How marital stress impacts health


Valentine’s Day may not be so lovey-dovey if there’s stress in your marriage.  

Every married couple experiences conflict, but when a couple has constant, unrelenting marital stress, it not only takes a toll on their emotional health, but can impact their physical health as well.

Cleveland Clinic’s Ted Raddell, Ph.D., said the quality of a marriage is important to the quality of overall health. 

“Headaches, stomach issues, you know, certainly the common things, muscle tension, but if that persists, you have unremitting stress then, you know, it affects our immune functioning and then we’re more vulnerable to all kinds of potential physical problems,” said Raddell. 

One recent study linked marital conflict and depression to poor digestive health. 

While another study suggested that strained relationships may be connected to an increased risk for heart disease. 

Raddell said this mind-body connection is well known among physicians. 

He said stress, in general, produces a "fight or flight" response which 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.

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

Raddell said the impact on health is greatest 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 said.

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

He said 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.