Til Stress Do Us Part: Marriage Angst Can Be Hard On Your Heart

(Neil Moralee/Flickr)

(Neil Moralee/Flickr)

By Alvin Tran
Guest Contributor

Marriage is hard even in the best of circumstances. But new research suggests that if things are particularly hard, the stress can take a toll on your heart — especially if you’re older and female.

In a study published this week in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers found that older couples in bad marriages have a higher risk for heart disease compared to those in good marriages. This link between the quality of a marriage and the risk of heart-related problems, such as high blood pressure, is even more pronounced among female spouses.

“The strain and stress from the marital relationship has a strong negative effect on people’s heart,” said Hui Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University and the study’s lead author. “If the marriage is very stressful, it’s really hard on your heart.”

Liu, along with co-author Linda Waite of the University of Chicago, analyzed data from an ongoing nationally representative project that followed nearly 1,200 older men and women, ages 57 to 85, for a period of five years.

After comparing participants at the beginning of the study to the end of the five-year follow-up period, they found a significant link between an increase in negative marital quality with higher risk of hypertension among women. Not-so-hot marriages were marked by less spousal support and with husbands and wives spending less time with each other.

“The effect of marriage quality on cardiovascular risk is stronger for women than for men. It also becomes stronger as people get older,” Liu said during an interview. “We think marriage is one of the social factors that may affect the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Continue reading

Marriage Revisited: On Soulmates, Paramours And Avoiding Suffocation

Marriage, and how to improve it, is a bottomless pit kind of discussion.

So it’s not terribly surprising that CommonHealth’s recent post on a new, “all or nothing” model of marriage, in which researchers questioned whether we’re asking too much of our spouses, went viral.

Like sex, child-rearing and religion — everyone’s got an opinion to share.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Some commenters say they’ve had to readjust their expectations of finding the fantasy soulmate:

Deborah Rebisz wrote: “After a series of broken engagements, I went on an eight-year dating hiatus. My goal was to learn to rely upon myself for my own happiness…Expecting someone else to fill that spiritual, psychological, or emotional gap in my life was unrealistic, not to mention there was little chance of finding someone who could do all that.” Continue reading

Gasping Through Marriage: Are We Asking Too Much?



Marriage — as anyone who has watched “House of Cards,” or actually experienced the giddy highs and devastating lows of a real, ’til-death-part-us union, knows — is complicated.

And, with the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it’s reasonable to once again ask the question: What’s the secret to a successful marriage? Or, put another way, how can couples get enough relationship “oxygen” while climbing the mountain of marriage to avoid suffocating?

In a recent study, psychologists from Northwestern University present a new model of marriage in the U.S. that’s all about avoiding suffocation. (The full title of the paper is: “The Suffocation of Marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow Without Enough Oxygen.”) In the report, researchers say that Americans today are increasingly — and perhaps unrealistically — asking their marriages to fulfill higher-level psychological needs, such as those related to personal growth and self-realization. So, it’s not so much that we’re asking too much of our spouses, we may just be asking for the wrong things.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting earlier this month, the study’s lead author, Eli Finkel, a Northwestern psychologist whose research areas include “initial romantic attraction” and “conflict-resolution in established relationships,” said that married couples who support each others’ deep psychic, self-growth needs are pretty darn lucky.

“The level of satisfaction from having a spouse help you achieve your understanding of your core essence or your ability to come closer to the person you ideally want to be — that’s an immensely satisfying experience,” he said.

But, sadly, for many couples, such satisfaction is elusive. “Although some spouses are investing sufficient resources — and reaping the marital and psychological benefits of doing so — most are not,” the researchers report.

It wasn’t always this way. Marital expectations have evolved over time from subsistence needs — food, shelter, safety, sex and procreation — to higher-level psychological needs. But couples today often lack the time and energy needed to meet these expanding needs, which is contributing to a declining level of marital quality and well being, said the authors.

“Higher expectations can lead to greater disappointments, Continue reading

Nagging Wives Save Lives: Study Finds Married Folk Fare Better With Cancer

(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

A major new cancer study suggests that when it comes to cancer, nagging wives may just save lives. Nagging husbands too, of course.

