Whether you approve or not, there’s no question that intimate relationships are steadily transforming — what we seek from them, how we engage in them, and what we define as desirable and fulfilling. Men and women increasingly pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful, and healthy, though they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. And the latter includes, even, recent advocacy regarding polygamy, as well as support for legalization of sex workers, as Amnesty International has announced, Such developments stir considerable emotional and moral reactions, which is why it’s helpful to find research that studies that show how some of these shifts may to lead to positive outcomes regarding emotional and psychological health.
Here’s one example: It concerns the mental health impact of divorce. It’s an illuminating study because it contradicts previous research indicating that divorced and unmarried couples are less healthy than married ones. This current study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. For example, it found that people who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. And physical health is interwoven with mental health, as many studied have confirmed.
The research examined the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples. The research found that people born in the late 1950s who experience divorce and separation or live together without marrying “…have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author George Ploubidis in a Medical XPress summary.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the research found that some people even experienced long-term health benefits after going through divorce, according to the researchers. For example, Ploubidis says,“Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married.”
I think this research also has particular implications for members of younger generations, because increasing numbers of them pursue unconventional relationships; and divorce continues to be an option without stigma. The impact of a positive relationship, per se, was underscored by the finding that men and women who had never married nor lived with a partner had the worst health in middle age. These had higher likelihood of conditions related to diabetes, cardiovascular, and respiratory problems.
Couples who married in their 20s and early 30s and remained married had the best levels of health, but unmarried couples living together had almost identical standards of health. Of course, we need further research to examine the long-term impact of shifting definitions of relationships upon psychological and physical health. But from a clinical perspective, we do see that men and women are seeking to find what works best for them in the kinds of relationships they choose; and are open to discovering what actually supports long-term wellbeing and satisfying lives with their partners. And that’s a good thing.
Credit: CPD Archive
This article also appeared in Psychology Today.