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A Bad Marriage’ll Kill Ya

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Love your spouse, love your heart.

That seems to be the message of research conducted by the University College of London, published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine. In a study of 9,000 mostly married civil servants working in London, Roberto De Vogli and his colleagues found that people reporting the highest level of conflict with their spouses were 34 per cent more likely to have a heart attack over the next 12 years, compared to people reporting the least conflict within their marriage. After adjusting for depression, negative personality traits, and other cofactors, the link remained significant. Job demands, gender, exercise, smoking and alcohol did not affect the association with cardiovascular disease.

The emotional reactions associated with marital strife “have been found to influence coronary heart disease through the cumulative ‘wear and tear’ on organs and tissues caused by the alterations of autonomic (involuntary) functions, neuroendocrine changes, disturbances in coagulation and inflammatory and immune responses,” the researchers concluded.

To make matters worse, “individuals tend to mentally replay negative encounters more than they replay positive ones.” Thus, the stressful aspects of a marriage–excessive worry and anxiety–create strong, long-lasting emotional states. In a sense, the damage goes on, long after the stormy emotions of the moment have passed.

Vogli’s research team is now looking more deeply into the biological evidence for marital distress, such as tissue inflammation and elevated levels of stress hormones.
Earlier studies have not always confirmed the connection, but a recent report in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that in a 10-year follow-up, women who kept silent during marital arguments died younger than wives who freely expressed their opinions.

“What we add here is that, ‘Okay, being married is in general good, but be careful about the kind of person you have married,’” said De Vogli. “The quality of the relationship matters.”

A divorce won’t necessarily save you from a heart attack, either. Unmarried people, particularly men, seem to face an increased risk of heart attack solely by virtue of being single.

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About Dirkh

  • As a widower ( nearly 40 years together) and survivor of a massive heart attack/congestive heart failure, it should be strongly noted that a good marriage can appreciably enhance health. By “good” I mean a marriage that gives & takes, respects the other and is built on common interests and friendship as well as love and sex.

    On the other hand, as a past civil servant (psychiatric social worker) the tension of job stress (I had — with the support of my wife — left the “secure” state job to freelance photography) absolutely must impact cardiac health and survival rates.

    When I worked for New York state I knew 5 people working in the psychiatric center who suffered heart attacks. They all died. Dysfunctional marriages are undoubtedly bad for the heart. So are heartless jobs.