Research has long shown that married people are generally healthier and live longer than unmarried people. Married people are less likely to get cancer and heart attacks, and have even been shown to be at lower risk for dementia. One study found married people to be much less likely to suffer from headaches, back pain, and psychological distress. They are also more active and less likely to smoke.
But while marriage is distinctively connected to health and wellbeing on paper, recent research has shown that this doesn’t extend to troubled couples. In fact, unhealthy relationships can have negative effects that far outweigh those faced by unmarried people. A 2005 study published in “The Archives of General Psychiatry” found that couples who experienced high levels of hostility were more susceptible to illness than happier couples. It has also been shown that unhappily married couples are more likely to experience chronic illness, heart attacks and high cholesterol.
While it’s normal to experience some tension and emotional distress within a marriage, you don’t want to let the scale tip too far the wrong way, or you’re at risk for more than just stress – psychologically as well as physically. Here are seven ways to strengthen your marriage:
When you’re married, it’s easy to become caught up in the rush of day-to-day life and lose sight of doing things as a couple. Think back to when you were in the honeymoon phase. What did you and your partner enjoy doing together? Maybe you loved going to the zoo, or art museums, or hiking. Perhaps you love it when your partner gives you back massages, but you haven’t asked for one in quite some time. Whatever it is that will keep you feeling romantic towards each other, reintroduce it into your marriage.
Show Your Appreciation
If there’s something you appreciate about your spouse, say it! According to John Gottman, Ph.D., marriage expert and the author of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, couples who regularly compliment each other are happier because praise reminds people that they are loved. Don’t assume that your partner automatically knows what you love about them. Whether you appreciate his or her parenting skills, cooking expertise or outfit, tell them. You’ll soon begin to see praise coming your way too.
Do Small Things for Each Other
Maybe your spouse loves a specific kind of wine, but rarely buys it. Find little ways to show your affection and appreciation. If you make the first move, your partner will be pleasantly surprised, and together you can begin a new trend of mutual small kindnesses.
Learn to Edit Yourself
According to Gottman, the most successful couples don’t say every single critical thing that comes to mind when they are discussing touchy topics.
Respect Each Other
Mutual respect is one of the most important aspects of any healthy relationship. Be courteous. Don’t talk down to your partner, and make sure to show them the same politeness you would to anyone else.
A big difference between stable and unstable marriages is the amount of positive interactions that take place. Constructive criticism is important; just don’t allow it to dominate your interactions. Engage actively with your partner. Ask them lots of opinion questions. And don’t forget to laugh.
Don’t be afraid to go to couples counseling or engage in other activities that will help strengthen your marriage. If you struggle with one issue in particular, such as sex, read a book so you can learn how to unite as a couple. If you and your spouse argue about money, see a marriage therapist who can offer wise advice on how to communicate more effectively.