CARDIFF, Wales, January 31, 2011 ( – Two medical students at Cardiff University studying existing data on the relationship of marriage to health have concluded that “stable, long term, exclusive relationships” lead to “more healthy lifestyles and better emotional and physical health,” and have a marked effect on longevity.

Authors David Gallacher and John Gallacher cite a Cambridge study of “one billion person years across seven European countries that found that married persons had age adjusted mortality rates that were 10-15% lower than the population as a whole,” and that this statistic alone makes stable marriage “probably worth the effort.”

The two said that “marriage generally indicates a deeper commitment” which “might explain why marriage is associated with better mental health outcomes than cohabiting.” They note, however, that while “civil partnerships should theoretically confer the same benefits as heterosexual partnerships … this needs to be balanced against the shorter duration of many same sex relationships.”

The authors found that “physical and mental health benefits seem to accrue over time,” citing a 30-year longitudinal study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry which found that “the duration of a relationship was associated with better mental health scores, while the difference in mortality rates in favour of marriage, increases with age.”

“In terms of physical health, men benefit more from being in a relationship than women, but in terms of mental health women benefit more than men,” the researchers observe.

They posit that “the physical health premium for men is likely to be caused by their partner’s positive influence on lifestyle. The mental health bonus for women may be due to a greater emphasis on the importance of the relationship in women.”

Looking at the negative consequences of difficult and strained relationships, the authors note that their research found “being single is associated with better mental health than being in a strained relationship” and that “the ending of a strained relationship brings mental health benefits.”

However, they warn that successive short-term relationships are harmful to well-being.

“For women, multiple partnership transitions are associated with poorer mental health, and increased mortality,” they write.

“The take home message is simple,” the authors conclude. “Exclusive and supportive relationships confer substantial mental and physical health benefits that grow over time.”

The study, titled “Are relationships good for your health?” was published in the British Medical Journal on January 28, 2011. An abstract is available here.