Keeping your marriage healthy can keep you personally healthy. Researchers have found that although happy marriages foster good health, marital discord ultimately can destroy it and even lead to heart disease and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure.
In one recent study by researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, unhappy couples recorded higher average blood pressure levels than those of singles, while happy couples showed lower averages overall.
Stress, which increases cortisol and causes pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines to fluctuate, is partly to blame for the health woes of struggling spouses. Over time, high cortisol levels can increase the risk of depression, autoimmune disease and other ailments, and continued shifts in cytokines can diminish the body’s ability to heal and fight off other illnesses.
But before you kiss your marriage health – if not your spouse – goodbye, there are several things you can do to cultivate a happier, healthier relationship. “When their marriage hits a rough patch, many people believe that they picked the wrong partner,” says psychologist Jon Carlson, co-author with Don Dinkmeyer Sr., PhD, of Time for a Better Marriage (Impact Publishers, 2002). “In reality, instead of changing their partner, they need to become the right partner themselves.”
It’s important to start with acceptance and validate your partner’s differences, says Carlson, who, himself, has been married 40 years. He recommends using the following ideas to reinvent your relationship:
• Have fun. “The big three-letter word in a marriage is not ‘sex’ – it’s ‘fun,’” Carlson says. Choose activities that you both like and enjoy.
• Focus on “us.” Work as a team to determine what is best for your relationship. When a marriage thrives, so do the individuals in it.
• Smile at your spouse. At least five times a day, give him a grin. He may wonder what you’re up to, but he’ll appreciate the gesture and might even reciprocate.
• Notice what works. Tell your partner specifically what you admire most about her – her offbeat sense of humor, the way she juggles work and family priorities, the ease with which she makes new friends. Recognize what she’s doing right.
• Don’t panic. Every partnership has its difficult moments. But remember that marriage is for better or worse, Carlson says. When the worse comes your way, hang on. Better is bound to be right around the corner.
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