Scientists have discovered that years of being part of an unhappy marriage can result in literal breaking of your heart.
A study has found that people who have endured many years of spousal conflict are at higher risk of developing heart disease than those in happy marriages.
These findings were particularly true for wives and this may be due to females internalising negative emotions more than males.
The US researchers have suggested that relationship counselling also be offered to older couples as well as to those starting a marriage.
Michigan State University’s Hui Lui, a sociologist, said marriage counselling is generally focused mainly on younger couples, however the results of their research indicate that the quality of a marriage is as important to older people, even if they have been married for four or five decades.
Dr Lui and his team analysed five years of data related to about 1200 married males and females, aged between 57 and 85 at the commencement of the study. All the participants were involved in a huge US investigation, the National Social Life Health and Aging Project, and included questions related to marital quality and heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke rates.
The study found that bad marriages involving criticism, demands and rows were more harmful to a person’s heart than supportive, good ones. It also revealed that the impact of marital quality on artery and heart disease risk became more pronounced in older people.
The researchers believe that the stresses of a bad marriage for many years become more harmful due to frailty and a decline in immune function.
They also found that women, not men, experienced a decline in the quality of their marriage due to suffering from heart disease. The researchers state that this may be due to more wives offering care and support for ill husbands, rather than the other way round.
Dr Lui said this means that the poor health of a wife may have an impact on how she assesses the quality of her marriage, but the poor health of a husband does not affect his view of the marriage.
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