The Unexpected Effect Your Poor Marriage Is Having On Your Health

A poor marriage can be the source of many health concerns, with stress, headaches, and depression being some of the less surprising ones. But did you know that it could also impact your cardiovascular health? 

Just like being in love has an unexpected effect on your heart health, bickering with your spouse constantly or being in an unhappy and unfulfilling marriage can damage your heart, especially when there's chronic relational stress. Per Johns Hopkins cardiologist Dr. Erin Michos, "Many studies suggest that emotional stress is hard on your health — raising blood pressure and heart rate, for example." 

2014 study done by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers looked at 1,200 older couples aged 57 to 85 over a span of five years and assessed self-reported data related to heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and high levels of C-reactive protein in the blood (inflammation-causing health condition). Women who reported having unhappy marriages were found to have two risk factors when it came to heart health: lower levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL or good cholesterol) and higher levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (a type of lipid or fat found in your blood). This wasn't the only study done on cardiovascular health and marital status, though. 

Other ways in which your relationship can affect your heart

According to a 2021 study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity — Health, those in satisfying partnerships had a higher resting heart rate variability (HRV) than those in poor marriages. HRV is a measure used to identify cardiac flexibility. People with higher HRV are thought to have greater cardiovascular endurance and also handle stress better. 

According to Veronica Lamarche, a professor of social psychology from the University of Essex, a poor marriage rife with relational conflict can lead to an increase in stress hormones, inflammation, fluctuations in appetite, and disruption in immune system health (per The Guardian). "It isn't the case that a single fight in a relationship will irreparably harm your health, but frequent fighting over many years will take a toll," explained the expert. 

A 2022 study published in Current Cardiology Reports found that the quality of your intimate relationships has an unexpected bearing on how well or how badly you do when it comes to coronary heart disease. Relational strain and disruption were associated with higher risk. Per a 2023 study in The Journal of the American Heart Association, the recovery outcome of patients aged between 18 and 55 with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) was bad when stressful marriages were part of the picture. Now that you know that the complications of an unhappy marriage are among the surprising ways your partner can affect your health, what can you do to have a better relationship?

How to have a marriage that's good for you (and your heart)

Good communication, healthy conflict resolution, honesty, respect, and self-care all form the bedrock that supports good marriages. Finding ways to stay true to those values can do a lot for your physical and mental health. Coping with stress in a healthy manner and zeroing in on the ways your relationship might be sabotaging your health are also important. 

In fact, there have been numerous studies on how good marriages can support great heart health. Having a supportive partner, even if they nag you about your health and get you to work out or eat healthy, can also go a long way, according to another MSU study. The goal is to find a good balance between helping your partner find ways to work on the areas they need to work on while giving them the freedom to be themselves. 

Couples therapy can also help. It's important to know when things are too far out of your control and you need professional help. According to Hui Liu, an MSU sociologist and lead author of the 2014 study, therapy is not just for young couples, but older ones, too. "Marriage counseling is focused largely on younger couples. But these results show that marital quality is just as important at older ages, even when the couple has been married 40 or 50 years."