You Live Longer if You Have Healthy Relationships

Tips & What the Research Shows, with Researcher Dr. Mieke Thomeer

The influence of social relationships on health and happiness is a popular topic of research. A healthy marital relationship can yield numerous benefits, including better sleep and greater longevity. But marital stress can be detrimental to couples’ immune systems. Stress in a relationship (or even loss) can be buffered by other friendships, by gratitude, by time apart, and by setting realistic expectations. Commitment from your social connections can also bolster health. When considering your own health, don’t underrate the importance of your relationships.

Episode Intro

Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Dr. Ruscio. Today I’m here with Dr. Mieke Thomeer. And we will be discussing a very broad topic, the topic of relationships and how those can impact your health. In terms of the string that I pulled on, I initially saw—and I apologize, I don’t know who put this post out there—something along the lines of, “If you want to live longer, healthy social relationships may be the key.”

We did some research and Mieke’s name came up as someone who’s published in this area. We extended the invitation for her to come on, she graciously accepted, and here she is. So Mieke, welcome.

[Continue reading below]

Dr. R’s Fast Facts Summary

Loneliness has a significant impact on mortality

Does being married make people happier and healthier?

  • Happier people tend to get married and stay married
  • Spouses make you healthier, but not thinner necessarily
    • They are more invested in helping you reach health goals (for example quitting smoking or drinking)
  • If you are unhappily married then your health is worse than if you were single or divorced

Reasonable expectations for marriage

  • It is important to have close relationships outside of marriage so that your partner is not the ONLY person you count on emotionally, physically, etc.
  • Men especially should find close friends to confide in and not limit their only close relationship to their wife

Build a village

  • Family of choice – building close, familial relationships with friends outside of your family of origin
  • Committed friendships can hold a lot of benefits like increasing happiness and health

Commitment and responsibility

  • Taking on more responsibility like having children, can make you happier

Less educated and lower income people are less likely to be married

  • The financial strain on a relationship is getting in the way of entering into marriage

One cause of an unhappy marriage

  • Urbanization may lead to a paradox of choices making people less happy with their mate choice

For those dealing with health issues

  • Support your partner or spouse if they are your caregiver
    • Give your partner a break from caregiving
    • Show your partner gratitude

Where to learn more


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In this episode…
Episode Intro … 00:00:40
Are Married Couples Happier? … 00:02:27
Setting Expectations in Relationships … 00:06:45
Marital Health Benefits … 00:10:40
Building “Families of Choice” … 00:12:19
Marriage and Finances … 00:19:00
Should I Stay in My Relationship? … 00:22:30
Marital Stress and Immune Response … 00:26:08
How to Support a Caregiving Partner … 00:29:45
Episode Wrap-Up … 00:35:17

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Dr. Mieke Thomeer: Thanks.

DrMR:   Can you tell people a little bit about your background and research, before we jump in?

DrMT:   Yeah. Before I went to graduate school, I was working in nursing homes. When working in nursing homes, I became really interested in the type of person who was there, how they ended up there, and what their family life was like. You’d have situations where a woman would talk about all these children she had and you’d never see any of them visit.

Or you’d have a couple in the nursing home who just really seemed to be thriving there together. I decided that I wanted to study this, what’s happening with relationships at older ages, and how that impacts nursing home use. So I went to graduate school for sociology at the University of Texas. While there, I got involved in a bunch of projects that were looking at this question of how relationships impact health. Then over time, I got more interested also in how health itself impacts these relationships… So, those questions together.

Are Married Couples Happier?

DrMR:   Gotcha. This is obviously a broad topic. I know you’ve published in the area essentially looking at—for lack of a better term—life satisfaction, or just general happiness as it associates to being single or being married. Is that a fair starting point for us to jump in on?

DrMT:   Yeah. I do some work there. If we look at social relationships structurally and just ask, do you have relationships or do you not, that’s the most basic way to ask the question. In that kind of work, we can find that if you’re married, you tend to be healthier than unmarried. And then the statistic people love to quote is that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

DrMR:   Right.

