COLUMBIA, Mo.–How long will you live? No one knows, but research suggests that happiness at home for the 50-plus set is the biggest predictor of longevity.

Married and widowed females live longer and have happier lives than their single counterparts, says David Schramm, University of Missouri Extension state specialist in human development and family studies.

Healthy relationships have many side benefits, including lower mortality, better physical and mental health, greater financial well-being and less chance of being a perpetrator or victim of crimes, including domestic violence, he said.

Schramm cites a recently published study by Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences (HES), showing that healthy relationships are more important than diet, smoking, exercise, drugs and even genetics in predicting longevity. The study, “The Longitudinal Associations between Marital Happiness, Problems and Self-Rated Health,” was co-authored by Linley Snyder-Rivas, an HES alumna.

Schramm says that “relationship fitness” is just as important as exercise to physical well-being and recommends that partners “work out” on their marriage strenuously at least three times per week.

A healthy relationship with a spouse or partner “spills over” into other relationships, including parent/child, adult child/aging parent, and relationships in the community and workplace.

Missouri’s divorce rate concerns Schramm. At 3.8 percent, it is slightly higher than the nation’s average of 3.6 percent, and has been higher than Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas for 15 years. Missourians also are marrying 7 percent less than the national average. Almost half of all Missouri marriages recorded in 2006 were remarriages for one or both of the spouses.

He offers the following tips for people in relationships:

  • Put the relationship between you and your partner first. Schramm says relationships are like grass. “The grass grows on the side of the fence that you water the most,” he says.
  • Practice kindness. Little things can matter in a big way. Maybe it’s a random phone call just to say hello. Perhaps it’s bringing home a special treat from the bakery that your partner likes.
  • Focus on one good thing that happened today. Share it with your partner.
  • Help others. Service to others “lifts” you.
  • Choose wisely on activities that take up your time and know that when you make a choice you are actually giving up other choices.
  • Recognize that you will change over the years, just as your partner will. Embrace the change.
  • Know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead of finding fault with these, embrace the differences and learn to accept them.
  • Look for the positive. It takes five positive things to override one negative event.
  • Remember to HALT: If you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired, it’s hard to have good discussions with your partner.
  • Stay connected with others. Happy couples have many connections through church, extended family, school, etc.
  • Slow down.

For more information and resources from MU Extension about relationships and family life, go to

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