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

Persistent marital stress takes a toll — both emotionally and physically

Older couple embrace after a disagreement

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

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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, Ph.D.

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.

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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.

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“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.

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