DrMT:   Just at that basic level, it’s really, really good to be embedded in relationships. But then the caveat, which is more of what I research, is that it really depends on what those relationships are like. And you mentioned at the beginning this idea that healthy relationships are good for you, right? So we have to think about what a healthy relationship is. It’s not just the presence or absence, per se, that matters.

happily marriedDrMR:   So say we’re looking at these analyses and trying to say if these are happy marriages compared to unhappy marriages. Is it fair to say from a high level—when we compare a big group before we do any adjustments—that there’s a clear trend that those who are married tend to be happier than those who are not?

DrMT:   It is fair to say that. But then, more and more researchers have been critiquing this and noting that part of the issue is that happier people tend to get married and stay married.

DrMR:   That’s what I wanted to ask… Okay.

DrMT:   So there is the piece that there’s something about being married that maybe makes you healthier, happier. But it’s also the case that marriages tend to end when unhappy people are involved. Or not even entered into in the first place.

DrMR:   Right. That makes it more challenging to read this data. Does it seem that even when you adjust for that additional variable, unhappy married people tend to be overall happier than unhappy unmarried people?

DrMT:   Well, I guess you’re saying that both groups are unhappy. But in general, we find that if you are unhappily married, your health is worse than if you were single or divorced. So if you’re just thinking about health and that’s the only outcome that you care about, it’s better for your health to exit an unhappy marriage than it is to stay in that marriage or to enter it to begin with.

DrMR:   That seems fair, of course. There are a few pieces here that I want to pepper in, to give people a bit of narrative on this, because I’m sure people in the audience have caught bits and pieces of different arguments (as I myself have). You have this Christopher-Ryan-Sex-at-Dawn sort of thinking. I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but I think—if I were to paraphrase loosely—we can say some of that theory is we are more biologically polyamorous beings and it may be unhealthy to try to confine people into this mate-pairing marriage sort of relationship. And also that sex can facilitate social bonding. So if people can have sex with more people, we’d have more social bonding. That’s one theory. But then I see juxtaposition against that, with the research that we just covered: people who are married tend to be happier. But again, that read may suffer from the tendency for happier people to get married and stay married.

So for the layperson looking in at this, asking, “Should I aim to get married or not get married…” can you point them in a direction? Also, we should take a step back and say the first step would be getting your own house in order, so you’re happy, healthy, and bring a better person into the relationship?

But once we have that box checked, do you have any recommendations for people on where to steer?

Setting Realistic Expectations in Relationships

DrMT:   I think what we’ve been seeing in the last few decades—sociologist Andrew Cherlin talks about this—is that we’ve had a shift towards people expecting a lot more from any individual marriage. You’re no longer just looking for a person to share a household with, to raise kids with. Now we’re looking for a person that’s going to satisfy us in every way. Sexual intimacy is a part of that, but even just somebody who is your emotional right person for everything. I think that right there is a dangerous formula.

widowed womanOne of the things we see is, if you look at a widowed man compared to a widowed woman, the widowed man tends to be doing worse health-wise. And part of the explanation for that is if you ask middle-aged men and women, “Who was your best friend?” typically the man says it’s his wife. But if you ask the woman, “Who’s your best friend?” she rarely mentions her husband; it’s her sister, or it’s another person in her life. So when we talk about the breakup of that marriage, their widowhood, the wife is just in a better situation. She has people emotionally she can lean on.

If you have conflict with your spouse and that’s your only close person in your life, that’s going to be really, really detrimental to your health. So in terms of recommendations for getting married or not married, I think one of the broader implications we can take from it is to just have reasonable expectations for that spouse… Not for them to be the person you share a bank account with, a house with, the only person you tell everything emotional to, and the only person you have any kind of intimacy with. That’s when I think things get a little sticky.

DrMR:   And now there’s the dissolving of the family structure into smaller families, more isolated, versus the larger, broader family unit with brothers, sisters, cousins all in the same area. I wonder if now that that’s dissolving, there are fewer people to be your intellectual connection, your theology connection, all these different areas you’re interested in. Since you have fewer people in your sphere of proximity to make those connections with, you look to the one person, your spouse, to fulfill all those. And I can see that very easily creating this desire—as you’re alluding to—for a partner who fulfills every desire, which is totally unrealistic. And that thwarts someone from engaging in a relationship, because of this unrealistic expectation.

