Healthy relationships for healthy bodies
New research suggests that having a caring partner could be good for your physical health as well as your happiness, and may even help you live longer.
It’s been known since the late 1980s that social isolation is bad for your health . People with stronger personal relationships have been shown to live longer than those who are isolated most of the time.
This theory has been tested a number of times over the years, with nearly 150 studies and over 300,000 participants helping to show that positive relationships may be just as important for physical health as exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.
But there’s still a lot we don’t know about this, including which aspects of good relationships are best for us. A more recent study from 2015 looked into the idea of ‘partner responsiveness’, a key ingredient in the way romantic relationships affect our physical health .
Partner responsiveness refers to how well our partners seem to understand us, how well they respect our points of view and feelings, and how much they care for us.
The study looked at participants’ cortisol levels. Among other functions, cortisol is the hormone that regulates our immune system, and scientists believe that those with better health outcomes tend to have higher levels of cortisol in the morning with a steep drop-off during the day.
People who rated their partners as being more caring and responsive were more likely to have the cortisol levels that predicted better health outcomes, and this remained consistent when tested again ten years later. The same people were also better equipped to deal with negative emotions. So it’s possible that having a caring partner can indeed help us to feel better and stay healthier.
We’ll be keeping an eye on further research in this area, as it can tell us a lot about the role our relationships play in our lives. In the meantime, try to do your best to be a responsive partner as you may have more of an effect on your loved one’s health than you realise.
 House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241, 540-545.
 Slatcher, R. B., Selcuk, E., & Ong, A. D. (2015). Perceived partner responsiveness predicts diurnal cortisol profiles 10 years later. Psychological Science. Advanced online publication.