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Don't be fooled, single men and single women. It's better for your health to be married.
Well, actually, it might lower your blood pressure — but only if you have a relationship that doesn't include endless nagging or squabbling, according to a recent study.
Researchers found that men and women in stable and pleasing marriages scored four points lower on blood pressure tests than single adults who said they had good social networks.
"There seem to be some unique health benefits from marriage," says study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist and professor at Brigham Young University. "It's not just being married that benefits health. What's really the most protective of health is having a happy marriage."
In fact, according to the study, unhappily married people suffered from higher blood pressures than otherwise happy single people.
"That doesn't surprise me at all," says Jennifer Downs, a licensed professional counselor in Ashland who specializes in relationships.
Downs says multiple studies show that people who are happily married, particularly men, feel more content.
"Men seem to need that more than women. Women can feel more content outside of a relationship," she says.
Holt-Lunstad's study, which was published in March by the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, included 204 married and 99 single adults. Their blood pressure was monitored with portable devices over a 24-hour period. During sleep, the blood pressure of the married adults fell more than those of the single participants.
"Research has shown that people whose blood pressure remains high throughout the night are at much greater risk of cardiovascular problems than people whose blood pressure dips," Holt-Lunstad notes.
Further study is required to sort out what the results mean for long-term health, she says.
Unchecked high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney failure, according to the American Heart Association, which is why high blood pressure is often dubbed the "silent killer." Health experts say there is really only one way to tell whether you have high blood pressure — have your blood pressure checked regularly.
Downs says safety, security, contentment and relaxation are the hallmarks of a good marriage, and she says it makes sense that when all these factors combine, people would have lower blood pressure.
"Certainly everyone in a relationship at times feels stress. It's inevitable because you are two very different human beings who are trying to merge your lives. The first year of marriage or of living together, that's generally the hardest," Downs says.
"But once you have that connection, we feel a sense of belonging. It's a basic human need."
Being stuck in an unhappy marriage, Downs says, can affect your physiology, spurring anxiety that can lead to illness.
"What I tell people is that unhappy marriages occur on different levels, but mainly it's when people tend to blame their partners that it brings up everybody's old fears and insecurities, and it's an opportunity to deal with them in yourself. The truth is when people deal with their own truths and insecurities, it's a chance to change.
"The antidote is to look at yourself and notice that when you can stop blaming your partners, you can do something about it," she says. ¢