DrMT:   Right. A lot of my work looks at caregiving, so I look a lot at older couples. In later life, if your spouse is the only person you can rely on for caregiving, then that sets up a huge burden for them. My work shows that there’s a big mental health cost for being the sole caregiver for somebody.

When we look at older couples, we typically see that children will step up and help their father because they assume he needs help and maybe doesn’t know what he’s doing, but children are less likely to step up and help their mother with caregiving. So any way that you can really get a village around you to help out with different caregiving needs, emotional needs, or childcare needs, just tends to be better for the different individuals involved.

DrMR:   That’s really interesting, what you say about men seeming to have a higher benefit that they derive or a higher need from being in a relationship, and men who are widowed are less happy. And I wonder if that’s because—and I could be wrong here, but it seems at least in looking at the people I know around me, in my proximal sphere—women are just more social and men are a bit less social. So it would make sense that if a woman loses her partner (or a partner), she’s got a lot more of a social circle around her. But if a man loses his partner, he’s got much less of a social circle around him, so there’s more of a relative loss on the male side. Does that seem to be representative of what you’re finding?

Marital Health Benefits

DrMT:   Right, and then we also talk about this different kind of emotional work that women are doing within marriage that maybe is not recognized until it’s absent. The other thing—when you think about marriage and health—is that there does seem to be a causal link that married people are healthier, due to some kind of mechanism.

One of the mechanisms is that spouses tend to really push each other to have healthier behaviors. If you’re trying to quit smoking, your spouse is generally a really helpful tool in pushing you to stop, versus if you were on your own. Your friends are not as invested in you quitting smoking as your spouse is. But it’s really women who do a lot of that work. We call it nagging sometimes, right?

DrMR:   Mm-hmm.

dinnerDrMT:   But this nagging work is actually really, really helpful and can make you live longer. If you have someone who cares enough about you that they tell you, maybe don’t have that extra beer at dinner, or whatever the case may be.

DrMR:   That’s great to hear. Sometimes you hear almost the opposite perspective: I was in great shape until I got married and then I let myself go. But that may not be very accurate. It sounds like it’s actually more of a health benefit to be married than it is to be a single bachelor who is theoretically trying to keep themselves in shape. It seems that the data is showing that more people tend to slide into unhealthier behaviors when they’re not coupled.

DrMT:   Well, for what you mentioned, the one exception is thinking about BMI.

If you look at smoking, alcohol use, sleep, some of these other health behaviors, they’re healthier for the married. Mental health is better, that kind of thing. But BMI does get worse for married people. So that’s the exception to it.

DrMR:   So there is a nuance there.

Building “Families of Choice”

You mentioned building a village. Of course, I think this is much easier said than done. But have you come across anything that is helpful to that endpoint?

DrMT:   Yeah. We talk in sociology about something called families of choice. This comes out of literature looking especially at LGBTQ people who have strained ties with their family of origin, generally. Perhaps because of those strained ties, they really lean on friends, and these friends become like family to them. And we even have this in our pop culture, when you think about Friends-giving and that kind of thing. Part of what makes these friends so successful and why we call them families of choice is there’s a level of commitment to them. And most of our friendships just don’t have commitment. We leave them if they’re not convenient, I think we don’t really know how to have healthy fights with friends.

So for me, I think part of that village building is trying to get that element of commitment in there. And we see this in research. If you compare cohabiting couples to married couples, married couples tend to be healthier than cohabiting couples. There’s more of a marriage benefit. But if you control for commitment, then that goes away. So as long as you’re a cohabiting couple that’s committed, you get all the benefits that married couples do. But if you’re not committed, then that kind of falls away. And I think we can do that same thing in this idea of village-building. If we can find committed friendships, then those can hold a lot of benefit for us.

DrMR:   Yeah, it’s really interesting that you say that. One of the things that I’ve been ruminating on is an observation that many friendships seem to be utilitarian. And I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing. I try to also think about this through an evolutionary perspective: we’re always trying to move toward efficiency, towards survival. We’re programmed to enjoy fat and sweet tastes because that’s calorie-dense food, so that signal is pleasurable to us because it’s conducive to our survival. So in that vein, we may potentially—I’m just basing this on my own theorizing—have this utilitarian desire for friendships. If we’re trying to do something, we look for people who are also trying to do something, and then we have this shared utility through the friendship.

