Doctor MaryJayne on Wellness

Having a good marriage can lead to a number of health benefits, and the stronger the commitment the greater the rewards.

Marriage is a witness to our value on this earth and to our actual existence. It may be the greatest gift one person can give another.

Every year, we see more couples choosing not to marry. Many choose to cohabitate. Many do not want even that level of commitment. The Atlantic, recently reported that these couples are not afraid of marriage per se, but instead are afraid they will be unable to stay married. In other words, what they fear is divorce; which is understandable considering the emotional and financial ramifications of dissolving a marriage.

Certainly there are cases to be made for marriage. Aside from the romantic and social expectations associated with marriage, it is generally accepted among a wide spectrum of research that marriage has significant health benefits. People who are married tend to live longer, and more healthfully than people who are single, divorced, widowed or even couples who cohabitate. A person who is married tends to get sick less frequently and is also more likely to recover from severe illness than those who are not married. (This of course would not be true in a marriage that is harmful or abusive.) 

The question that looms in my mind is why? 

Initially there was some thought to the idea that simply "being married" was the magic pill that would lead us to a longer more healthful life. Of course that is an oversimplification. But what is it that occurs in a healthy marriage that keeps us well—or at least more well than our single counterparts? 

From a pragmatic perspective, one might say that married couples have an advantage economically. They may tend to share resources more readily and may have better access to health care. 

From a sociological perspective, perhaps married couples are more inclined to be involved in like-minded and supportive social groups, such as church or charity involvement. 

From a legal perspective, people who are married have a vested interested in the health of their partner. The consequences of facing a long-term illness or catastrophic event could result in financial devastation. Helping one another eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and wear seat belts and sunscreen, may be and act of love or construed as "nagging." However, there is risk to one party when the other maintains reckless behavior, therefore it is in our best interested to keep our spouses healthy! 

While all of these perspectives may have validity and contribute to the wellness benefit of marriage, I am not certain they truly get to the "heart" of the matter. 

In his book "Secret Teaching of Plants," author Stephen Harrod Buhner describes how we communicate via our heart center and details how all of our body systems resonate to the electromagnetic energy of the heart. Simple gestures such as understanding touch or taking a loved one’s hand can send healing energy throughout the body.

While this speaks to understanding the healing nature love relationships, it does not necessarily speak to the unique situation of marriage. Could it be that it is the commitment itself to another person to honor, respect, and consider their needs as greatly as we consider our own? 

What does it really mean to make that commitment to the union of marriage? Ironically, it is about validating who we are as individuals. While all quality relationships can have healing qualities, the deeper the level of commitment in a relationship, the greater the wellness benefit. 

Psychotherapist, Janice Badal M.S. writes, "'If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?' Why do you think we find this philosophical question so tantalizing? … This question has great meaning to us all. If we speak and no one hears, if we act and no one sees, if we feel and no one responds – do we exist? We all want to believe that we are important to somebody, that who we are has meaning."

Marriage represents the deepest level of commitment that we offer in our society. Like the tree that falls in the forest, we need to be heard, seen, validated, and acknowledged. Marriage is a witness to our value on this earth and to our actual existence. It may be the greatest gift one person can give another. In doing so, we respond with wholeness at the cellular level and even the very essence of our being blossoms. 

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