New research reviews how marital stress can influence health and mortality.
In the study, investigators wanted to know if an individual’s blood pressure is influenced by their own as well as their partner’s reports of chronic stress, and whether there are gender differences in these patterns.
Researchers also wanted to determine if negative marital quality influences the stress-blood pressure link, and if this effect is different for wives and husbands.
Findings from the study are reported in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B®: Psychological Sciences.
Researchers discovered stress and relationship quality have both direct and indirect effects on the cardiovascular system, confirming previous research. They also discovered that it is important to consider the couple as a whole rather than the individual when examining marriage and health.
Overall, some of the findings were surprising.
In particular, this study revealed that wives’ stress has important implications for husbands’ blood pressure, particularly in more negative relationships.
Specifically looking at the effects of negative relationship quality, researchers found that effects weren’t recognized when examining individuals but there were when examining interactions between both members of couple.
“We were particularly excited about these findings because they show that the effects of stress and negative relationship quality are truly dyadic in nature,” said lead author Kira S. Birditt, Ph.D.
“An individuals’ physiology is closely linked with not only his or her own experiences but the experiences and perceptions of their spouses. We were particularly fascinated that husbands were more sensitive to wives’ stress than the revers, especially given all of the work indicating that wives are more affected by the marital tie.”
The investigators speculate that this emotional/physiological link may result from husband’s greater reliance on wives for support which may not be provided when wives are more stressed.