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Women in Unhappy Marriages Hit by Physical Health Problems

Saturday, April 11, 2009 by: Reuben Chow, citizen journalist
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Key concepts: Health, Marriage and Physical health

 
(NaturalNews) Natural healers and even segments of the conventional medical community recognize the crucial role which emotional wellbeing and positive inter-personal relationships play in the balance between good health and disease. In fact, some even believe that toxic relationships and emotional patterns could sometimes or often be the main cause of ill-health. Along these lines, a recent study which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago has found that while an unhappy marriage can make both husband and wife depressed, the women were more likely to also suffer from physical health issues arising from their depression – what they suffered was a number of symptoms clustered under a condition called "metabolic syndrome".

Previous studies have already drawn a link between distressed marriages and poorer health. For example, a recent US study had found that marriage problems were linked to poorer breast cancer recovery outcomes for women (Read more at http://www.naturalnews.com/025410.html). This latest study, though, went a little deeper, investigating the possible role of depression in the disease process.

Details and Findings of Study

The study team had communicated with 276 couples via questionnaires on various aspects of their marriages, including positive ones such as mutual support and sharing, as well as negative ones such as arguments, hostile feelings and disagreements. The study subjects, who were aged 32 to 76 (median age 54), were also asked about symptoms of depression. On average, the couples had been married for more than 27 years, and most were in their first marriage.

According to the study team, which was led by Nancy Henry, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Utah, the negativity of the unhappy marriages contributed to depression, which was then linked with the physical symptoms that were part of metabolic syndrome. These include high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, unhealthy cholesterol profiles, belly fat, and high levels of blood sugar, which are risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Interestingly, though, while men in unhappy marriages were as likely as their female counterparts to be hit by depression, the link with physical health issues only applied to the women in the study. Although the exact reason was not clear, according to Henry, this could be because women may be more affected by the marriage problems than men.

One thing to note about the study is that most of the subjects may be Mormons, and would thus be less likely than persons practicing other religions to get a divorce. This means they are more likely to stick through unhappy unions.

Another researcher looking into similar areas, Debra Umberson, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas in Austin, found similar negative effects of unhappy marriages on health. The difference between men and women, however, was not evident in her research. "Basically, we find that marital strain undermines the health of men and women," she said. According to her, it was possible that the men in the Utah study may have encountered health problems in other areas.

Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and the medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Program, summed up the importance of the Utah study’s findings when she said: "I think we’ve got to get used to the fact that a toxic relationship is toxic to your whole health."

Improving Marriage Health and Emotional Wellbeing

What, then, should those in unhappy marriages do? Each of the experts had something useful to offer.

Firstly, Umberson pointed out the importance of finding the right partner. "Choose your partner carefully. A strained marriage is bad for your health," she said. And she added that those who were already in problematic marriages should focus on confliction reduction.

Henry also said that divorce was not necessarily the answer. "We can’t really say ‘Dump your spouse, and you’ll be fine,’" she said. She added that there were many other factors which played a part in health, and that the more pertinent question was whether we wanted to treat physical symptoms, or look at the patient as a whole person.

Regarding looking at patients holistically, Goldberg concurred. A couple of tips she gave to improve emotional health were being in supportive environments and undertaking delegation. "You can’t have a to-do list with 20 things on it if you can only do five," she said. Exercise also helps for stress reduction, while those who need help should seek counseling. "Talk to someone," she said.

These are simple pieces of advice which could go a long way.

References

Bad Marriages Harder on Women’s Health (http://health.usnews.com/articles/h…)

Unhappily ever after: Why bad marriages hurt women’s health (http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/…)

Distressed Marriages Negatively Affect Breast Cancer Recovery (http://www.naturalnews.com/025410.html)

 

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