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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

The Effect of Love on Physical Health:
Building a Healthy Romantic Union

Love is a subject of great interest by just about everyone; from the “every day” person, to the artist, to business people, and those studying it, such as psychologists. It causes great happiness, and has been blamed for an equal amount of discomfort and sadness. The effects of love on physical health, however, have not been studied quite as much as “love” itself.

The theory of what love can accomplish, has been affirmed by many leaders, including:

"Kind speech and forgiveness is better than alms followed by injury."

Mother Teresa
"We can do no great things - only small things with great love’"

"You shall love the alien as yourself."

Dr. Karl Menninger:
"Love cures people - both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it."

John I
"God is love."

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Sooner or later, all the peoples of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

Human love, often regarded as both an essential means toward human prosperity and crucial to human fulfillment, has been largely passed over in the history of evolutionary science. In the last several decades, however, biological sciences and evolutionary theory have seen an increase of interest in altruism and other forms of love.

On a biological level, the detrimental effect of stress on an individual's health is well known and documented. Cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems are important to a person's well-being, and stress can negatively affect these pathways.

Similarly, it has been surmised by some scientists, that the mechanism by which altruistic love affects health, occurs through stopping the stress response, or, on a scientific level, through activating positive neurotransmitter pathways in the brain.

For example, the benefits of a healthy romantic union have been carefully studied for decades. It has been a widely known fact, that statistically, those who are happily partnered, live longer than their single counterparts. The health benefits include lower rates of heart failure, cancer and other diseases, due, in part, to the development of a stronger network of emotional support.

While many experts hypothesize that the benefits of a healthy romantic union involve cohabitation, financial stability and systems of social support, the prevailing explanation has more to do with stress management. Despite the fact that the benefits are readily apparent, the distinct reason that those in romantic unions live healthier lives is more vague.

One of the cornerstones of a healthy romantic union, is the inevitability of overall stress reduction. Experts reason that partnered couples enjoy better health, partly because they're more predisposed as a team to handle and discharge stress, than single counterparts.

According to one Harvard University study, partnered women are 20 percent less likely than are single women to die of a variety of causes, including heart disease, suicide and cirrhosis of the liver. In addition, partnered men enjoy an even greater benefit, as they are two to three times less likely to die of such causes than are single men. Statistics have also shown that partnered people are less likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes.

For example, in a healthy romantic union, two people share maintenance tasks, and have twice as many resources to deal with daily demands. Conversely, a single head of household is more likely to confront an overload of too many demands without sufficient resources – the common definition of stress.

Just as healthy romantic unions provide a multitude of benefits, unhealthy relationships can have negative health consequences, such as a higher degree of depressive symptoms, all of which contribute greatly as a source of an enormous source of stress.

An Ohio State University study of newlywed couples found that hostile and negative behavior was associated with a decline in immune system response. This can stimulate a number of health consequences, such as slower healing and greater vulnerability to infectious diseases.

Many aspects of healthy romantic unions contribute to stress reduction, such as:

Increased financial resources. Couples are in a better position to accrue greater wealth over a lifetime than single people, including the tax benefits associated with marriage. In addition, husbands and wives may have individual areas of expertise that can help them to economize in running the household. For example, a partner who is handy with repairs, may save the family money on home maintenance, while another who's good at managing finances, may not need to enlist the services of an accountant.

Cohabitation provides economic benefits in that partnered couples can live more cheaply by sharing rent or mortgage costs, utilities, groceries and household expenses, as well as health insurance, than can single persons. In these ways, coupledom may enhance health by improving financial stability.

A healthy romantic union brings together two groups of friends and family, thereby multiplying the support network upon which to rely. This may translate into not only physical, but mental health benefits.

In addition, many people generally make different choices and adopt different behaviors once they're in a committed relationship. Healthy activities generally increase, and risky behaviors typically decrease, partly due to a sense of responsibility to a partner.

The results of the positive behavioral changes on health include non-smoking, lower incidence of alcoholism, and behavior that leads to sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in 2004, the only exception to general health benefits, appeared to be weight control. Studies have shown that partnered adults, particularly men, weigh more and have higher rates of obesity than do single adults. People who have never been partnered are the least likely to be obese.

Statistics show that the benefits of healthy romantic unions - those that feature strong commitment and open lines of communication, also include mental and physical well-being. In general, studies report that the happiness of partnered people is significantly greater than that of the unpartnered, and remains true throughout the entire life cycle. It’s really no surprise, since successful humanity usually involves human interaction, on one level or another. So, aside from the obvious emotional reasons to pursue a romantic situation in one’s life, So it would stand to reason that human beings would prosper greatly from connecting to others within the species.

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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