We all want our partner to be happy, but now there’s even more incentive: Having a happy partner, no matter their gender, may actually help you live longer, according to new research.
In a new study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that your spouse or partner’s life satisfaction is a better predictor of how long you’ll live than even your own happiness. Study participants who had a happy spouse when the study began were less likely to die over the next eight years, compared with participants who had less contented partners. And the findings held true regardless of other factors, including socioeconomic status, said study author Olga Stavrova, a researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, in a press release.
Basically, the findings underscore just how important your social environment is to your long-term health, Stavrova said. Doctors have long known that having a strong social network boosts health, but this study suggests that being part of a happy couple is particularly protective. Think of it this way: Being happy is associated with healthier activities, like eating a good diet and getting enough exercise, researchers said. So if you’re spending the majority of your time with someone who’s jazzed about these kinds of habits, you may be more likely to adopt similar behaviors — and vice versa.
On the flip side, "If your partner is depressed and wants to spend the evening eating chips in front of the TV — that's how your evening will probably end up looking, as well,” explained Stavrova in the press release.
The study used data from a national survey of more than 4,000 U.S. couples over age 50 (they were all married couples or unmarried partners who lived together). The couples reported on their life satisfaction and their health over an eight-year period.
About 16% of participants in the study had passed away by the end of the eight-year period, and those who died were more likely to report that they and their partner were both less content with their individual lives. Those who died were also more likely to be unhappy in their relationship, male, less educated, less active, less wealthy, and, overall, in poorer health. The people whose partners passed away during the study were more likely to also die during the eight-year period, according to the data.
Want to work on your health and happiness as a couple? One way to get started is to schedule a regular “relationship checkup,” just as you would make an appointment for a yearly physical. Set aside a regular date (maybe once every month or two) to talk about how you’re both doing — as individuals and as a unit, recommends Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and co-author of “Snap Strategies for Couples.” In a HealthCentral Q&A, Dr. Schwartz suggested making a list of topics to discuss, such as your sex life, emotional needs, careers, and goals and dreams for the future.
As part of these discussions, consider making a commitment, as a team, to be healthy. Maybe that means cooking healthy meals together a few nights a week. Perhaps you can carve out time in your schedule to work out together occasionally, or make it a tradition to take a long Sunday walk together. Past research has shown that working out with another person boosts your accountability, making it more likely that you’ll both see results.
If you’re struggling to make healthy changes, consider reaching out to a couple’s counselor. A few sessions may be just what you and your partner need to get started on the right path.