But I can see that being a negative, kind of as you’re saying. Which is, if the shared utility dissolves and the friendship dissolves, I see that as posing a real challenge. Do you agree with that posit? And then do you also have techniques, tips, tricks, or any advice for people who are trying to really make these more committed friendships, rather than friendships of convenience?

DrMT:   Yeah, so I think we have trouble having friendships that are unbalanced. When you feel like you’re giving a lot and not getting a lot in return, that’s clearly a friendship that you should get out of. And I think that’s how we think about it.

married couplesA lot of the work that I do looks at married couples in which one of the spouses has some kind of mental illness, and thinks about the dynamics within those relationships. Those relationships are just uneven. One partner is dealing with a mental illness. And the other partner just does a lot for that partner and doesn’t get a lot in return, generally, depending on what you’re looking at and the severity of it. We talk about marriages and “in sickness and in health.” We have that expectation that that may happen and we’ve committed to that. So I think for us to at all see that in a friendship, we have to have a cultural and societal shift. Because to envision it working, it wouldn’t be that you’re giving a lot to one friendship and not getting in return, but maybe there’s another friendship where that balance is shifted.

And if we all think in this way, then we get that we’re not just being taken advantage of, that we’re all giving back in some way and getting things in return, but just from different people.

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Coming back to something else that you said, which was commitment in a relationship, I’m wondering if you feel there to be a direct correlation between commitment and responsibility. A few of the political commentators make the criticism that we have to be careful… or I should perhaps say, the more responsibility an individual takes on, the happier they tend to be.

There are some forward-thinking individuals who I think we can criticize in putting this in a non-favorable description, as trying to advocate a lifestyle in which we shrug away responsibilities. And it was interesting to hear the commentary that oftentimes taking on these things that seem hard and give additional responsibility, like children, can make you happier. And if you’re not happy with your income, taking on the responsibility of bettering yourself or starting your own business— even though these things look hard and may stereotypically be described as hard—actually leads to people being happier. So what are your thoughts on that?

DrMT:   Yeah, I don’t know that we so much see that in the family and health literature.

Marriage and Finances

In terms of this whole marriage and health thing, how some of it is driven by selection, and who are selecting into or out of marriage, there’s an even bigger trend going on. Less educated people and people of lower incomes are much less likely to be married today. So we’re seeing this big shift in society, where couples who are married for many decades tend to be college-educated groups. Whereas the couples that are really struggling, who are not entering marriages or getting divorced, are more likely to be high school dropouts or people with just a high school degree. This is really showing that there’s something about resources that are helping to maintain a marriage, that having a lot of financial stress can break apart a marriage, which we tend to see.

So I would say the thing about responsibility. Do you have the resources? It doesn’t have to be educational. It can be self-efficacy, it can be having social support. But do you have those resources that make that responsibility manageable? Because if not, then you’re getting yourself in a situation that’s ultimately going to be very, very stressful. And a chronic stress more likely than not is going to wear and tear on your health and well-being.

DrMR:   That’s interesting, because it runs counter to some of the stereotypes that I’ve heard. That’s why I’m so glad we’re having this conversation. Because you know what the evidence actually says and I’m just pulling from different stereotypes that are floating out there in the ethos. Just to clarify, we mean years of training.

DrMT:   Like educational attainment.

DrMR:   Educational attainment, thank you. Perhaps they’re getting married later… that’s what I’m hearing. Is it fair to say that with a higher level of educational attainment, people are getting married later, but there’s a higher maintenance of the marriages compared to those with a lower level of education?

DrMT:   Yeah. That’s definitely fair to say. I mean, I know plenty of people who got married at 18 and they’re doing great.

divorceSo in general, the earlier you get married, the higher your risk of divorce. And it’s a really big risk factor. So college-educated people are pushing marriage later and later more and more, then staying in those marriages. As a caveat, part of it is, when we think about people in their late 20s and early 30s, a lot of them now are really scared of the idea of divorce because they’ve seen this huge boom of divorce with their parents. So many of us are pushing marriage back with the goal that, once we enter marriage, that is the marriage that we’re going to stay in. But it tends to be people who have more resources who are actually able to actively make that decision a little bit better.