The study just out in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that marriage appears to confer three signal advantages on cancer patients: Married people are likelier to be diagnosed before the cancer has spread. They are likelier to get and stick through the right treatments. And they are likelier to live longer after the diagnosis.

In some cancers, the paper found, being married appears to improve a patient’s survival odds even a bit more than chemotherapy.

The study is the biggest yet on the link between marriage and cancer outcomes, said its lead author, Dr. Ayal Aizer, chief resident of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program. It began with a database of more than 1 million patients and looked at the ten cancers that cause the most deaths, including cancers of the prostate, breast, lung and colon.

How might marriage improve cancer outcomes? Couldn’t married people just be richer or healthier or better able to get care? “We think it’s actually the marriage itself that really causes better outcomes,” Dr. Aizer said. “And we think it’s the support that a patient with cancer gets from their spouse that really is the difference-maker.”

How much of a difference does it make?

Dr. Aizer and his team generated a single analysis of all the patients with all their cancers and found: “Patients who were married are 20 percent more likely to be alive after their diagnosis of cancer at any time point” compared to patients who were not married, he said. “They’re also about 17 percent more likely to present with localized cancers, ones that are treatable or curable; and they’re about 53 percent more likely to get the recommended or appropriate treatment for their cancer.”

That 53 percent was striking and a bit baffling. Wouldn’t most patients get appropriate cancer treatment? Continue reading

The Outsized Power Of The Son-In Law

If the past weekend ensnared you in a complex web of family dynamics, drama and relationship stress, you’re not alone.

But, according to a fascinating story in The Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein, the specifics of those family dynamics are meaningful. Indeed, the relative strength of certain family bonds may be a factor in determining whether your own marriage remains intact, she writes, and the role of the son-in-law (of all people) appears to be particularly important:

One finding of a 26-year longitudinal study of married couples is that marriages in which the husband reports feeling close to his in-laws are more likely to last for the long haul. “These ties connect the husband to the wife,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “They say, ‘Your family relationships are important to me because you are important to me. I want to feel closer to them because it makes me feel closer to you.'”

New research examines the powerful relationship between married couples and their in-laws. (Photo: Epiclectic/flickr)

And another study concludes:

In couples where the husband initially reported being close to his wife’s parents, the risk of divorce over the next 16 years was 20% lower than for the group overall. Yet when the wife reported being close to her in-laws, that seemed to have the opposite effect: The risk of divorce with these couples was 20% higher.

Dr. Orbuch has a possible explanation: The wife who feels close with her husband’s parents may find it difficult to set boundaries and over time may come to see their close relationship with her as meddling. Continue reading

Goodbye Yente: Online Dating Trumps Traditional Matchmaking, Study Finds

From Fiddler On The Roof to Downton Abbey, matchmaking — both formal and behind-the scenes — has been a dominant force in nudging couples toward marriage.

Well according to a new analysis, Yente is dead, vanquished by the likes of and its ilk. The new study found that other than meeting through friends, online dating — once stigmatized and sort of embarrassing — has trumped all other traditional forms of meeting your soulmate.

From the University of Rochester news release:

Online dating has become the second-most-common way for couples to meet, behind only meeting through friends. According to research by Michael Rosenfeld from Stanford University and Reuben Thomas from City College of New York, in the early 1990s, less than 1 percent of the population met partners through printed personal advertisements or other commercial intermediaries. By 2005, among single adults Americans who were Internet users and currently seeking a romantic partner, 37 percent had dated online. Continue reading

Carey On Marriage: Just Say Yes! just posted a lovely, and highly personal essay that Carey wrote on marriage. More specifically, it’s about why marriage, with all of its chaos and complexity and state-sanctioned fuddy-duddiness, is — unbelievably, given how she got there — the sweet center of her life.

Here’s a taste of her delicious writing:

What happened to me? What happened to the independent woman who, by the time she married for the first time at age 44, felt no particular need for a piece of paper from City Hall?

