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Marriage makes you healthier – unless you’re a straight woman

Marriage makes you healthier – unless you’re a straight woman: Gay couples and wives make their spouses go to the doctor (but straight men don’t think about their partners’ health or their own)

  • An Ohio State University team interviewed 90 couples about their health
  • They found straight women, lesbians and gay men tend to check on their partner’s health
  • Straight men need to be coerced into going to the doctor and don’t check in on their wives 

Marriage makes you healthier because your spouse encourages you to get good insurance and regular check-ups, new research shows. 

Gay and lesbian couples are the best at equally encouraging one another to go to the doctor, the study found. 

When it comes to heterosexual couples, women are the ones encouraging their husbands to look after their health (usually in ‘coercive ways’); few men do the same for their wives. 

The research by Ohio State University highlights how marriage benefits the population at large, but suggests work is needed to get heterosexual men thinking about their health and their partner’s health.

A new study highlights how marriage benefits the population at large, but suggests work is needed to get heterosexual men thinking about their health and their partner’s health

The study was led by Dr Corinne Reczek, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State, who has spent years investigating how family dynamics, gender and sexuality can impact health. 

Her team conducted in-depth interviews with 90 midlife gay, lesbian, and heterosexual spouses to find out if and how they encourage one another to get health check-ups. 

‘Our findings demonstrate the ways spouses are central to supporting and coercing one another to obtain medical care and how these patterns are gendered,’ the authors said. 

Encouraging one another to get check-ups is more essential in the US than many other developed countries, since there isn’t universal healthcare and the saturated market of insurance plans can be confusing. 

Being in a family, and discussing the conundrum, makes that easier.

But it’s clear that dynamics are skewed. 

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Reczek’s study included various accounts from interviewees. 

When it came to heterosexual couples, most reinforced the standard which most heterosexual couples can relate to.

They found that women often take control when it comes to health. For example, one 55-year-old man named Curtis told the researchers that his wife Annette, 59, ‘is the list maker’ who says ‘it’s time for this, it’s time for this’. 

They also found men take a back seat, such as Nick, 53, whose wife Peg, 52, said she reminds him but ‘[h]e usually doesn’t remind me,’ adding: ‘I don’t know that he would remind me.’ 

But getting their husbands to the doctor was never easy.  

When it came to homosexual couples, the opposite was true. Most seemed to evenly attend to one-another’s health. And most of the gay couples they spoke to believed that their partner was to thank for their good health.  

It’s a cultural trope that has played out for generations, and perpetually fascinates psychologists and doctors: why don’t men care about their health or their partner’s? 

Dr Michael Kochman, a gastroenterologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told WHYY that he believes it’s because men think they’re ‘invincible’ and don’t want to appear weak. 

‘We are the men of the house and many hold that to be the truth because they’re busy and it’s a sign of weakness to go to a physician, even when one is feeling well,’ Dr Kochman said. 

Psychotherapist William Berry echoes that, in a recent article he wrote for Psychology Today. 

He explains that there is a ‘tendency for the male partner to become the child in the relationship, while his female partner becomes the mother.’

‘People react to this topic as if it is a common phenomenon that most people are aware of. Yet many couples continue to fall into this trap and few people understand how it might occur,’ he writes. 

So how do we break out of it? 

It’s not easy, Berry says. 

‘Recognizing the root of these behaviors is not enough,’ he says. 

‘People do not have to accept these roles, and can become aware of them and alter them before the relationship is damaged. 

‘Men may be inclined to be more playful, and women to be more motherly, but with knowledge of the roots of these motivations, partners can have improved understanding, compassion, and dialogue.’

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