Is marital strife bad for your health? And is there a difference between women and men in their marital strife risk?
Marital strife can do more than make you heartsick. In studies from our lab where we asked couples to discuss a disagreement, those couples whose disagreements were more nasty or hostile showed much larger increases in stress hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine during and after the argument, with wives showing much bigger changes than husbands. In one of our projects we created small blister wounds on our participants' arms to study how interpersonal stress affected wound healing. The wounds of couples who were nastier to each other while trying to resolve a disagreement took longer to heal than those of couples who could discuss their differences amiably.
Research observing medical populations has confirmed the experimental studies in individuals. In a Swedish study of women with coronary heart disease, the risk of recurrent coronary events (cardiac death, acute myocardial infarction, and revascularization procedures) was three times as great among women who had severe marital problems as for those who were happy. In another study, women who were unhappy in their marriages accumulated more plaque in their carotid arteries (which supply blood to the brain) 11 to 14 years later than women who were happy. And among patients with congestive heart failure, better marital quality predicted higher four-year patient survival as well as lower levels of illness severity—with bigger differences for women than men. So a troubled marriage may be bad for your heart in more ways than you realize.
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