Medical researchers have spent years trying to determine what factors
contribute to diseases such as diabetes. Now, some new research
supports the idea that being in a bad marriage can actually contribute
to the development of diabetes and heart disease - especially if you're
Most people will be married at some point during
their adult lives. Not all of those will be happy marriages. Research
has shown that depression and conflict can contribute to many health
problems. Clinical psychologist Nancy Henry from the University of Utah
wondered if the arguing and negative feelings that can arise in a bad
marriage might make people physically ill.
issues, relationship functioning has also been associated with
cardiovascular disease," she says. "So, social support, for example,
having good support is associated with having a lower risk of
cardiovascular disease. And things like conflict, and hostility in
relationships, has been connected to higher levels of poor heart
Henry examined data about nearly 300 couples. She had
them answer questionnaires about their marriages and took data on their
blood pressure and other physiological measures. Henry focused on the
development of a cluster of health indicators known as "metabolic
"It's a risk factor both for cardiovascular disease
and type 2 diabetes and it consists of... mainly five things: abdominal
obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, which is the good
cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high glucose or glucose
Henry says she thought she'd find more metabolic
syndrome in marriages that were more distressed and less in marriages
that were happy.
"And that is pretty much what we found, but only in wives," she says.
men in the bad marriages reported stress, and they reported being
depressed, but that didn't seem to affect their physical health.
Women's health, however, was affected by marital strain.
seem to take more stock in relationships as part of forming their
selves, as part of saying, 'Who am I?' Henry says. "... And that's kind
of why people have thought that these relationship issues are more
impactful for women, both in the realm of emotional health and physical
health, than they are for men."
Henry presented her findings recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago.