We are steadily transforming how we think about intimate relationships -- what we seek from them and how we engage in them, for mutual benefit and happiness. Men and women increasingly pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful, and healthy, although 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 recently announced. Such developments stir considerable emotional and moral reactions, but it would be helpful to see research studies examine which of these shifts demonstrate positive emotional and psychological health outcomes.
Here's one example: It concerns the impact of divorce. It's illuminating, because this study 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. It found that individuals 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.
The study examined the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the research has implications for younger generations, as more people pursue unconventional relationships and divorce continues to be an option. "Our research shows that people born in the late 1950s who live together without marrying or experience divorce and separation have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married," said lead author George Ploubidis in a Medical XPress summary.
Some people even experienced long-term health benefits despite 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."
In fact, although couples who married in their 20s and early 30s and remained married had the best levels of health, unmarried couples living together had almost identical standards of health. The positive impact of a relationship, per se, was underscored by the finding that men and women who had never married or lived with a partner had the worst health in middle age. These had higher likelihood of conditions related to diabetes, cardiovascular, and respiratory problems.
Of course, we need further research to examine the long-term impact of shifting definitions of relationships upon psychological 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 and forms of relationships they choose; what actually supports their long-term wellbeing and creates satisfying lives with their partners. And that's a good thing.
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