Background Poor health and health behaviors are associated with divorce. This study investigates the degree to which six health indicators and health behaviors among husbands and wives are prospectively related to divorce, and whether spousal similarities in these factors are related to a reduced risk of marital dissolution. Theoretically, a reduced risk is possible, because spousal similarity can help the couple’s adaptive processes.
Methods The data come from a general population sample (19,827 couples) and 15 years of follow-up data on marital dissolution. The following characteristics were investigated: Poor subjective health, obesity, heavy drinking, mental distress, lack of exercise, and smoking. Associations between these characteristics among husbands and wives and later divorce were investigated with Cox proportional hazards regression analyses.
Results All the investigated characteristics except obesity were associated with marital dissolution. Moreover, spousal similarities in four of these characteristics (heavy drinking, mental distress, no exercise, and smoking) reduced the risk of divorce, compared to the combined main effects of husbands and wives. Nevertheless, couples concordant in these health issues still had higher risks of divorce than couples without these characteristics.
Conclusion Couples with similar health and health behavior are at a lower risk of divorce than are couples who are dissimilar in health. Health differences may thus be seen as vulnerabilities or stressors, supporting a health mismatch hypothesis. This study demonstrates that people who are similar to each other are more likely to stay together. Harmonizing partners’ health behaviors may be a target in divorce prevention.
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