Stressful events like the end of a relationship can put a strain on your physical and mental health. But sometimes relationships do have to end and being aware of the risks can help you put things into context and reduce the impact on your own health.
The impact of a relationship breakdown on adult health is one of the areas investigated in OnePlusOne’s report When couples part: understanding the consequences for adults and children. This in-depth review, published in 2012, considers the evidence for the various issues associated with relationship stress and breakdown. The report also offers guidance on what can be done to help with these problems.
The review identifies the following areas associated with the breakdown of a relationship:
Population studies have shown that married men and women have fewer and less severe long-term illnesses than single people.
Other studies have shown that marital status is associated with heart health. Unmarried men and women have higher rates of coronary heart disease than married people, and also have poorer outcomes if they do develop a disease.
Unmarried people are also more likely to take part in risky health-damaging behavior, like smoking and drinking more, so this may also play a part.
Both men’s and women’s mental health can suffer during and after the breakdown of a relationship.
Some studies suggest that these negative consequences can be long term, lasting beyond the end of the relationship. Others studies, however, support the old adage that ‘time heals’. These studies found that the psychological strain from a relationship breakup reduces significantly over time.
According to statistics, men and women in relationships live longer than single, widowed and divorced people. This doesn’t mean that your marital status is responsible for your life expectancy but there is an established link which occurs at all ages for both men and women.
The association is also affected by how long you are married or unmarried and gets more pronounced with age. Middle-aged people who have never been married seem to be at the greatest risk.
Men who are single are more likely to die earlier than single women. Single men between the ages of 30 and 50 are three times more likely to die earlier than married men. Single women’s mortality rates are twice that of married women.
So are people better off married?
Not necessarily. Research shows that the quality of the relationship is the most important factor in its effect on your health.
While it is clear that being in a relationship is associated with physical and mental health, just being married won’t automatically improve your chances of a long and healthy life.
Having good-quality, happy relationships is the best thing for your health. There is evidence that people who are single may actually have better health than people in unhappy relationships. So, if you are in a good relationship, it’s always worth maintaining, but if you’re single, and you’re happy, there’s no need to worry!
Coleman, L & Glenn, F (2009). When couples part: Understanding the consequences for adults and children.