Most people would agree that few topics are as important to our lives as marriage. This long-standing institution has been under attack in our culture for the past few generations! Is marriage, as traditionally defined as a legal union between a man and a woman, worth preserving for society? Is there an advantage to this form of union to individuals’ mental and physical health, and to society in general?
To analyze this question we reviewed past studies in the medical literature which evaluated the benefits and disadvantages of legally binding, heterosexual marriage. We went back as far as 1966!
The analysis showed overwhelming benefits of traditional marriage on general wellbeing and specific parameters that might affect wellbeing, including physical and mental health, sexual satisfaction, family income, and children’s outcomes. Of the 42 articles evaluated, only 3 did not describe any marriage benefits. Even more, the stronger the relationship commitment, the greater trend of enhanced wellbeing. Never married, widowed and divorced individuals suffered the lowest wellbeing.
Interestingly, individuals in a committed relationship, even unmarried, generally had improved elements of wellbeing compared to those uncommitted. But marriage relationships, which typically demonstrate the strongest legal and outward social commitment to a relationship, generally had the highest wellbeing of all relationships. Further, some evidence in diseased and depressed individuals indicated that the better quality of the marriage relationship, the better the wellbeing-related outcome.
How to explain these results? We speculated on several reasons.
- First, a committed partner helping with income, household tasks, and raising children can lessen the burden compared to a single parent.
- Second, socialization with a marriage partner provides a potential source of personal enrichment, encouragement and empathy.
- Third, the more committed the relationship, the greater confidence spouses can have in each other thus conserving time, money and emotion required to correct problems in their relationship.
- Fourth, marriage partners can help maintain good health by encouraging each other to keep medical appointments, take medicines and develop a healthy lifestyle.
- Last, the marriage commitment may facilitate sexual satisfaction by building confidence that no competing love interest is diverting the attention of their spouse.
Why would a committed marital relationship have a positive impact on children and the community? Again we speculated.
- First, the ability of a couple to help each other provides sufficient time and money resources to better raise children and serve the community.
- Second, satisfied couples who are not dealing with internal problems can more easily look outwards to helping their children and community.
- Last, committed couples who agree together how to raise their children can provide a more consistent, productive, secure and supportive home environment.
Our review suggested that traditional marriage generally provides numerous benefits to the relationship partners through enhanced measures of mental and physical wellbeing, and benefits to their children compared to other heterosexual partnership arrangements or single status.
To ponder, should the US government institute policies that encourage traditional marriage as a method to enhance societal wellbeing and economic success?
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