For what seems like decades now, I've been reading the research that happy marriages lead to happy lives. Well, duh. Who wants to come home every night to a battlefield of heated arguments, shouting, and yelling?
But a recent study published in the journal Health Psychology, which captured interview responses from more than 19,000 married people up to age 90 between 1978 and 2010, has elevated the marriage conversation to, quite literally, an issue of life or death.
As reported in Time, "married people who rated their unions as 'very happy' or 'pretty happy' had roughly 20 percent lower odds of dying early than people who said their marriages were 'not too happy,'" according to the study.
Study co-author Mark Whisman, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, said that marriage "provides people with meaningful roles and identity, a purpose in life, a sense of security." He added, "Those kind of psychological factors might influence health," which points to a better outlook on your mental and physical well-being.
If you're in an unhappy marriage now, there's hope. Even if you're happily married, there are things you can start doing to make your partnership even stronger, and, in the end, live long enough "till death do us part."
1. Exercise (or play sports) together.
A new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings finds that the social interaction involved in partner and team sports may add more years to your life than solo exercise. When you play, for example, tennis, badminton, or racquetball with your significant other, these activities are better for longevity than standard solo activities like jogging or cycling. "If you're interested in exercising for health and longevity and well-being, perhaps the most important feature of your exercise regimen is that it should involve a playdate," study co-author James O'Keefe told Time.
2. Focus on the positives.
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific adviser to Match.com, scanned the brains of couples in long-term partnerships to find that the happiest ones sustain their relationships by overlooking what they don't like about something or someone and focusing on what they do like. She says in an interview with Vox, "You want a happy marriage? Do all those things that psychologists and others might suggest, but this is what the brain says: Express empathy, control your own emotions, and overlook the negatives in your partner and focus on the positives."
3. Share household chores.
I'm only citing the research so don't kill the messenger, if you're the guilty one. In a study from the Council on Contemporary Families, researchers found that dishwashing causes more relationship distress than any other household task. So when women feel stuck doing the dishes, they feel significantly unhappier with their relationships (and their sex lives go downhill) than those couples who share that duty. It turns out that this one chore mattered more to a happy marriage than any other household chore.
4. Have a "growth mindset" of working and growing together.
Several studies over the years have documented happy couples as being able to cultivate a "growth mindset," which allows them to work through issues together, learn together, and bounce back from conflict faster. They view the ups and downs of a partnership as opportunities to make it stronger.
5. Openly share about your relationships with others.
In the book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage, Eli Finkel, professor of psychology at Northwestern University and the director of its Relationships and Motivation Lab, found evidence that when couples on double-dates disclose the intimate details of their relationships, romance was rekindled. "In short, socializing with our spouse and other people can stoke the romantic fire in our marriage, but only if the socializing is fun and intimate," writes Finkel.
6. Be attractive for each other, and not just physically.
Taking care of oneself physically is important because it demonstrates to your partner that you care about your own well-being and longevity. But how about taking attraction to another level beyond the sexual and into the emotional? When couples are able to connect with each other by being their best selves, sparks fly. That means having a zest for living life to the fullest, a passion for a cause, a drive and motivation to do something to better the world, a desire to stretch yourself and learn something new, and a keen interest in the development of your children to do the same. When partners carry themselves with such confidence and walk the talk of their purposeful lives, it's not only sexy, but it will promote love and romance and the attractiveness a couple has for each other in unimaginable ways.