Could your marriage be harmful to your health? For postmenopausal women, the answer may be yes.
A study on 79,000 postmenopausal women in the Journal of Women’s Health found that health indicators were poorer in married women than in those who divorced.
Women who went into marriage or a marriage-like relationship after menopause had an increase in body mass index (BMI) and alcohol intake compared to those who were unmarried. Divorce was linked to a lower BMI and waist circumference, as well as improvements in diet and physical activity compared to those who stayed wed.
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Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from California, told SheKnows that the results don’t surprise her. She’s been practicing for three decades, and at 62 years old, is in the age range of women studied.
“Anecdotally speaking, with my postmenopausal clients and friends, divorce has served them well,” she said. “With children typically out of the house, ending the marriage offers this woman freedom to focus on her own health and enjoyment, as opposed to also taking care of her husband’s wants and needs, which often took precedence.”
Bennett has noticed that women who are not married tend to take better care of themselves. “When she is nurtured emotionally, spiritually and physically, it makes sense that her body would respond in these positive ways,” Bennett added.
Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a California-based family and relationship psychotherapist, said the health changes among postmenopausal women who marry or divorce are surprising when compared with earlier studies and findings. There are, however, a number of cultural factors that currently exist that may help explain the new conclusions.
“The state of the institution of marriage has changed,” Walfish told SheKnows, noting today’s higher divorce rate.
“Women expect better communication from their partners and want to have a voice in expressing their own needs, wishes and desires,” she said. She also said that many people aren’t well-equipped with the communication skills for a healthy relationship. Just as some men are exposed to prolonged stress and keep emotions inside, the same can happen to women. That may lead to dissatisfaction and divorce.
“I see patients regularly who complain of stomach aches, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and a variety of ailments that medical doctors often find [are] psychological-rooted in origin,” Walfish noted. “It is only fair to hypothesize that under extreme stress and with a shy temperament and a retentive communication style, more serious conditions can develop.”