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The relationship between relationships and health

How important is it to have a caring and supportive partner? We all understand, perhaps intutively, that being a part of a couple has dramatic impacts on our quality of life, and now sociology researchers have published evidence on this question:

Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the research explores the connection between romantic relationships and health. Using data from primarily African-American couples, the findings include evidence for the importance of positive partner behavior in predicting health. The study also found that interracial couples-whether dating, cohabiting or married-tend to report worse health than couples of the same race.

"There is a great body of research that says romantic relationship quality matters, though much of that research is on married couples," said Ashley Barr, a recent doctoral graduate in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences' sociology department and lead author on the study. "We approached the question from a different angle, asking how romantic relationships, in their varied forms, matter for young people in the transition to adulthood."

The study used data from the Family and Community Health Study, a UGA research project in operation since 1995. The results about the importance of quality in the relationship no matter the status matched the researchers' hypotheses. They also found that having a hostile partner-being in a low-quality relationship-was more disadvantageous in cohabiting or married relationships.

While the racial components of this work are a bit disconcerting - we still have far to go for mixed-race couples to have the positive health outcomes of their relationships match that of same-race couples - it's important to acknowledge this disparity so that we can work to overcome it. Soon there will likely be similar research supporting the impacts of same-sex couples, though likely that research, too, will reflect lingering biases in American society. But here's to giving new meaning to the term 'healthy relationships.'

Image: Couple kissing in the French Quarter, New Orleans, via a creative commons license.

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