W. Jesse Gill, Psy.D.
As you approach this New Year, let’s take a moment to understand, improve, or maybe even begin to heal your marriage connection. The benefits of a secure marriage are priceless for increasing your sense of fulfillment, and they might even save your life.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18.
Since the dawn of Creation we have known this simple truth. We need human connection in order to thrive and flourish. So God created attachment relationships and marriage to fill this void inside of us humans.
When God said that it was “not good” for man to be alone, He was not just speaking about sad and lonely feelings. Medical research has demonstrated that the effects of loneliness on the human body are absolutely staggering across the lifespan.
The negative effects of loneliness impact us at the physical, emotional, and cognitive level (Hawkley and Cacioppo, 2010). Loneliness has been linked to the acceleration of physical aging, cardiovascular disease, impaired immune system functioning, and higher Body Mass Index. Ultimately this leads to earlier mortality. Loneliness is damaging to our mental health. It increases depressive symptoms, perceived stress, fear of negative evaluation, anxiety, and anger. It diminishes optimism along with self-esteem. Loneliness also predicts cognitive decline and dementia in old age.
Marriage is the most intimate relationship that God ordained to meet our needs to “not be alone.” Few things in the world are more satisfying than a strong emotional, physical, and sexual connection in marriage. The opposite is also true. It is devastating to be in constant conflict with your spouse or to feel distant from him or her.
Solomon said that it would be better to go and “live alone in the desert” than to have constant marital conflict in your home (Proverbs 21:19, NLT). He was right. Research shows that the stress hormone cortisol is released during marital conflict, along with certain cell signaling proteins (cytokines); together these create harmful inflammation and also damage the immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2005).
So, if you are going to be married, it is essential that you have a secure marriage connection and that you have the tools to navigate conflict successfully. Conflict is normal, but prolonged conflict can damage your health and even shorten your lifespan.
A Secure Marriage contains all the key elements of God’s Attachment design for us as humans (Gill, 2015). Secure spouses tune in “Face to Face” with each other, share physical affection, and are emotionally accessible to one another on a consistent basis. Secure spouses are vulnerable with one another in ways that draw comfort and understanding, instead of pushing their loved ones away. This helps each spouse have the settled confidence that, “I am not alone.”
Knowing that my partner will be emotionally available to me helps to reduce my sense of panic and pain during moments of distress. Secure marriage attachment literally soothes the nervous system when one spouse reaches for the other in moments of pain and need.
A recent functional MRI study demonstrated that more securely attached spouses had less activity in various arousal centers of the brain when they received an electric shock (Johnson et al., 2013). In the same study, more secure spouses had less hypervigilance and arousal when they were anticipating a possible shock. The prospect of physical pain was not as threatening when spouses held hands and knew that they were “not alone.”
Another study showed that more secure couples had faster rates of wound healing, and they had a reduction in hormones that contributed to problems with inflammation (Gouin et al, 2010). These more secure couples had higher rates of oxytocin and vasopressin, which serve in part as the cuddle and mating hormones of the human body.
We all need a little more oxytocin in our lives. This “cuddle hormone” helps to suppress the stress hormone, cortisol, and all of the damaging effects that prolonged cortisol exposure has on our heart, immune system, memory, and metabolic functioning. Securely attached couples have regular “Face to Face” time, where they touch and hold one another (Gill, 2015). Lingering touch allows for the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin not only benefits your physical health, but it makes your spouse appear more attractive to you and reinforces your bond with them.
For marriages that need an emotional, physical, and mental boost there are great reading resources to help promote Secure Attachment in marriage (Gill, 2015). For marriages who are in crisis, it may be time to begin sessions with an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist (Johnson, 2004). Spouses who invest in their marriage connection this year will reap the health benefits in their hearts, minds, and bodies for years to come.
Gill, J. (2015). Face to face: Seven keys to a secure marriage. Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press.
Gouin, J., Carter, C., Pournajafi-Nazarloo, H., Glaser, R., Malarkey, W., Loving, T., Stowell, J. and Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2010). Marital behavior, oxytocin, vasopressin, and wound healing. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Aug;35(7):1082–90
Hawkley, L. and Cacioppo, J. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine; 40: 218–227
Johnson, S. (2004). Creating connection: The practice of emotionally focused marital therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Brunner/Routledge.
Johnson, S., Moser, M., Beckes, L., Smith, A., Dalgleish, T., et al. (2013) Soothing the Threatened Brain: Leveraging Contact Comfort with Emotionally Focused Therapy. PLoS ONE 8(11)
Kiecolt-Glaser, J., Loving, T., Stowell, J., Malarkey, W., Lemeshow, S., Dickinson, S., and Glaser, R (2005). Hostile marital interactions, proinflammatory cytokine production, and wound healing. Arch Gen Psychiatry. Dec;62(12):1377–84.
W. Jesse Gill, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist who is passionate about marriage therapy. His book, Face to Face: Seven Keys to a Secure Marriage, integrates the truth of Scripture with the power of Attachment Theory to help heal and strengthen marriages. He is married to April, the love of his life; they work together to build security in their marriage and with their two children. www.facetofacemarriage.com