Living with a partner? It's healthy even if you're unhappy

It's been proven that being in a relationship has health benefits, but what if your relationship is unpleasant and tense?

Can living with your partner improve your health? (Illustrative) (photo credit: PEXELS)
Can living with your partner improve your health? (Illustrative)
(photo credit: PEXELS)

Many studies show that living as a couple is better for one's health, as long as the relationship is good. Now, a new study found that people who live together with a partner have lower blood sugar levels, even if the relationship isn't great. 

The study found that social isolation increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is a major health problem that leads to multiple complications.

Researchers believe that living with a person is an important source of social support for midlife adults, according to a study on diabetes published in the British Medical Journal. They found that the effects were the same in any relationship, whether the relationship was harmonious or not.

Lead author Dr. Katherine Ford of Carleton University in Ottawa stated that increased support for adults experiencing the loss of a marital relationship or cohabitation due to divorce or death, as well as the dismantling of negative stereotypes around older/elderly people being in romantic relationships, may be starting points for treating health risks and specifically, the deterioration in glycemic regulation, which is related to marital transitions in adults.

The study builds on previous work that identified health benefits from marriage and cohabitation, especially for adults, along with studies that concluded that the risk of type 2 diabetes is related to social isolation and loneliness and if one's social network is small.

 A couple on a date. (credit: PIXABAY) A couple on a date. (credit: PIXABAY)

The team from Luxembourg and Canada investigated to check if there's a relationship between marital status/quality and average glycemic levels in adults, using biomarker data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), which is a sample of adults living in England aged 50 and over and their partners who provide data annually. 

Researchers used data from 3,335 adults aged 50 to 89 without previously diagnosed diabetes between 2004 and 2013.

Participants gave blood samples to measure their average blood glucose levels and were asked if they had a spouse or live-in partner, along with questions that measured if the relationship was supportive or strained.

Information was also collected on several factors including age, income, employment, smoking, physical activity, depression, body mass index and having other types of relationships in their social network (children, other close family, friends). The study also looked at the odds of pre-diabetes, which were lower among those who were married or cohabiting.

You don't have to be happy

Analyzing the data over time showed that people whose relationships changed, due to divorce for example, also experienced significant changes in blood sugar levels and chances of pre-diabetes. Surprisingly, relationship quality didn't significantly change average blood glucose levels, suggesting that having a supportive or strained relationship was less important than simply having a relationship at all.

As an observational study, researchers said they were unable to determine the cause, or, for example, if people in poorer health were more likely to divorce. Ford said the researchers treated marriage and partnership as the same thing, i.e. they don't know if marital status confers any advantages in relation to living together. 

The study also didn't investigate the benefits of living with a partner vs. a housemate, but Ford suspected that the effects would be different.