It is this. Day in and out, through lunch-packing and play date-making and bath-running, I am struck by a surprising truth: Though the raising of our children constitutes the central activity of our family, it is the love between Sprax and me that constitutes its ineffable core.

That sounds like a traditional religious point of view, but we are not religious. I’ve come to this understanding simply as an observer of my own heart and the family dance. It is, apparently, just an emotional fact of life — at least, of our life.

What baffles me is that I was perfectly able to have Liliana without being in a committed, loving relationship with Sprax, and our semi-family life was really quite happy in that formation. We all got along; Sprax would visit two or three times a week; Liliana got plenty of love and structure.

But since he and I reunited, our bond has become the family’s invisible center, the axis of its spokes. I did not need a husband. But I need him.

Bride Anxiety: Coping With The Stress Of The Perfect Day

By Keosha Johnson

Since getting engaged, I’ve learned that ‘Bridezilla’ is more than just an entertaining reality TV show. Based on my symptoms after my fiance proposed — including insomnia, loss of appetite and more — I started to wonder whether I was developing a true clinical disorder: Bride Anxiety.

I was so burdened by the demand for perfection in every aspect of the wedding and pleasing everyone involved…I began asking the question: “Who is this person?”

It didn’t start out that way. The day of the proposal I was calm, serene and completely filled with bliss. But over the next few weeks my euphoria over planning for the big day was less apparent. At times I lost my appetite, would occasionally spend hours on end obsessing over wedding venue options and was up many nights filled with worry. I never imagined this would be my response to what has been one of the happiest moments of my life.

(Courtesy of Flickr/LibertyD8

I’ve since been able to calm down — I think. (With some support from my bridesmaids — thank you girls!). But we all know brides-to-be like this. Which brought me to my quest to find out whether there really is such a thing as bridal stress disorder. Continue reading

Marriage And Divorce Both Put On The Pounds, Study Finds

Potentially bad for your weight: Marriage and Divorce

By Karen Weintraub
Guest Blogger

You’ve heard of the “Freshman 15,” well now consider the “Divorce 21.”

In a new study out of Ohio State University, sociologists found that people who marry are more likely to gain weight than those who never marry and people who divorce are more likely to gain weight than their stably married peers.

Big changes in home life, like a marriage or a divorce, tend to change eating patterns. Marry someone with a passion for ice cream, and you’re likely to eat more of it; divorce that person and perhaps the memory will deter you from the neighborhood parlor.

Previous research has shown that people who have never married tend to diet and exercise more while they are dating, and to slacken off once they marry, perhaps because they are busier or less worried about their appearance. Those who are married eat at more regular intervals, studies show, and may eat more to acknowledge the effort a spouse has invested in the meal. And a wedding can also encourage people to quit smoking, which usually triggers weight gain.

The new study from Ohio is the first to look at how multiple factors – race, gender and age – influence weight gain or loss at the time of marital events, said Dmitry Tumin, a PhD student at Ohio State and the study’s first author. He and professor Zhenchao Qian examined a national database of more than 10,000 people interviewed every other year since 1986, when respondents were in their 20s. Continue reading

Dan Savage On Infidelity For A More Stable Marriage

Is infidelity good for marriage? (Photo: shopangelica/flickr)

This may be one of the smartest, most honest pieces on marriage I’ve read in a while.

It’s kind of a profile of Dan Savage, who is, of course, the brilliant, hilarious and sage author of the syndicated sex-advice column Savage Love, and who, as a gay, married father recently launched a powerful public service campaign, It Gets Better to support young gays who are bullied.

But it’s more than a profile. Mark Oppenheimer, writing for the Sunday New York Times magazine, gets Savage talking about how his own marriage has slowly grown more open, sexually, and how frank interaction about sexual needs and desire — which might lead to infidelity — can actually keep a marriage in tact. The key is honesty: messy, potentially shame-inducing, bare- your-soul honesty. Like, your fantasies under oath. Clearly, easier said than done. Here’s the gist:

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.

“I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage told me, “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances. But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”


I dare any married person — gay, straight, whatever — to read the entire piece and not think twice before getting into bed with your spouse.