For more than 100 years, scientists have told us that marriage is good for our health (especially if you’re a man). It reduces stress levels, lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke, and generally leads to longer lives.
More recently, researchers have been looking at marital quality as a predictor of health, and the results are pretty much what you’d expect. Happy marriages generally lead to happier, healthier, longer lives, while unhappy ones lead to shorter, less healthy lives. There is, however, one exception.
If you’re a man with diabetes and your marriage isn’t everything it should be, you may want to resist the urge to get couples’ counseling. According to researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Chicago, your rocky relationship could be what’s keeping you alive.
That sounds completely counterintuitive, if not downright crazy, doesn’t it? But the way it works is pretty simple. A woman whose husband has diabetes frequently pays more attention to his health than he does, regulating his diet, encouraging him to do plenty of exercise, monitoring his blood glucose levels, and reminding him to take his medication. Some men would characterize this sort of behavior as micromanagement or nagging.
But according to Michigan State sociologist Hui Liu, “sometimes, nagging is caring.” That irksome wife may actually be keeping her husband from developing diabetes in the first place and reducing the severity of the disease if he gets it anyway.
According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes—that’s about 9 percent of the population. It’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., killing 70,000 of us every year and contributing to the deaths of 230,000 more.
Liu and her colleagues analyzed health data from 1,228 married couples who were interviewed in 2005–2006 and again in 2010–2011. The team assumed going into the study that they’d find high levels of marital happiness to be associated with lower diabetes risk. Instead, they found some fascinating differences between men and women.
For men, “an increase in negative marital quality lowered the risk of developing diabetes and increased the chances of managing the disease after its onset.” This creates a rather ironic situation, where the more a man perceives that his wife harangues him, the lower the quality of his marriage—but the greater his odds of managing and surviving his diabetes
For women, however, the opposite was true: “For women, a good marriage was related to a lower risk of being diabetic five years later,” said Liu in a press release. Specifically, the happier the marriage, the lower her risk. “Women may be more sensitive than men to the quality of a relationship and thus more likely to experience a health boost from a good-quality relationship,” she added.
The study was published online May 23, 2016 in the Journals of Gerontology.