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The Health Benefits of Marriage

istock_000010821938xsmallBabble co-founder, Rufus Griscom, weighs in on yesterday’s New York Times magazine article about the health benefits of marriage.

There was a fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine about the correlation between marital happiness and health. Among the findings: a small wound (8 small blisters created by a suction machine) took one day longer to heal for married people who argued compared with those who discussed “pleasant subjects” like the successful napping of offspring; the blisters of married people whose bickering over matters of little import was particularly rancorous took an extra two days to heal.”¨”¨The broader upshot is that though studies for 150 years have consistently shown that married people have a significant health advantage over the unmarried, it is also true that married people who are able to navigate the inevitable martial discord in a loving, supportive “you’re wrong but look awfully cute in that halter top” context suffer significantly less heart disease and other malignancies than married people who “fight dirty,” as the researchers say, engaging in no-holds-barred character assassination while shouting about who should do the dishes.

What’s most extraordinary to me about these findings is what they say about the broader psychosomatic power of relationships – if this is true of our relationships with our spouses, it’s no doubt also true of our relationships with friends and community more broadly. We are a deeply social species, and we continue to find more and more consequences of interpersonal behavior.

In recent years I have been moving towards what I call the E.M. Forster Principal – the view that community, broadly defined, is everything. It’s not 50% of our happiness in life, or 75%, but rather 95% plus. (Forster coined my favorite two word aphorism: Only connect.)  So many of the things that we think are critical to our happiness – creative productivity, success, money – may be important only in so far as they enhance community. Community, in this view, is the final currency, the lingua franca, in which everything is valued.

Here’s an example: Though I believe I want to write a beautiful novel ten years from now as an end in itself, the value of that act – writing a beautiful novel – may be in the final analysis the way that experience broadens and deepens my relationship with others. When you have written a beautiful novel (I imagine, not having written one) you meet more people, each of whom has a head start in understanding you. The same case can be made for the value of building companies with teams of people (among the most gratifying experiences I have had), and even the value of making money, to the extent that there is one.

How nice to learn that relationships make us not only profoundly happier, but also heal our skinned knees faster and delay the hardening of our arteries. This is an appropriate time to tell my wife, Alisa, that I am sorry for making cream of wheat last week that tasted like Meyer’s soap (you were right – I will rinse the skillet more thoroughly next time), and hereby pronounce you the winner-in-advance of our the next three marital kerfuffles. There is no “I” in marriage, honey. Wait, there is one. But to quote my friend Andy in his wedding toast to my friend Mark, it’s more important to be together than to be right — even when you are right.

Here’s a link to the slightly longer version of this post on Rufus’s blog.

Photo: iStock

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