Being married is associated with better physical and psychological health than being either single or separated. However, marital distress has proved to be an important risk factor for people's mental and physical health. This could be because the physical stress created when couples are unhappy can damage health and affect the immune system. Given the high divorce rate in the UK there is a high chance that marital distress could be making a significant contribution to ill health and mental illness. There are a number of programmes aimed at preventing marital problems and these have been shown to be effective in improving couples relationships but there has been no research into how this affects peoples' health. A Swiss trial of 118 couples divided them into two groups with half of the couples receiving marital therapy - aimed at improving their coping strategies, communication skills and problem-solving abilities - and the other couples forming a control group for comparison purposes. By the end of the study those who were receiving marital therapy were psychologically healthier and the women were happier with their lives. But there was no difference in physical health between the two groups.
Pihet, Sandrine ... [et al] - Can prevention of marital distress improve well-being? A 1 year longitudinal study Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy March-April 2007, 14(2), 79-88