DrMR:   So it’s curious to ponder what the cause and effect is. Do you have any inkling?

DrMT:   For education or…?

DrMR:   For people getting married later. Is it the fact that they’re being more selective in their partner, or is it because they’ve procured more resources that seems to be driving? Or are they hard to separate?

DrMT:   Yeah, I think they’re hard to separate. I do think that having more resources is something that’s really beneficial. Especially if you think about people in their 20s and 30s today, debt is a big part of the story. So having less of that debt can really help in terms of the strength of a marriage, just because there’s not that financial strain that I think can really hurt different relationships.

Should I Stay in My Relationship?

DrMR:   We’ve discussed that if you’re in a happy marriage, you are going to be overall happier, healthier. If you’re in an unhealthy marriage, you’re going to be unhealthy, or less healthy. Is there a certain way for one to make the decision that a relationship is happy compared to unhappy? Or is there a certain recommendation you give someone trying to remediate an unhappy relationship, a certain amount of time before saying, “Okay, now it’s a good decision to exit this relationship”?

DrMT:   A curious finding, that people like to talk about, is this idea that arranged marriages tend to be more stable than love marriages. And part of that is also going to be selection, that cultures in which arranged marriages happen just don’t allow divorce. So, of course, they’re going to be more stable because there’s no way to exit it. But there’s also this paradox of choice idea that we talk about, that when you feel like you have a lot of choices, you’re going to be less happy with where you are.

If you feel like you don’t really have those choices, then you maybe are going to make it work. And this is not for relationships where there’s abuse, or violence, or something really toxic about it. But just in general, the more choices we perceive having, the less happy we are. Some people have tied some of the rise of the divorce (there are a million factors), with urbanization and having people move into areas where they’re suddenly aware of other people’s marriages and other people who are out there.

farmIf you compare this to if I’m growing up in a rural area, on a farm, I don’t really have this perception that there’s anywhere else for me to be. I don’t really have other marriages to compare myself to. Whereas in the turn of the century, with people moving into urban areas, we see this shift a little bit. So this paradox of choice gets introduced. Part of happiness has to do with these external factors, but there’s also this internal thing that I think that’s going on with some people.

DrMR:   That’s really interesting. Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that. Certainly, when I go to Target and I’m looking to buy a toothbrush or hair gel, and there are like 20 different kinds, I get more frustrated than I do happy at having all those choices. So I see the analogy there.

Coming back to the connection between happy relationships and health, is there anything else that you feel is important to try to leave people with? Some takeaways or nuggets that can help guide them to having happier relationships, so as to be the healthiest person that they can be?

DrMT:   Yeah, I think it’s probably a mistake trying to put too much responsibility on yourself to make that relationship happy. As I said, a lot of the work that I do is looking at couples in which one spouse is dealing with some kind of mental illness. It just seems like it will be a mistake in that relationship to constantly put the burden on yourself to be as happy and as healthy as you possibly can be, right?

Sometimes we really do have to give ourselves a break in some of those situations. Recognize that this is not necessarily how the relationship’s always going to be, look for support where you can find support, be that through a therapist, or be that through other friends and family. I would just say that there are some external circumstances that I think do make being in a happy marriage very, very difficult, but don’t necessarily mean you need to figure out a way out of this.

Marital Stress and Immune Response

The other side of it that I think is interesting is, there’s been a lot of work that looks at conflict within marriage and how that gets under the skin. This isn’t just a matter of, your marriage isn’t very happy, so you’re sad and that hurts your well-being, but it also impacts your immune response.

There’s a lab at Ohio State with Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser, and she looks at wound healing. They’ll look at couples that fight a lot compared to couples that have a lot of support from each other. And in couples who have a lot of support from each other, their wounds heal faster.

unhappy marriageOr there’s work that looks at the cold virus and finds that you’re more likely to be infected with this cold virus if you have a marriage that has a lot of conflict. I say this with the caveat that this is very important for your health. It’s not a matter simply that my marriage has a lot of conflict, and I’d like for it to be better because I don’t want to be in an unhappy marriage. This is a matter of, if your marriage has a lot of conflict, I think it’s really important to try to figure out how to have less conflict because this matters for your overall longevity and well-being in a lot of different ways.

