (Q:What makes us happy?  A: Relationships).

But anyone in my field can tell you that it isn’t just any old relationship, any old marriage that makes us happy. It’s marriages that are fair and feel close and loving that make us happy (and healthy). The other kind–the chronically unfair, hostile variety are the stuff of Sartre quotes: “Hell is other people.” Or just one other person, as it were. A forthcoming book consolidates recent research to reveal the ills that can befall us from bad marriages: including detrimental health effects similar to smoking, heart disease and depression. Glaser & Kiecolt Glaser (a pair of married researchers) have even done experiments demonstrating that nasty arguments slow healing time (don’t ask…but they created small blisters on the subjects’ arms and then measured time to heal from nasty and non-nasty arguments).

The rub of course, is that all relationships have their problems, and partners may not know how to alter course before a problem becomes chronic. The best rule of thumb if your relationship has more downs than ups, is volatile, or doesn’t ever feel truly healed after a rift, is to seek couples’ therapy sooner than later. Many couples wait a full five years after serious trouble emerges to enter therapy. I think many people are scared to go, afraid that it’s a death knell for the relationship. I’d be scared not to go–because waiting can make your relationship fray even more.  America has both the highest rate of marriage and the highest rate of divorce (remarriage and redivorce) in all of the developed countries. Yet despite these figures, most newlyweds report that they are marrying for life. To make this dream come true, start by assuming that knowing how to negotiate your differences doesn’t all comes naturally–give yourself the gift of a marriage prep course, or even a little counseling early on–it’s to your advantage.

You can find a well-trained, licensed couples’ therapist almost anywhere in the U.S. through these directories: Marriage Friendly TherapistsAmerican Family Therapy Academy or the American Association of Marital and Family Therapists.

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