Over the past four years I have lived the typical college lifestyle. I thrived on ramen and macaroni, pulled several all-nighters and amazingly functioned on little sleep. Not only did I endure the physical deprivations to my health, but also withstood the psychological stress associated with college life. Anyone who has gone to college understands the unhealthy lifestyle students embrace and the sacrifices made to gain an education.
So now I’m free. I’m free to develop the habits and skills needed to live a long and happy life. So where does one begin? Of course it is important to exercise, eat right, and develop healthy habits, but something that is important for our physical and psychological health is relationships. The quality of our relationships has a tremendous effect on our physical and psychological health; especially romantic ones. The path that most college graduates are following is the path of cohabitation. Almost half of college graduates cohabitate. You graduate from college, get your career, and want to settle down with somebody. Unfortunately a lot of young adults aren’t settling down the traditional way; they cohabitate rather than get married.
Research is now showing that marriage may be the answer to healthy living, as opposed to cohabitation. One study showed that married couples are healthier than cohabitating couples. These couples spent less time in the hospital, had better sleep patterns, a healthier BMI, and less psychological distress. Another study showed that when couples either divorced or became widowed, they had a decline in physical health. When we compare that to statistics showing that cohabitating couples have a 46 percent higher divorce risk than those that don’t, we find that cohabitation has a greater effect on heath than most realize.
When you graduate and start working in your dream job, you land on working there for a while; retire when you’re 65 and enjoy the next 20 years basking in the sun. Many college grads, and first-time business workers envy the elderly in their freedom and ability to relax. But maybe if we marry, we would actually extend our lives. Research has also shown that mortality rate is drastically affected by marriage. Single men have a 250 percent higher mortality rate than married men. Other facts show us that:
- A married man who smokes more than a pack a day can expect to live as long as a divorced man who doesn’t smoke.
- Unmarried people spend twice as much time in hospitals as married people.
- Cancer cures are 8 to 17 percent more successful when a patient is married; research showed being married was comparable to being in an age category 10 years younger.
We’re living in a world where people are overwhelmingly consumed with their appearance and the individual happiness. We want to pursue love, but not commit to love. Societal trends are teaching us that we can have the romantic benefits without the financial and emotional tie down if we just live together rather than say “I do.” But it seems that many people are avoiding the answer that may be the unexpected answer to our problems. We can’t ignore that the decline in health could be related to the lack of marriages in today’s country, nor the decline in overall happiness. When we tell our young people how to be successful and live a healthy life, instead of just focusing on the exercise and the eating right (which is important) maybe we need to emphasize the importance of pursuing and committing to healthy relationships.
Marriage certainly has its emotional and physical benefits, but that doesn’t mean marriage isn’t difficult and stressful. I, myself am not married, and I haven’t experienced the benefits marriage can have and how hard it can be. But when looking at the long-term benefits it seems to be worth it. College was hard, it was stressful, and I definitely wanted to give up a time or two, but the career will be worth it. Accomplishing and achieving hard things brings satisfaction. Taking the easy way doesn’t get you anywhere. Think about how hard it is to lose weight. I’ve never heard anyone say that losing weight was easy. Being and staying healthy isn’t easy! The things we do that are right and good are difficult, but when we develop the habits to do those things it gets easier. Instead of just living my life and taking the route of cohabitation (like most post-grads do), we might be better off making that commitment.
Good habits need to be developed when we are young. Just like eating right and obeying all the healthy living guidelines, I want to get married. Developing a good relationship is important with someone is important, but it is a better choice to marry them rather than just test the waters. We should encourage our youth to do the same. They are emerging from their adolescence with this idea that being self-centered is OK and that they should do the things that they want to do; that is what will make them happy. But maybe we need to point them in the direction of marriage, to look for a satisfying relationship that will enable them to be happier, live longer, and be more successful.
Stephanie Hubbard is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho receiving her undergraduate degree in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Child Development. She recently worked with United Families as an intern and hopes to make a difference in awareness and exposure to family life issues.