Men who perceive their marriage as unsuccessful are at high risk for premature death

June 27, 2021

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Men who perceive their marriage as unsuccessful are at high risk for premature death

Thank goodness I have a great marriage, I’ll live forever. Thank you, Alicia.

Dissatisfaction with married life raises the risk of dying from a cerebrovascular accident. A new study reveals that perceiving marriage as unsuccessful is a significant predictor of premature death among men, as much as other well-known risk factors such as smoking and lack of physical activity. The study was based on extensive health data from more than 30 years of research that tracked the deaths of 10,000 men. The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

As part of the study, the researchers conducted statistical analyses of a database that started gathering data in the 1960s and, for 32 years, tracked the health and behavior of 10,000 men with special attention paid to death from strokes and premature death in general. At the beginning of the study, most of the participants were in their 40s. Over the years 64 percent died from a range of illnesses.

What the researchers say: “We wanted to analyze the data gathered longitudinally using various parameters to identify behavioral and psychosocial risk factors that can predict death from a CVA and premature death for any reason,” the lead author explained.

The researchers said that, early in the 32-year-long study, participants were asked to rank their level of marriage satisfaction on a scale of 1 (marriage is very successful) to 4 (marriage is unsuccessful).

To the researchers’ surprise, the analysis showed that this scale was a predictive factor vis-à-vis life expectancy, very similar to smoking and lack of physical activity. For example, the number of deceased from a stroke was 69 percent higher among those who ranked their marriage satisfaction at 4 (i.e. marriage is unsuccessful) compared to those who ranked their marriage satisfaction very highly.

When it came to death from any cause, the gap was 19 percent in favor of the happily married. The data showed that while among the unhappily married there were 295.3 deaths for any reason, among the very happily married there were only 248.5. The researchers note that the gaps were even larger among men who were relatively young (under 50) at the beginning of the study.

In addition, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of all known risk factors contributing to death from cardiovascular diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, excessive BMI, and socioeconomic status. Here, too, the data was highly surprising. It turns out that the relative risk for death for any reason among the unhappily married versus the happily married was higher among those dissatisfied with their marriages. This is similar to smokers and those leading a sedentary life.

The lead author summarizes: “Our study shows that the quality of marriage and family life has health implications for life expectancy. Men who reported they perceived their marriage as a failure died younger than those who experienced their marriages as very successful. In other words, the level of satisfaction with marriage has emerged as a predictive factor for life expectancy at a rate comparable with smoking and lack of physical activity.”

So, what? Marriage is our primary supportive relationship in our present society, especially for men who generally tend to have fewer outside relationships than women. Our need for relational support is one of our primary drivers—up there along with food, shelter and reproduction. If we feel that our relationships are unsupportive—as in a bad marriage—we tend to withdraw, become lonely and, as previous research has shown, begin the process of dying.

What’s more, we don’t get the reward neurochemicals—dopamine and oxytocin—which enable us to have a strong psychic or physical immune system. This makes us prone to all kinds of mental and physical illness—including cardiovascular problems.

I’ve just finished writing a book on the power of loving relationships, the how-to of keeping them and of choosing the right person. For more on love, marriage and relational support, click here.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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