DrMR:   A starting point there would be communication, whether it was talking or working with a therapist? Do you feel one of the first places to start would be just trying to identify these tension points and working through them, perhaps on your own, perhaps with a counselor?

DrMT:   Yeah. I think marital therapists know what they’re doing, so it’s always a good place to go.

DrMR:   Is there a certain type? Is it called a family marriage therapist (FMT)? Is that the typical professional to see, or someone different?

DrMT:   I think that’s a good place to start. And you can go individually, or ideally as a couple. I think, talking about the paradox of choice, finding ways to compare less to other marriages can also be a really beneficial place for people to go.

“You can tell if a couple is going to be divorced if they frequently speak sarcastically to each other.”

And then like you mentioned, just trying to figure out ways to communicate more closely, to handle conflict. Malcolm Gladwell, in one of his books, talks about that you can tell if a couple is going to be divorced if they frequently speak sarcastically to each other. So there are ways that you can have healthy conflict without it being demeaning to the other person.

And also recognizing that there are some marriages like I said, that do have abuse, that do have toxicity, and those are ones that you’re probably not going to fix, no matter how much you throw at them. So really take stock of where you are. I think a marriage therapist tends to be really helpful for that.

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How To Support a Caregiving Partner

DrMR:   Okay, so a slightly nuanced question here. I’m curious if you can offer people in our audience anything on this topic… We likely have a fair number of people who are struggling with some type of health ailment currently, and they’re trying to learn more about it, they’re trying to figure out how to improve their thyroid function or their digestive function. They may be a little bit fatigued. They may have some brain fog, they may have mood lability. And I’m wondering how they can help their partner. One of the things that their partner is probably falling into is a partial caregiving role.

If we look at this from the partner’s perspective, if someone’s health is suboptimal, sometimes that can be kind of draining. You want to eat here or do this or that, and the person can’t eat that food or doesn’t have the energy. And absolutely, you want the partner to be empathetic and supportive. But we should also take into consideration the way the partner feels. And sometimes the partner may feel, as you touched on a moment ago, a little drained. They may need a bit of a break and some support.

So would you say—and this is different than someone who perhaps has a disability or needs frank caregiving—there’s anything that the individual who’s not optimal in terms of their health should do, or think, for their partner in supporting them with the whole process of dealing with their health challenge?

DrMT:   Yeah, that’s a great question. I have a study from a few years ago where we were looking at how, as you said, the partner or the spouse with the health condition helps their partner who was doing the caregiving. There was this one couple in the study who really stood out to me. She was dealing with this really advanced form of brain cancer and her husband was doing all this caregiving for her. And she mentioned in the interviews we did that around her birthday she realized he really needed a break. So he went on a week-long vacation just by himself.

DrMR:   Mm-hmm.

vacationDrMT:   I remember doing the interview and thinking, he shouldn’t have gone on that vacation. That was my gut reaction, that he should have stayed, done what he needed to do for his spouse. But it ended up that the vacation was actually really useful for both of them. It gave him this break that he really, really needed. And it gave her, in a way, a break from worrying about him worrying about her (her sister came in and helped with caregiving). People love being independent. They don’t generally love being taken care of, even when they need it. And a lot of us will experience that burden of being a burden or feeling like we’re a burden, even though our loved ones would probably say that’s not what’s going on.

Yeah, I just think it’s really important to think about how you can take breaks. And I don’t think I’d recommend everyone takes a week away. But work time to step away into your schedule. Make sure your spouse is cared for in some other way. I think a lot of successful marriages really do that. They’re taking stock of how the other person’s doing and paying attention to their emotions. Again, in sociology, we talk about this emotion work that we do and express gratitude to one another.

