Scientists are now mapping the ways in which being in a long-term, committed relationship impacts our physical health and wellbeing.
We’ve long known that the first flush of romantic love inspires a surge of happy hormones to flood our bodies and minds, but what happens when that first attraction settles and you’ve been with the same partner for 10, 20 or 30 years? Scientists are now starting to observe some of the remarkable effects of long-term affection.
Affection inspires calm
Couples who often touch each other – holding hands, hugging etc – have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and higher levels of the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which fosters feelings of calm. Giving your partner a hug regularly may also help keep blood pressure healthy.
Married people who have certain types of cancer (including pancreatic, colorectal, lung and breast) are 20 per cent less likely to die of the disease, possibly because they’re 53 per cent more likely to go to a doctor.
Results of MRIs done on brains of couples who had been happily married for an average of 21 years showed the same activity in their dopamine-rich pleasure centres as seen in those of new couples when they were talking about their partner.
A release of cortisol and a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin cause the intense infatuation of early love. Over time, the levels of these hormones will stabilise, reducing the euphoria associated with new romance. But the body compensates with oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones that together inspire attachment and bonding.
A strong heart
People in happy long-term relationships tend to have lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease, compared with those who are single or in unhappy relationships. A loving relationship may also reduce the risk of dementia.