Is marriage bad for women’s well-being?

For the romantics reading this – I apologise! There are 1001 (maybe more!) benefits to falling in love and choosing a path that leads to marriage. But for women, there may also be disadvantages to overall health and well-being that stem from a married state. The interesting thing about men and women and marriage are the discrepancies that arise in the statistical analyses of married peoples’ health and happiness. Health, in particular, has been extensively researched, and numerous studies have shown that married men are healthier men. Married women, however, are only healthier women if they are happily married.

The health benefits of marriage depend on the health of the marriage

An American Psychological Association (APA) study followed a cohort of women over a 13-year period and found that women in ‘good marriages’, with high levels of satisfaction, had a health advantage over women with moderate or low relationship satisfaction and with those women who were single, divorced and widowed.

Married women: overworked and time-poor

Statistically, there is plenty for married women to be alarmed/annoyed/anxious about. In the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (Hilda) survey, it was shown that women in heterosexual couples do significantly more housework than men, labouring for almost 50 hours a week compared to less than 28 hours. Not at all surprisingly, women also suffered higher rates of ‘time stress’, with just under 40% feeling stressed for time ‘often’ or ‘almost always’ compared to less than 30% of men. Research has shown that feelings of time stress – or ‘time poverty’ – is linked to lower well-being, physical health and productivity. This time stress is also exacerbated by the disproportionate mental load that women carry, compounding a physical burden of visible labour (housework, childcare, grocery shopping etc) with the invisible labour of keeping a couple’s or family’s lives on track.

What constitutes a ‘good marriage’?

When it comes to marital happiness, much depends on how close one is, emotionally, with one’s partner. Communication – and the type of communication – is key. Dr John Gottman, an American psychologist with decades of research into marital stability, found that stable marriages have a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflict – even when they’re arguing, ‘happy’ couples are still mostly nice to each other. In contrast, in those couples whose relationships are deemed ‘unstable’, the ratio is 0.8:1 – ‘unhappy’ couples meet negativity with more negativity. Part of this positive affect attributed to happy couples is based on the extent to which men accept influence from and understand the position of their wives. (And vice-versa, of course, but research has shown that women are far more likely to do this than men.)

To put this in the simplest terms, communication in a ‘good marriage’ is grounded in empathy – each partner is willing to listen intently to the other’s point of view, to attempt to understand that point of view, and to be willing to empathise.

Protect your marriage and your well-being

If you’re not feeling appreciated, respected and supported by your partner, it could have negative implications for your longer-term health and well-being. Ongoing conflict in a relationship can lead to damaging physiological and psychological responses, increasing the likelihood of adverse health outcomes and poorer emotional well-being. If you feel as though your interactions with your partner are skewed towards negativity, it may help to talk to a qualified therapist.

The experienced counsellors at Happy Minds are here to listen, understand and – using evidence-based positive methods – support you, and your partner, in sustaining and strengthening your relationship. Counselling sessions are available face-to-face in our tranquil Bellarine Peninsula offices, or via Telehealth across Australia. Call us on 03 5292 8833, email [email protected] or reach out through our online contact form.

Share this post