A happy marriage turns out to be a good-news, bad-news health proposition for newlyweds.
A new study of 169 recently married couples found that spouses who are more satisfied in marriage are more likely to gain weight because they don’t consider divorce — or the need to find a new partner — an option.
The study, by researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, challenges the long-held belief that positive, quality relationships always benefit health.
"On average, spouses who were more satisfied with their marriage were less likely to consider leaving their marriage, and they gained more weight over time," said psychologist Andrea L. Meltzer, who led the study, which was published online in the scientific journal Health Psychology. "In contrast, couples who were less satisfied in their relationship tended to gain less weight over time."
For the study, Meltzer and her colleagues surveyed newlyweds twice a year for four years, asking about their marital satisfaction and any steps toward divorce. They also tracked their height and weight. The results showed that, on average, young newlyweds who were satisfied with their marriage gained more weight in the early years after they exchanged vows, putting them at increased risk for various health problems related to being overweight.
On the other hand, spouses who were less happy in their marriage were more likely to consider leaving their partner, Meltzer said, and on average gained less weight over time.
"So these findings suggest that people perhaps are thinking about their weight in terms of appearance rather than health," she said.
Previous studies have demonstrated that marital satisfaction is associated with health maintenance behaviors — such as taking medicine and getting regular health exams, she noted.
But the new research suggests the picture is more complicated. Meltzer said the findings indicate that young couples should be educated and encouraged to think about their weight as a factor of maintaining their health.
"We know that weight gain can be associated with a variety of negative health consequences; for example, diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Meltzer said. "By focusing more on weight in terms of health implications as opposed to appearance implications, satisfied couples may be able to avoid potentially unhealthy weight gain over time in their marriages."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Mental Health.
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