July 31, 2014
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Study: Bad marriage raises stress levels for men and women

You've heard of people who take their work life home with them, but research shows that men and women who are in bad marriages may take that stress to work with them, thereby increasing their risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

"What is happening is that marital problems are spilling into the workplace," said Brandeis University's Rosalind Barnett, one of the study's authors, in a news release. "And if these tensions persist over time, there could be serious health problems."

In the study, which was published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Barnett and colleagues looked at 105 middle-aged married adults - 67 men and 38 women - to determine the relationship between the quality of their marriage and several physical and mental stress indicators.

Participants' feelings about their marriage were assessed using a standardized scale. Then, their blood pressure and levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, determined from saliva samples, were checked throughout a working day.

Those who expressed more marital concerns had higher blood pressure during the workday. They also had higher morning cortisol levels, with fewer changes in levels over the course of the day than those with fewer marital concerns. People who scored worse on the marital quality scale also reported feeling more stress.

Over time, high cortisol levels can increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, depression, immune problems and more, while high blood pressure raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. Contrary to what some may expect, these effects were seen in both men and women.

"It's generally assumed that primary relationships are more critical to women's psychological well-being than men's, but this is not the case," Barnett said. "When there is marital concern, men and women are equally affected."


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