Longevity of Relationships: Working For and With Your Partner
A study published in the journal Atherosclerosis of more than 30,000 heterosexual married couples (admittedly a limitation of the study) in Japan and the Netherlands found a link between lifestyle habits of married couples, including smoking and drinking, and physical traits of those couples, including weight, abdominal circumference, and body mass. Though the study stipulates that the relationship between lifestyle and longevity is not necessarily causal, the correlation itself is noteworthy.
The takeaway here is that the married couples tended to partake in similar lifestyle choices, and then experienced similar health-compromising effects. Considering that couples who cohabitate share much of their leisure time, meals, and even exercise habits—all indicators of lifestyle habits—they also ultimately share their health and longevity, says one of the study’s authors, Naoki Nakaya, PhD.
“It is an important finding of this study that the influence of environmental factors is strong because the genetic backgrounds of couples are low,” Dr. Nakaya says, referencing the study's note that many of the correlations were among married participants with low genetic similarity. With this in mind, setting up better lifestyle habits with your partner can ostensibly have a positive effect on both partners’ well-being and longevity.
Regarding that low genetic similarity, Kien Vuu, MD, a physician focused on longevity and regenerative medicine and author of Thrive State: Your Blueprint for Optimal Health, Longevity, and Peak Performance, says genetics accounts for only a portion of health, with lifestyle habits accounting for the rest. With this in mind, building healthy habits with your romantic partner in order to support the longevity of each individual in the relationship is key.
Longevity in relationships also plays a role. “[Relationship] longevity can promote physical and mental health and increase your life expectancy,” says Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, a relationship expert, author, and co-Founder of OURS, a modern premarital counseling. In other words, relationships help you live longer and there are several important factors that lead to long-lasting relationships.
Read on for five ways to boost your own and your partner’s longevity together and the longevity of the relationship itself, according to medical experts and relationship therapists.
5 Ways to Boost Health Longevity in Romantic Relationships
1. Consider prevention, first and foremost.
There are certain things we can do to prevent negative spousal concordance, aka the behaviors and associated health statuses within couples, says Dr. Nakaya. “Cooperation between [married couples] can contribute to disease prevention and longevity,” he says.
Smoking, drinking, and exercise are all tied, one way or the other, to the onset of cardiometabolic diseases, he adds—which is not great news for longevity in romantic relationships or any relationship. In order for that prevention to be successful, “it is necessary to improve the above lifestyle habits and change behavior, which greatly contribute to the onset [of cardiometabolic diseases],” Dr. Nakaya says. This might look like not smoking anymore (or maybe smoking less), not drinking as much, and incorporating exercise as a regular part of your routine as a couple.
2. Go on walks together.
An easy way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine as a couple is to go on walks together, whether it’s to start the day or to end it, says relationship therapist Chautè Thompson, LMHC.
Considering that going on walks is linked to increased heart health and that a daily walk can increase digestion, this is a low-impact exercise that definitely stands to increase longevity in a romantic relationship.
3. Have more sex.
Sex is also tied to longevity, as evidenced by the fact that one of the regular habits of the longest-living people on Earth is having sex. (Seriously, more than 80 percent of the world’s longest-living people are having sex between ages 65 and 100.)
4. Make sure you’re both getting enough sleep.
The longest-living people in the world also have a consistent sleep schedule and tend to get a full night’s sleep, pointing to the importance of sleep with respect to longevity.
“Make sure you get seven to nine hours of quality sleep, and try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day,” says Dr. Vuu, adding that "a healthy circadian rhythm is important for hormone health and overall health.”
Dr. Vuu recommends working with your partner to try to get on the same sleeping schedule to improve your sleep health and, in turn, longevity as well.
5. Engage in friendly competition.
“It is important for couples to compete with each other and encourage each other to ensure behavior change,” says Dr. Nakaya. It is true that friendly competition may help make habits stick.
Thompson adds that these competitions can include “flirty and fun incentives," for completing challenges like "drinking enough water, walking a certain amount of steps for the week, [and] limiting the amount of sweets they eat,” she adds. Here, Thompson says, the key is for the couple to think about their personal challenges and encourage each other to conquer them.’’
What does longevity mean in a relationship?
Longevity as it relates to health refers to how long of a healthy life you live. Longevity in a relationship, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship lasted a long time. “It means that the relationship has lasted for many years in a healthy state,” Earnshaw says. To put it differently, a lasting relationship doesn’t mean things are always all rainbows and butterflies. Rather, longevity in relationships means that couples are able to navigate the challenges that come up in a healthy way.
5 Ways to Improve Longevity in Relationships
1. Work on communication skills
So what exactly fuels longevity in relationships? One of the key elements is communication. “We simply can't have a relationship with someone without communicating,” Earnshaw says. “Learning how to communicate with the other person about the good and the bad can help us to maintain relational longevity.”
The issue, however, is that we often don’t know how to communicate effectively with our significant others. One of the first steps towards good communication is “having a willingness to take responsibility for your part and working towards improving your relationship skills,” Earshaw says. And two, “learning how to express your feelings in a way that takes ownership for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
2. Remember there is no “winning”
One of the worst things you can do during an argument is try to win. “When people have differences with each other, they enter into the conflict looking to ‘win,’” Earnshaw says. The solution? Work on being curious about those differences rather than trying to win the conversation. And, she adds, “remember that your own philosophy, opinion, etc is not the only ‘right way.’”
3. Set boundaries with outside stressors
According to Earnshaw, one of the biggest obstacles couples face is stress. “Life is inherently stressful. Outside of the relationship, partners are influenced by work stress, world stress, family stress, etc,” she says. “These things can trickle into the relationship.” To prevent this, she recommends working on setting boundaries on how the outside world impacts the relationship to avoid this from becoming a big obstacle and compromising the relationship’s longevity.
4. Practice self-soothing
While there are many things you can work on as a couple to create lasting relationships, there is also a good deal of self-work required. At the top of that list is learning to self-soothe, which Earnshaw says is one of the most important aspects of being in a healthy, long-term relationship because doing so prevents your physiological reactions from disrupting your communication. “You might know all of the tips and tricks for communication, but when you get upset or frustrated, if you're not sure how to manage those big feelings, healthy communication can be very difficult,” she says.
5. Make time for the good stuff
Becoming complacent is another common obstacle couples face. “When people get used to each other they stop putting as much effort into the relationship,” Earnshaw says. “Their energies might move into other things—work, friends, exercise, taking care of kids. Of course, all of these things are important areas for a well-rounded life. However, it's important to stay mindful of whether or not your partner is getting the time they deserve as well.”
For this reason, Earnshaw stresses that carving out time to enjoy each other is a foundational element of a relationship’s longevity. This will look different for each couple but she says things like playing and having fun together, giving each other affection, creating meaningful moments, and following each other’s curiosities are all ways to make time for the good stuff in the relationship.
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