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Can Your Marriage Make You Sick?

A bad marriage may be bad for your health--if you're a woman, according to new research out today.

Nancy Henry of the University of Utah and her colleagues studied 276 couples who had been married an average of 20 years.The couples filled out questionnaires assessing positive aspects of their marriage, such as mutual support, emotional warmth, friendliness and confiding in each other, as well as negative aspects, such as arguments, feelings of hostility and how often they disagreed over topics such as children, sex, money and in-laws. The couples were also tested for signs of depression, and went to a clinic to measure their weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and other symptoms of "metabolic syndrome," which increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Both men and women who reported more marital strain were more likely to have signs of depression, Henry reports today at the American Psychosomatic Society's annual meeting in Chicago. But only the women also were more likely to have metabolic syndrome symptoms. In fact, the effect of depression from marital strain was about the same as the effect of being sedentary versus moderately active, the researchers calculated.

It's unclear why this was the case, but previous research has indicated that women are more sensitive to the effects of relationship problems than men, and there's good evidence that stress can increase the risk for many of the factors that cause the metabolic syndrome.

While the study needs to be followed up by more research to really establish the link, the researchers say women in bad marriages should both exercise more and take other steps to try to counter those effects, and figure out if there's a way to improve their marriages--both to make their daily lives more pleasant and possibly improve their health.

By Rob Stein  |  March 5, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , Mental Health , Women's Health  
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Shot in the dark - maybe people with depression aren't good at maintaining healthy relationships? Or their personal health?

Posted by: crunchyfrog | March 5, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

I agree with crunchyfrog. It seems to me that when one or both spouses are depressed, they are less warm and supportive, more insensitive, and less involved in the marriage - which leads to more arguments and stress. Depressed people also tend to exercise less and eat more, and less healthfully. This may be a chicken and the egg situation.

Posted by: violet3 | March 5, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Did it indicate if the depression came on before or after the marriage? If after, then obviously marriage has a detrimental effect on people. Also note "women are more sensitive to the effects of relationship problems than men" -- that says it all.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | March 5, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I agree with violet3 and crunchyfrog. The problem here is depressed people. There are too many of them and we need to come up with a way of getting rid of them. Think how much more smoothly everything would run if there were no depressed people!

Posted by: bigbrother1 | March 5, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

What annoyed me is the last part of the article, placing the onus of correcting the relationship squarely on the woman's shoulder! Can't men learn how to discuss feelings??? Adapt, people, adapt! Rather than cheating or living together in miserable silence, talk to your partner, fer cryin' out loud :P

Posted by: sigmagrrl | March 5, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

This must be why single women are healthier and happier than single men, and married men are happier and healthier than single men (no matter HOW much men complain about marriage). Marriage is stacked against women, since they suffer more if it isn't going well.

Women more often start divorce proceedings too if things aren't going well. Perhaps that is because they are actually suffering physically - it's literally KILLING them - while the men are blissfully sailing through without any real pain, because their health isn't being impacted.

I agree with you, sigmagrrl. Why is the onus put on women to deal with it, as usual? Our misogynistic patriarchal culture expects women to always carry the burden of keeping relationships going. No wonder the men don't have any physical problems - they are blaming the women for everything, so they don't feel as though THEY have failed.

Posted by: splashy8 | March 5, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

A bad marriage is not as bad for a woman's heart as a trip to Johns Hopkins Cardiology:

Posted by: danwalter1122 | March 5, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Women should take steps to counter the effects of a bad marriage? How about getting out of it?

Posted by: harperissac2008 | March 5, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

You mean to tell me that people can both effect others and be affected by them?


I wonder if Weingarten will write an "Obviousology" column on this one.

Of course, once you figure out what is tearing you up inside, then it's up to you to change things, for your own health and peace of mind. No one is a mind reader, after all.

Posted by: Skowronek | March 5, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Crunchyfrog and violet3 you are both incorrect. You cannot group all depressed people into one lump of unable to maintain relationships, personal health or anything bad and unhealthy. bigbrother1 you are the one that we need to get rid of since you lack compassion and understanding and the world would a much happier place without people like you and your screwed up views. I have suffered major depression for 10 years and have been thru hell and back. I do not overeat, run three miles 4 days a week and married. I have given my husband the opportunity to leave if he was unhappy or no longer could take being the support that I needed. I told him that I will not be a burden on anyone because of my depression or be married just because it seems like the right thing to do. He has been there with me thru everything and knows when I am in a low point that I will cocoon and he offers me the emotional support, compassion and understanding.

Posted by: driftkitty | March 5, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Simple solution guys, since feminists dogma dictates you don't matter, DON'T GET MARRIED!!!, exist for a reason, sure some marriage are good but if you're iffy about it, just don't do it, You don't want to hurt a woman do you?

Posted by: MichaelQuerty | March 6, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

That must be one of the reasons that contribute to the early death of women when compared to men - Opps; sorry, it's the other way around.

Instead of wasting all this time focusing on the "whoa is me" sex that outlives their counterparts by 10 years, just maybe for EQUALITIES sake, we should figure out why men die so young.

Just another one of those sexist thoughts that is based on nothing but facts.

Posted by: Bcamp55 | March 6, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

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