A rich body of research suggests that marriage is good for your health and your pocketbook. But what if you’re in an unhappy relationship? What are the health effects of tension and marital discord? Jess joined Jeff on The Morning Show to discuss a range of studies related to marriage and health. Watch the video and read the summary below.
1. We’ve heard that marriage is good for your health – is this still true?
- Overall, marriage is tied to a range of health and social benefits: higher incomes, greater recovery rates, lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- A recent study found that marital quality’s relationship to physical health is as important as daily exercise and a healthy diet.
2. But what about if you’re in an unhappy relationship?
It’s not marriage alone that offers potential health benefits; the quality of the relationship matters:
- Marital distress is tied to higher levels of depression and hypertension.
- In unhappy relationships, your risk of metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels which put you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease) is twice as high.
- Research shows that stress hormones in the blood increase with the hostility of the disagreement.
3. And do your own behaviours change in response to relationship discord? (Sleep, eating, drinking)
When we’re stressed, we don’t sleep as well, we're more likely to drink and eat unhealthily.
4. And does your partner’s health affect your health? (diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome)
Your health behaviours tend to reflect those of your partner; if your partner has high blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar, your risk of developing the same condition is significantly increased. This may be explained by both the assertive mating and shared resource hypotheses.
5. What behaviours tend to contribute to marital discord?
The way couples communicate plays a significant role. Do they engage in demand-withdraw patterns? (One person asks for change and the other refuses to discuss it.) Do they engage in conversations when tensions run high or do they avoid intense conversations?
6. What can you do if you’re having marital problems and they don’t want the relationship to adversely affect their health?
- You can see a therapist together; research suggests that when marital therapy works to lower relationship distress, stress hormone levels decrease.
- You can take care of yourself first; change the way you eat, sleep and exercise regardless of whether or not your partner is willing to do the same and don’t use them as an excuse to maintain the status quo.