Long-term, intimate partnerships can promote unhealthy habits

Aug 18, 2011

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health – there's a long line of research that associates marriage with reducing unhealthy habits such as smoking, and promoting better health habits such as regular checkups. However, new research is emerging that suggests married straight couples and cohabiting gay and lesbian couples in long-term intimate relationships may pick up each other's unhealthy habits as well. University of Cincinnati research into how those behaviors evolve will be presented Aug. 23 at the 106th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas.

Corinne Reczek, a UC assistant professor of sociology, reports three distinct findings into how were promoted through these long-term, intimate relationships: through the direct bad influence of one partner, through health habit synchronicity and through the notion of personal responsibility.

Reczek reports that gay, lesbian and straight couples all described the "bad influence" theme, while in straight partnerships, men were nearly always viewed as the "bad influence."

"The finding that one partner is a 'direct bad influence' suggests that individuals converge in health habits across the course of their relationship, because one individual's unhealthy habits directly promotes the other's unhealthy habits," reports Reczek. An example would be how both partners eat the unhealthy foods that one partner purchases.

"Gay and lesbian couples nearly exclusively described how the habits of both partners were simultaneously promoted due to unhealthy habit synchronicity. For these individuals, one partner may not engage in what they consider an unhealthy habit on their own, but when their desire for such a habit is matched by their partners, they partake in unhealthy habits," writes Reczek.

"Third, respondents utilized a discourse of personal responsibility to describe how even when they observe their partner partaking in an unhealthy habit, they do not attempt to change the habit, indicating that they were complicit in sustaining their partner's unhealthy habits. The final theme was described primarily by straight men and women," says Reczek.

Reczek adds that the study is among the first of its kind to examine how gay and lesbian couples promote each other's unhealthy habits.

Study Method

Reczek and two team researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 122 people involved in long-term straight or married relationships (31 couples), gay partnerships (15 couples) and lesbian relationships (15 couples), who had been together between eight and 52 years.

Participants were individually asked a series of open-ended questions about smoking, drinking, food consumption, sleep patterns, exercise habits and other health habits. "Particular attention was paid to how partners shaped each of these habits," writes Reczek.

Demographic Description

In the survey sample, 83 percent of the straight respondents were white, nine percent were African-American, one person was Asian American, two were Latina and one respondent identified as multiracial. For the gay and lesbian couples 63 percent were white, four percent identified as Hispanic, Latino or Latina, one respondent identified as African-American, one Native American/Hispanic and one South American.

The average age for the straight couples was 53 years – 49 years for gay couples and 43 years for lesbian couples.

The average relationship duration for straight couples was 25 years. For gay couples, it was 21 years and for lesbian couples it was 14 years.

Household income of the participants ranged from $40,000 to $120,000.

"While previous research focuses nearly exclusively on how intimate relationships – particularly marriage – are health-promoting, these findings extend this research to argue that intimate partners are cognizant of the ways in which they promote the unhealthy habits of one another," states Reczek.

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Nanobanano
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2011
People aren't going to correct one another's bad habits when they think they "love" them, because they firstly don't really love as much as they think; if you love someone you would act in their best interest, even if they don't agree about their best interest, and secondly, because they have a selfish desire to maintain relationships for their own percieved benefits.

There are other reasons, safety, maintaining "peace," avoiding an argument after having given up, realizing the other person isn't going to change no matter what anyway, etc.

Telling people what you think they want to hear, or even what they think they want to hear, might make you some "friends" in the short term, but in the long term it's just asking for trouble.

Maybe some people, like many of the lifestyles mentioned in this study, aren't worried about such outcomes anyway, after all, our godless culture is about getting someone in the sack a few times, and then leave them high and dry, right? No regrets.
emsquared
5 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2011
our godless culture is about getting someone in the sack a few times, and then leave them high and dry, right? No regrets.

If this is what you see, it's because that's what you want to see.

What I see and hear and experience from my peers, is that these values are rejected by my generation (late X-early Y), we grew up in the 80s - early 90s watching the disposable society fester and now we're seeing what that reaps. More than 1/2 of marriages ending in miserable divorces, perpetual economic volatility, massive personal debt and loathing from all sides; domestic, foreign, everywhere.

You think society is decaying, we're just waiting for the decay to finally up and die so we can have something worth-while again.
Dichotomy
not rated yet Aug 19, 2011
I agree with emsquared. The generation of selfish hypocricy that has bankrupt America needs to hurry up and die off so the rest of us can get to work cleaning up the mess.