We find in a lot of studies that caregiving does have this negative impact on you. It’s like you said, a responsibility that tends to increase our stress and then hurt our mental health and by extension our physical health. But when we feel gratitude for that caregiving, then that’s really, really buffered. We don’t really see as many of those negative effects if people feel like the caregiving they’re doing is appreciated. So I think that’s something else that couples can think about and look for, even if it’s not coming from the couple. If you feel like your children appreciate the work that you’re doing for your spouse, then that can go a long way as well.

DrMR:   Terrific point. As you were making that remark, I was reminded of an experiment that I’ve considered applying to my relationships at some point, which is the integration of Stoic philosophy. The old Stoics, as I understand it, used to practice having nothing, or practice withdrawal. And one of the things that I’ve wondered is, even if you have a great relationship, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to occasionally take some time away. Just like a Stoic would practice having really tattered clothing for a day so as to appreciate the clothing he does have, maybe a short abstinence from your partner could help you better appreciate the partner that you actually have. It’s almost like you’re re-sensitizing yourself to the partner.

DrMT:   Yeah. I mean, at certain times it feels like that’s not possible, especially if you’re dealing with some kind of chronic illness. It feels like, I just can’t possibly get away at this point. But again, I think if we have a lot of other supports in place, you might feel more comfortable doing that. And that’s to the benefit of everyone. We find in research too, that these relationships where it’s just chronic caregiving really do wear down on people.

And I think it is useful to maybe take a step away—while still making sure that what’s getting done needs to get done — to, like you said, reflect on what you have. Reflect on how you’re doing things, what needs to be changed, and just take care of yourself a little bit in those moments.

Episode Wrap-Up

DrMR:   Mm-hmm. Mieke, is there anywhere you want to point people on the internet for your work, to connect with you or follow what you’re doing?

DrMT:   Yeah, you can find me on Twitter, it’s @Miekebeth. Then my articles, in general, are on Google Scholar. I’m a sociology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and you can find me on there as well.

DrMR:   Awesome. And any closing thoughts you want to leave people with?

DrMT:   Yeah. We mainly were thinking about marriage, social relationships, and health, but I do think a lot of this can be found outside of marriage as well. It just does take a re-thinking of social relationships and putting them as valuable in our lives, and that can go a long way in helping our health and well-being.

DrMR:   Awesome. Thank you. This was a really interesting conversation. You helped open up my eyes to some stereotypes that I had heard and have been floating around in my head. It was nice to get a better perspective on those. Thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

DrMT:   Yeah, thanks. I enjoyed it.

What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.

Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.

Discussion

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4 thoughts on “You Live Longer if You Have Healthy Relationships

  1. I am 69 years old and have (very happily) never been married myself. However most of my friends have at least given marriage a try. One of the very few really happily-married couples I have ever known, still very happily married half a century later, agreed before marriage that they would never have any children, and took all necessary precautions to ensure that they never did. Of the very many marriages I have seen fail, they seemed quite happy together until they eventually had children. They started out being entirely comfortable with their respective roles as husband and wife. But as soon as they had children they found that they irreconcilably differed over their proper roles as mothers and fathers, typically with one being being very permissive and the other one very strict, leading to an often very bitter divorce and prolonged battles over custody of the children — not, I would say, something that was conducive to either the mental or physical health of either party.

    So I would have to strongly encourage any couple who are considering marriage to thoroughly explore the question of their respective roles as parents before actually taking the plunge, perhaps even explicitly spelled out in a prenuptial agreement.

  2. I am 69 years old and have (very happily) never been married myself. However most of my friends have at least given marriage a try. One of the very few really happily-married couples I have ever known, still very happily married half a century later, agreed before marriage that they would never have any children, and took all necessary precautions to ensure that they never did. Of the very many marriages I have seen fail, they seemed quite happy together until they eventually had children. They started out being entirely comfortable with their respective roles as husband and wife. But as soon as they had children they found that they irreconcilably differed over their proper roles as mothers and fathers, typically with one being being very permissive and the other one very strict, leading to an often very bitter divorce and prolonged battles over custody of the children — not, I would say, something that was conducive to either the mental or physical health of either party.

    So I would have to strongly encourage any couple who are considering marriage to thoroughly explore the question of their respective roles as parents before actually taking the plunge, perhaps even explicitly spelled out in a prenuptial agreement.

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