Being in a long-term, committed relationship with another person has endless benefits – for your mental, physical and behavioral health.
Humans crave intimacy and meaningful relationships. We are not built for isolation, but rather for companionship – and not just any companionship, but deep, meaningful relationships. Being in a healthy relationship for the long term, whether that be marriage or otherwise, provides an avenue for the emotional support most humans require. You feel that you are loved, cared for, listened to – all important aspects of fostering a strong mental well-being. Being in a healthy relationship also give you a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Being able to consider how actions and decisions affect others is a good sign of a healthy mind for an adult, and being in a healthy relationship requires you to think beyond yourself and continually consider another person’s feelings, ideas and opinions.
A key component of a healthy long-term relationship is vulnerability. “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection,” writes Brené Brown, a University of Houston researcher whose work focuses on the need for vulnerability and what happens when we desensitize ourselves to it. What happens to us when we feel vulnerable in relationships affects our long-term abilities to love and trust. In a healthy long-term relationship, feeling vulnerable is answered with support and love, and that sets the stage for us to become more trusting, and better participants in all our relationships.
Furthermore, research has shown that social relationships, including those with spouses, family members, and friends, can positively affect depression. A study conducted at the University of Michigan in 2013 found that the quality of a person’s social relationships – not the frequency of interaction – affected his or her risk of depression. That is to say that people who felt that they were loved and cared for by others were at a lower risk at depression than those who didn’t. This emphasis on the quality of a relationship over the frequency of interaction points to the importance of long-term relationships, because you can only develop quality over time through commitment and trust. The importance of quality relationships also suggests that the younger generation’s hookup culture is not fulfilling our need for companionship and meaningful relationships.
Not only do long-term relationships benefit your mental health, but these benefits seep into other aspects of your health as well. Many studies have shown that people who were less involved in social relationships have a higher mortality rate than those who were more greatly involved in relationships. In other words, people who felt they were loved and cared for by others lived longer than those who didn’t. While these studies examined social relationships in general and not specifically romantic relationships, the same concepts apply.
In an attempt to explain this phenomenon, some researchers have suggested that being in a relationship influences your behavioral health, too. In the context of long-term relationship or a marriage, perhaps you encourage your significant other to exercise more, or your significant other encourages you to eat better. Another example could be that you and your spouse encourage each other to consistently set aside time to step away from work, to relax and be together. Being in a mutually supportive relationship means that each person encourages the other to be a better version of him or herself, which has huge benefits both for mental and physical health.
Of course, these benefits only occur within a healthy relationship. Some marriages and long-term relationships can give you more stress than support. If a relationship isn’t mutually supportive, it can cause or exacerbate feelings of anxiety or depression. It’s a good idea to evaluate your relationships, both romantic and based in friendship, to make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need.