Why Be Married? For the Stress Relief
Some very surprising research results were reported last month. They offered some pretty strong evidence of a real difference between marriage and living together. And it doesn't come from the marriage license or the religious ceremony. It comes from thinking of yourselves as married.
The research was reported at the 2014 annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Austin, Texas. Psychologist Jim Coan of the University of Virginia headed up the study.
This was a follow-up to replicate and expand on earlier findings that holding a husband's hand during a stressful experiment kept a woman's hypothalamus (the brain structure that regulates many of the symptoms of stress) calmer than holding a stranger's hand or no hand does.
A changing signal displayed inside the fMRI scanner indicated no threat of a shock or a 20% chance of a shock to create the stress.
The follow-up included a lot more couples, both married and living together, including 26 same-sex couples. In Virginia, same-sex marriage is illegal, so they were asked whether they thought of themselves as married or living together. And this time both males and females got a chance at being threatened while holding their partner's hand, a stranger's hand, or no one's hand.
The finding that completely surprised Jim Doan? Holding the hand of someone a person is married to or thinks of as their spouse has a stress-reducing effect on the hypothalamus not available to those who hold a cohabiting partner's or stranger's hand as they face a stressful situation.
The hypothalamus is tiny. It produces the hormones that tell the pituitary gland what hormones to release. Among its many wonders, the hypothalamus controls your body temperature, your sleep cycles, your thirst and hunger, your blood pressure, and your heart rate. It also controls the oxytocin (for trust and bonding), dopamine (for your brain's reward system), and vasopressin (controlling your water retention and blood vessel constriction) in your body.
If you face pain, surgery, chemo, or radiation, holding the hand of someone you feel married to can relieve a lot of the stress that comes with it. Yet another surprising reason to enjoy being married.