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Romantic Relationships Boost Health, Researchers

Sep 10, 2014 10:16 AM EDT
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A new study has found that a supportive, committed partner is positively associated with health.

According to University of Georgia sociologists, couples - whether married or live-in - have higher chances of leading a healthy life than their single peers.

The study also found that inter-racial couples, married or dating, had worse health outcomes than people in relationships where both partners belonged to same racial groups.

Data for the study came from Family and Community Health Study, which began in 1995. A majority of the participants were from African-American ethnicity.

"There is a great body of research that says romantic relationship quality matters, though much of that research is on married couples," said Ashley Barr, a recent doctoral graduate in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of sociology and lead author on the study, according to a news release. "We approached the question from a different angle, asking how romantic relationships, in their varied forms, matter for young people in the transition to adulthood."

Marriage has both positive and negative effects on health. Previous research has shown that happily married people tend to have lower risk of heart disease and that marital status is linked with cancer survival. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers had recently shown that marital problems can make people more vulnerable to depression.

According to the researchers, people living in low-quality relationships such as those living with a violent partner had poor health.

"Quite a bit of research, including other work using data from the Family and Community Health Study, suggests that being in a low-quality marital relationship is actually more detrimental than not being in a relationship at all," said Barr, now an assistant professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

Interracial couples, researchers say, have poor health due to hidden tension. People belonging to different races might be supportive of each other, but comments from family and friends questioning their marriage and ethnicity of their children tend to drive a wedge between the partners, making the relationship stressful.

Small "things like running into an old friend or even a stranger and that person being surprised by your romantic partner because they're of a different race than you, or having the status of your children questioned because they are of a different race," said Barr, can significantly affect relationships.

The study is published in the Journal of Family Psychology

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