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Wednesday 17 October: 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Pembroke College, Old Library, Trumpington Street, CB2 1RF

Spouses promise to care for one another in sickness and in health, but research suggests that these vows might determine the quality and length of your life. Recent scientific studies show that couples mutually influence each other’s mental and physical health trajectories. Being married has been linked to a lower incidence of disease and higher rate of recovery. Pooled data from University College London reveals that lifelong singletons are 42 percent more likely to develop dementia than their married counterparts. Having a spouse can improve social connectedness, lower inflammation, promote early detection of certain diseases and facilitate the adoption of healthy behaviours. But it is not all good news. If your spouse suffers from poor health – mental or physical – this can directly impact on your own. Marital discord can similarly cause or worsen certain health conditions. A 2014 study showed that those in troubled marriages were 25 times more likely to be depressed than those in ‘happy’ marriages. The quality of marriage, one study suggested, could have the same impact on wellbeing and life-expectancy as diet or exercise.

The relationship between marriage and health is something that has been noted and discussed for centuries. Ancient philosophers saw marriage as central to the formation and maintenance of a healthy state. Centuries later in 1656, Nicholas Culpeper the author of A Directory for Midwives, suggested that a lack of love between spouses could lead to mutual poor health and inhibit their ability to have children – ‘if their Heart be not United in love, how should their Seed Unite to cause conception?’ In correspondence in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, couples often professed themselves to fall ill in response to their spouse’s ailing. As marriage made husbands and wives ‘one flesh’ the afflictions of one body could effortlessly transfer to the other. The purpose and experience of marriage has shifted throughout time, as has medicine and understandings of disease and wellbeing.

Bringing together two historians, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a relationship counsellor , this debate will consider the ways in which individuals have defined bodily and emotional health and its complex relationship with marriage.

Following the successful ‘Is menstruation healthy?’ (2014), ‘Should we be having babies at 20?’ (2015) and ‘Should women breastfeed each other’s babies?’ (2016) debates at the Festival of Ideas, the debate is organised by Leah Astbury, Carolin Schmitz and Lauren Kassell, and is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

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Age: 15+, Talk, Arrive on time, Free