Being young and in love provides a massive boost to health and well-being, suggests new research.
The study shows that for young people entering adulthood, high-quality relationships are associated with better physical and mental health.
Doctor Ashley Barr, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Buffalo University in the United States, said: “Health benefits begin to accrue relatively quickly with high-quality relationships and supportive contexts.
“And then we see detrimental effects from low-quality relationships – particularly, those low-quality relationships that last a long time.”
Dr Barr said that, over the last few decades, the transition into adulthood has been extended. Younger people today are waiting longer to get married than those in previous generations, and they’re waiting longer to finish school.
And, during that period, they’re moving in and out of relationships.
Dr Barr said: “Much of the research literature focuses on relationships and health in the context of marriage.
“The majority of our respondents were not married, but these relationships are still impactful to health, for better or for worse.”
The research, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, is Dr Barr’s second study to look at how the quality of relationships during the transition into adulthood affects health.
She previously conducted research with an all-African-American sample that suggested patterns of instability in relationships mattered when it came to depressive symptoms, alcohol problems and how people reported their general health.
Given those findings, the researchers wanted to see if the same patterns held true in a very different sample. And they did.
Using the Iowa Youth and Families Project, a sample of all-white youth coming from two-parent, married families in rural Iowa, Dr Barr says about a third of the sample experienced relatively large changes in their relationships over a two-year period.
She said: “We took into account satisfaction, partner hostility, questions about criticism, support, kindness, affection and commitment.
“We also asked about how partners behave outside of the relationship. Do they engage in deviant behaviours? Is there general anti-sociality?”
Dr Barr says the longer people are in high-quality relationships, or the faster they get out of low-quality relationships, the better their health.
She added: “It’s not being in a relationship that matters; it’s being in a long-term, high-quality relationship that’s beneficial.
“Low-quality relationships are detrimental to health. The findings suggest that it’s better for health to be single than to be in a low-quality relationship.”
Dr Barr says the attention to changes in relationships is important, particularly in the context of the extended transition to adulthood.
She added: “It’s rare today for young adults to enter a romantic relationship and stay in that relationship without ever changing partners or relationship characteristics.
“We now have two studies that found similar patterns and similar implications for those changes.”