The Medical Condition You And Your Partner May Secretly Share

When you think of a long-term commitment with someone, you think of shared interests, common values, and goals that are in sync. You probably don't think of medical conditions that you and your partner might come to share over time. 

But according to a 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, there's more than just their skin microbiome that your partner might secretly give you — you could share hypertension (high blood pressure) together. The study involved looking at data related to heterosexual couples between the years 2015 and 2019 across four countries — England, the U.S., China, and India. The research team from the University of Michigan, Emory University, and Columbia University looked at 22,389 couples in India, 6,514 couples in China, 3,989 couples in the United States, and 1,086 couples in England, 45 or older in age. 

They found a high prevalence of concordant hypertension among the couples — India had about 20% of shared hypertension between partners, China 21%, the U.S. 38%, and England 47% (via American Heart Association). Co-lead author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Peiyi Lu thinks that the research points toward the surprising ways your partner can affect your health

You and your partner can influence each other's health

Peiyi Lu shared that even though hypertension is more common in the Western countries selected for this study, concordant high blood pressure prevalence was stronger in Asia (via American Heart Association). This may have to do with the different cultures and resulting approaches to partnerships in both regions — individualism in the West versus closer ties in Asian countries.  

"In China and India, there's a strong belief in sticking together as a family, so couples might influence each other's health more. In collectivist societies in China and India, couples are expected to depend and support each other, emotionally and instrumentally, so health may be more closely entwined," explained Lu. 

Associate professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Public Health at West Virginia University Bethany Barone Gibbs said that studies of this nature underscore the important nature of our significant other's influence over our lifestyle habits such as eating healthy, exercising, and reducing stress (via American Heart Association). For better or for worse, right? They also highlight the need for a wider approach in healthcare that takes into account a person's interpersonal relationships as a determining factor for medical conditions like hypertension, she added. Does this mean you have permission to nag when your relationship might be sabotaging your health? Maybe.

Building healthy habits together

Bad lifestyle choices over time and certain medical conditions, like obesity and diabetes, can all contribute toward hypertension, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when it comes to unhealthy habits like smoking, your partner's influence over you could either make or break a situation, shared associate professor at the University of South Florida/Tampa General Hospital, Dr. Bibhu Mohanty (via CNN).

"If you have a spouse that is trying to quit smoking and you have a partner that is a former smoker who has quit, it makes a huge difference in perspective. Or if they're both trying to quit together," explained Mohanty. Building on healthy habits together can significantly increase your chances of staying consistent over time. 

A 2016 study published in The Journals of Gerontology found a link between diabetes progression and treatment and marriage quality. In other words, men in supposedly unhappy marriages characterized by partners who tracked their health habits had a slower progression of the disease, per Medical News Today. Lead investigator of the research, Hui Liu told Medical News Today that nagging isn't always a bad thing. "Sometimes, nagging is caring." While you can't force your partner to start eating healthy or exercising with you, you can have an open discussion about how important this is for you. You can also lead by example or try to find a physical activity both of you enjoy together. Creating a positive and non-judgmental space around all of it can help too.