Impact of relationship breakdown
Studies show that being in a quality relationship can reduce the chances of illness
Everyone knows that separating from a partner is a stressful and costly time. But few realise that there is association between being in a relationship and a person’s long term health.
Prior awareness of these effects may reduce their impact, and enable people who are going through a break up to understand their problems better and put them in context.
The impact of relationship breakdown on adult health is just one area investigated in When couples part: understanding the consequences for adults and children. This in depth review considers the evidence for the many and varied issues associated with relationship stress and breakdown. The report also provides guidance on what might be done to alleviate these problems.
The review identifies the following areas that the breakdown of a relationship is known to be associated with:
Population studies have shown that married men and women have fewer and less severe long-term illnesses than single people.
Other studies have shown that marital status is associated with heart health. Men and women who are unmarried have higher rates of coronary heart disease than their married counterparts, and also have poorer outcomes should they develop disease.
Possibly related is the fact that unmarried people are more likely to take part in risky health damaging behaviour, such as smoking and drinking more.
Both men and women’s mental health can suffer during the deterioration of a relationship, the separation, and afterwards.
Some studies seem to show that these negative consequences can be long term, lasting for a period beyond the end of the relationship. Others studies however seem to support the old adage that ‘time heals’. These studies found that the psychological strain that builds up from the dissolution of a relationship reduces significantly over time.
Risk of death
Men and women in relationships live longer. Single, widowed and divorced people are more likely to die earlier than those who are married. It isn’t possible to draw a direct causal association between marital status and life expectancy. However, there is an established link which occurs at all ages for both men and women.
The association is also affected by the number of years a person is married and unmarried, and becomes more pronounced with age. Middle aged people who have never been married are at greatest risk.
Men who are single are more likely to die earlier than single women. Single men between the ages of 30 and 50 are three times more likely to die earlier than married men. Single women are still at risk however, and their mortality rates are twice that of married women.
Research shows that the ‘quality’ of the relationship is key to its effect on health
So are people better off married?
Not necessarily. Research shows that the ‘quality’ of the relationship is key to its effect on health.
While it is clear that being in a relationship is associated with a person’s physical and mental health, just being married does not automatically improve their chances of a long and healthy life.
A happy marriage is the best for your health. There is evidence that people who are single may actually be better off health-wise than people in unhappy relationships.
Coleman, L & Glenn, F (2009). When couples part: Understanding the consequences for adults and children.