There is plenty of evidence that a healthy marriage, one in which couples practice good communication, resolve conflict with relationship skills and create an atmosphere of warmth and positivity can have potential health benefits. Those may include, better heart health, lower mortality rates and lower rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer and surgeries. If this is true can it also be true that with a marriage in trouble, health problems may follow?
There is evidence that a marriage in trouble, one that carries with it chronic stress, may lead to health problems. Here are some of the potential health problems relating to chronic marital stress.
In a longitudinal study conducted by the University of Madison-Wisconsin that studied chronic marital stress found that “people who experience chronic marital stress are less able to savor positive experiences.” While this in and of itself does not mean every one of these people will become depressed it is a hallmark of depression. The authors went on to say that these folks were more likely to report other depressive symptoms. Essentially, this means that if you experience chronic stress in your marriage you may be more likely to develop depression.
Can chronic marital stress literally break your heart? There is evidence that chronic stress in a marriage increases the risk of adverse heart events, including surgery, heart disease and congestive heart failure. Studies going back as far as the 1970’s have shown that marital quality was significantly related to survival rates in men and women with heart failure. In addition, marital stress was correlated with a nearly 3 fold risk of recurrent negative heart events.
Slower recovery from cancer.
Women who suffer from breast cancer and have lower martial satisfaction are at risk for slower and more difficult recovery from cancer. A study conducted by Ohio State University showed that “the increases in stress and other problems that come with a distressed marital relationship can have real health consequences, and lead to a poorer recovery from cancer.” A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for women and their families, unfortunately with a marriage in trouble, the experience can be even more distressing and the recovery much slower.
Lower immune function.
Immune function is delicate balance of many factors including hormones, brain activity, sleep, stress and much more. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, especially when present chronically, damages tissue and vital organs. It also lowers immune function by keeping the body in a state of fight or flight rather that being able to rest and rebuild. According to research done by The Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, at The Ohio State University Medical Center, “lower marital satisfaction and negative behavior during conflict correlated with higher levels of cortisol following conflict.” Oxytocin, the love hormone, can counter the negative effects of high levels of cortisol. However, when you are experiencing chronic martial stress you are likely not engaging in the kinds of behaviors like sex, intimacy, tender physical touch and sharing warmth that lead to the release of this protective hormone.
What all this leads to is the notion that with a marriage in trouble health problems may develop. It is certainly not the only factor, it may however be one that you can influence. Learning healthy ways to manage conflict, resolve issues in your marriage and communicate effectively can impact your martial satisfaction AND your physical health.