First, I must say that I've never been happier in a relationship than I am at this point in my life. For over two years I've been with Kelley (pictured above) and we've been engaged for one year. We've both experienced the stress and turmoil associated with disharmonious relationships and divorce, and we both feel blessed beyond measure to have found one another. We are truly happy to be getting married next year and building our home together! Between us we have eight wonderful children (six of whom are adults) and both of us are committed to a loving, mature and healthy relationship as the years unfold.
When it comes to a person's well being, there are many factors which affect our health, whether it's behaviors we exhibit toward each other or the habits that we pass on to each other. Regardless of the level of your partner relationship, you should keep in mind the ways that your romantic bond may influence both your mind and your body.
According to a 2012 study, people tend to gain weight as they settle into marriage (they "let themselves go"), but lose weight when a marriage ends. However, the opposite has proven to happen quite often. A happy couple can motivate each other to stay healthy -- they'll go to the gym together, set goals, and feel responsible for each other. When couples do put on weight, it may be a symptom of conflict, not necessarily "letting themselves go." It has been shown that dissatisfaction in a relationship can lead to passive-aggressive eating behaviors and sleep problems, which will ultimately lead to weight gain.
Did you know that regular physical intimacy can reduce stress and boost well-being? I know, that's probably not much of a surprise! A 2009 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that people who frequently had sex were healthier mentally and more likely to report greater satisfaction with their relationship and life overall. However, sexual intimacy is just one part of a relationship. Your partner's behavior outside the bedroom can just as easily send stress levels moving in the opposite direction. Parenting disputes, disagreements about money, or even deciding who does which household tasks have been shown to increase stress.
Sex isn't the only type of physical contact that can lower stress and improve health. In a 2004 study of 38 couples, University of North Carolina researchers found that both men and women had higher blood levels of oxytocin (a hormone believed to ease stress and improve mood) after hugging. The women also had lower blood pressure post-hug, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It has been shown that caring behaviors -- such as a touch on the arm, holding hands, or a rub on the shoulder -- can stimulate those hormones and help to overcome stress and anxiety.
It has also been shown that sleeping next to someone you love and trust can help you fully relax and embrace sleep. However, a big exception is if your partner keeps you up at night -- by snoring or by tossing and turning. Studies show that people are more likely to experience daytime fatigue and fitful sleep themselves if their partner struggles with restless sleep or insomnia. Relationships can affect sleep in less direct ways, too. Research shows that relationship insecurity or conflict is associated with poorer sleep.
In some cases, relationship difficulties may actually contribute to full-blown anxiety. Several studies have found a link between marital problems and an increased risk of generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety. Also, stressful relationships have been shown to dramatically increase the risk of clinical depression.
The link between relationships and cardiovascular health goes well beyond blood pressure. Studies consistently report that being married is associated with a lower risk of heart attack and better outcomes after heart surgery, especially for men. Why is that? Stress and other underlying biological factors (including blood pressure) are thought to be involved, but the emotional and tangible support that partners provide is believed to play a role as well.
Also, a partner's watchful eye and day-to-day care appears to foster a healthier lifestyle and closer attention to health problems. People in healthy relationships take care of each other and may feel more of a desire to take care of themselves.
Finally, it has been shown that it's not just your current partner relationship that can affect your health, but also your past ones -- especially those that ended in hurt feelings and rejection. In 2011, researchers from Columbia University found that thinking about an ex-lover can have similar effects on the brain as physical pain. It's even possible for a breakup to result in something called broken heart syndrome, a temporary enlargement of the heart (with symptoms mimicking a heart attack) brought on by extreme physical or emotional stress.
These are just a few of the ways that your partner relationship can affect your health. What's most important is to make certain that the relationship you're in is one that is healthy and beneficial for both partners. If it's not, then whether you should continue the relationship must seriously be examined.
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