Marriage Woes: As Harmful As They Are Hurtful

couple fighting

New research shows marital strain affects men and women differently.

A crumbling marriage triggers signs of depression in both men and women. But it offers up a double whammy to women who, unlike men, may also experience high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar as a result of the marital strain, increasing their risk for heart disease find University of Utah researchers.

"We know from previous research that women are more sensitive and responsive to relationship problems than men," said lead author Nancy Henry, a doctoral student in psychology, in a press release. "The results of this study suggest those problems could harm their health." Henry presented the findings on March 5 at the annual American Psychosomatic Society meeting. "The gender difference is important because heart disease is the number-one killer of women as well as men," said Henry, "and we are still learning a lot about how relationship factors and emotional distress are related to heart disease."

The researchers surveyed 276 couples, ages 40-70, who had been married 20 years on average asking questions about their mental state and relationship. The couples then completed lab tests that measured five indicators for cardiovascular disease: blood pressure, HDL (“good” cholesterol”) levels, fasting glucose, triglycerides and waistline.

This doesn't mean women in bad marriages should take abrupt or drastic action and order divorce papers. "There is good evidence they [women] should modify some of the things that affect metabolic syndrome, like diet and exercise, but it's a little premature to say they would lower their risk of heart disease if they improved the tone and quality of their marriages, or dumped their husbands," said study co-author Tim Smith, a psychology professor, in a press release. Of course, if a marriage goes sour, looking into couples therapy as an option couldn't hurt, could it?