February 25, 2019

Stressed About Your Marriage? Working on It Could Also Help Your Health

Persistent marital stress takes a toll — both emotionally and physically

woman stressed about her marriage

Sure, every married couple squabbles over finances or parenting or who did the dishes last.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But constant, unrelenting marital stress can take a toll on both parties’ emotional and physical health.

The quality of a marriage is important to a couple’s quality of overall health, says psychologist Ted Raddell, PhD.

You might notice common signs of stress – headaches, stomach issues, muscle tension – if your relationship has hit a rough patch. “But if that persists and you have unremitting stress, then it affects our immune functioning and we’re more vulnerable to all kinds of potential physical problems,” Dr. Raddell says.

One recent study linked marital conflict and depression to poor digestive health. Another study suggested that strained relationships may be connected to an increased risk for heart disease.


This mind-body connection is well known among physicians, Dr. Raddell says. Stress, in general, produces a “fight or flight” response that is designed to help in emergencies. But if it’s constantly activated, it can cause wear and tear on the body – both physical and emotional.

Stress without relief can disturb the body’s internal balance and may lead to headaches, stomach upset, high blood pressure and even chest pain, he says.

Stress is also linked to heart disease and cancer, among other health problems.

The impact on health is greatest, Dr. Raddell says, when relationship stress becomes chronic.


“The longer the time the distrust persists, over the course of months versus weeks, is probably where you’re more likely to see some of those physical symptoms,” he explains.

When a spouse can create an atmosphere of emotional safety for their partner, the nervous system shifts into “rest and digest” mode, and all body systems function optimally.

Dr. Raddell encourages couples to seek help sooner rather than later if they’re struggling and in distress.

Related Articles

Woman driving and eating a hamburger
March 1, 2023
You Guessed It: Long-Term Stress Can Make You Gain Weight

Stress hormones trigger cravings in an attempt to keep us safe from danger

Closeup of person sick with grief staring out rainy window.
January 26, 2023
What To Do When You’re (Literally) Sick With Grief

Like other kinds of stress, grieving a loss can impact you physically and emotionally

Person calling a suicide hotline.
October 27, 2022
How 988 Works as a Suicide Prevention Hotline

988 updates and replaces the old suicide hotline

Person practicing 4-7-8 breathing while sitting with crossed legs on floor rug.
September 6, 2022
How To Do the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

Focusing on regulating your breath can help calm your mind

Drawing of a man sitting in front of a computer surrounded by stacks of paper
July 21, 2022
Do Stress and Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure?

Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of hypertension and other heart issues

Two young children sit on the couch; one is holding a tablet and the other is using a smartphone.
December 3, 2021
Effects of Social Media on Children

Letting your child dive into the social media world can be scary

A drawing of a woman sitting in a chair and reading a book near a lamp
November 23, 2021
How to Do a Digital Detox for Less Stress, More Focus

Taking a break from technology not only frees up time, but has real mental health benefits. Learn the best ways to do it.

November 23, 2021
Why You Have That Pesky Eye Twitch — and When to Seek Help

Common causes for repetitive spasms of your eyelid muscle

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try