I WENT FOR MY yearly physical. During the exam, my doctor asked me if I was in a relationship.
“Yes, I’m with someone.”
“Is there anything she would want me to know about you?” he asked.
“Uh, are you asking how things are in bed?”
“No, no, no,” he answered. “I meant, has she noticed any changes in your health that I should be aware of? For instance, any skin lesions, forgetfulness or problems with your hearing that she might have brought to your attention.”
I have often heard that people who are happily married live longer than those who are single or divorced. My conversation with my doctor backs that up. When you know someone intimately and see him or her every day, you know when there’s something physically or mentally wrong. Result: Medical problems typically come to light sooner—and treatment can be more successful.
Here are eight examples from my life that illustrate how a close relationship with a spouse or life partner can help you live a longer life:
1. More active. Married couples are more active, because they tend do new things they wouldn’t do alone. For instance, Rachel and I are taking dancing lessons—something I never would have had the courage to do on my own.
We also have learned to share each other’s interests, which often involve physical activity. We go on weekend outings to find and photograph the wildflowers of Southern California. I had no interest in wildflowers until I saw how excited Rachel was to see them and capture them in full bloom.
Meanwhile, I’ve introduced Rachel to my favorite activities, such as touring historic landmarks and sports stadiums. All these new activities keep us engaged and enrich our lives, while getting us out of the house and moving. The upshot: We’re both in better physical and mental health.
2. More friends. I’m more socially connected, thanks to Rachel. I don’t think I would visit my married friends as often if I were single. There’s always that feeling of being the odd man out.
By each bringing our old friends—and often their spouses—into our lives, we have a larger support network, with many more friends than when we were single. There are also more opportunities to meet new potential friends, because we go out more than we would have. All this leads to a stronger social support system, which helps us combat loneliness and social isolation.
3. Healthier diet. When I was single, I ate out a lot with my friends at restaurants and bars. Happy hour after work was a ritual. When you have a significant other to cook with at home, you tend to stay in more. You eat healthier meals because you control the ingredients going into your food.
4. Less alcohol. We vowed never to have a drink unless the other wants one. When we do drink, we make sure the other isn’t drinking excessively.
5. Medical exams. I have a friend who went for a physical checkup. The doctor recommended a colonoscopy. He declined initially, because he didn’t want to go through the nasty prep. But his wife pushed him to have the procedure—and it showed he had colon cancer. Today, he says his wife saved his life.
6. Emotional support. I received a phone call one evening informing me that my mother had fallen and an ambulance was taking her to the emergency room. Rachel helped me cope with the situation—and gave me the emotional support I needed to deal with the emergency. We’re always there, available to listen to each other’s problems, and that helps reduce the stresses of life.
7. Household chores. We assist each other with daily chores and unexpected household headaches. A tree fell on Rachel’s house. We couldn’t get someone to come out in a timely manner to remove the tree. I was able to borrow a saw and we cut down the tree, preventing it from further damaging her house.
8. Financial stability. We always support one another financially. By combining our incomes and savings, we each end up with a greater sense of financial security. Our pooled resources also allow us to travel more and enjoy other entertainment activities: We share hotel rooms, rental cars, taxis and more.
Because of my relationship with Rachel, I’m happier, healthier and more active—and I feel less of life’s pressure. That’s a pretty good foundation for a longer life.
Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include California Dreamin’, Wrong Approach and Before You Leave. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.