Family Interaction and Physical Health
What does family interaction have to do with physical health? The answer is “a lot. ” Family interaction contributes to the development and course of many physical health issues. This is a very fascinating time in family science, as some communication variables have even been elevated to a causal level in the path to physiological responses and health problems. In turn, physical health issues shape the nature of many family interactions. In this chapter, we explore numerous questions regarding how marital and family interactions relate to spouses' physical health, children's illnesses, adolescents' substance use and abuse, and adolescents' and young adults' sexual health. For example, are married people healthier than single people, and does a bad marriage take a toll on one's health? Does family interaction affect the development and course of childhood illnesses or adolescents' substance use and abuse? Can parents and families have an impact on adolescents' sexual behaviors? We also explore some of the major communication processes that families negotiate as they respond to physical health issues. These processes include caregiving and social support and privacy management. It is safe to say that at some point in time, the communication in every family changes in response to physical health issues or has an effect on the course of physical health problems. We are just beginning to understand the complex ways family interaction and physical health interact.
Research on marriage and physical health has focused on the way three relationship variables relate to illness, disease, and mortality. These three variables are relationship status, relationship quality, and relationship behaviors and interactions (Burman & Margolin, 1992; Schmaling & Sher, 1997). Indeed, most early research looked only at the link between relationship status (i.e., married, single, and divorced) and health. This line of research proved useful at least for alerting us that marriage and health may mutually influence one another, but it only began to speculate as to how or in what way they influence one another. In 1979, Lois Verbrugge was one of the first researchers to establish a link between marriage and health. Using comprehensive data from the U. S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, Verbrugge found that divorced and separated people were the least healthy, with widowed, single, and married persons, respectively, more healthy. Divorced persons have the highest rates of chronic conditions,