7 Ways a Stressful Marriage Is Toxic to Your Health

upset coupleWhether or not you believe in marriage anymore, we all know -- or have been -- someone who has gone through a divorce. Much has been said about the experience, but new research, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, is looking specifically at the effect it has on our health. Turns out, divorce can hurt your heart -- literally.


The study looked at 15,827 adults ages 45 to 80, all of whom were married or had been previously. When researchers followed up and controlled for age, race and ethnicity, obesity, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption, and other lifestyle factors, they found that women who had been divorced once had a 24 percent increased risk of heart attack compared to a woman who had been continuously married. Those who had been divorced twice had a 77 percent increased risk, and remarried a 35 percent increased risk. Oof.

Meanwhile, men who had divorced more than once had an increased risk of about 30 percent. Men who stayed married or who remarried had NO increased risk. Lucky them!

The conclusion may be that divorce is bad news for women's lifelong health, but what about the detrimental effects of staying in a stressful, unhappy relationship? Here, seven health concerns associated with marital strife women in particular need to take into consideration, too.

1. Marital strain is also associated with all kinds of heart issues. Women who had moderate to severe marital strain were 2.9 times more likely than women without marital stress to need heart surgery, suffer heart attacks, or die of heart disease in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

2. Unmarried people in a bad relationship suffer increased heart risk, too. You don't have to have a ring on it to suffer from relationship stress. The JAMA study found unmarried women who lived with their partners and suffered severe stress in their relationships had a higher risk of heart problems, as well.

3. Your mental health takes a hit. Marriage has been associated with many benefits for mental health, but when you're constantly stressed, it can have quite the opposite effect. In fact, research has shown single people have the advantage over unhappy married ones when it comes to mental wellness.

More from The Stir: 36 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Divorce

4. It's harder to manage or survive a chronic disease. Research published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that marital quality is integral to development and management of chronic diseases like congestive heart failure. Specifically, patients with the most severe heart disease and poorest marriages had a four-year survival rate of 42 percent, while patients with milder heart disease and healthy marriages had a 78 percent rate.

Another study in the journal Cancer found that marital distress made it harder to recover from breast cancer -- likely because of heightened levels of stress and being less compliant with medical regimens, such as adhering to healthy dietary habits.

5. Your annual physical may suffer. If you're constantly dealing with conflict in your marriage, you may have a higher risk of abdominal obesity (associated with stress), high blood sugar, high trigylcerides, and low levels of "good" cholesterol, according to a study presented in the 2009 American Psychosomatic Society's annual meeting. Again, this research showed the effect to be greater on wives than husbands.

6. The more marital stress, the more overall stress. One of the main reasons women with marital strife may be suffering from some of these longer-term health concerns is because they're chronically stressed. An article in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that women with more marital stress had higher blood pressure in the middle of the workday and higher morning cortisol levels, which over time, increase the risk of disease.

7. The longer you "stick it out," the harsher the toll on your health. A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior of about 1,200 married people between the ages of 57 and 85 showed that the negative effects of a low-quality marriage became stronger with age. Once again, women were more likely than men to endure heart problems! Researchers explained that stress resulting from marital problems or dissatisfaction could have a stronger effect as our immune system weakens with age.

Looks like you may be damned if you do or don't pull the trigger on a divorce, but doing whatever you can to minimize stress in your life in the long-haul appears to be the key to being happier and healthier.

Which do you think is the lesser of two evils when it comes to health: staying in a stressful marriage or filing for divorce?

stressful marriage bad for health

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