Being trapped in an unhappy marriage will make anyone miserable. It’s difficult financially and emotionally to stay with a partner you’ve fallen out of love with. What most people don’t realize is that a bad marriage can have real physical effects on your health and wellbeing. Filing a divorce before a marriage becomes a prison sentence can add years to your life!
A group of prominent British researchers studying a test group of 373 couples for 16 years after they tied the knot. The study focused on the relationship between marital conflicts and wellbeing.
The researchers tracked two things:
- How much conflict was each couple having in their marriage?
- How was their physical health changing as the years went by?
What the researchers found when they looked at the physical effects of an unhappy marriage was truly shocking. Those in unhappy relationships had higher stress hormones and inflammation markers. This means the body was physically reacting to living in an unhappy environment in ways that made these people sick. Even more chilling, those in high-conflict relationships had even greater rates of heart disease and autoimmune disorders.
Is Marriage Actually Killing You?
The results showed that men and women both suffered serious negative health effects from bad marriages, but men suffered much more. For women, the effect on health did not change much based on how frequent disagreements were. Women who fought with their husbands once a month or once a day were equally likely to have serious health complications, and both were much less healthy than women in “happy” relationships where fights between spouses were not normal events.
But when the men were studied, it became clear that not only was the effects of a stressful marriage more pronounced, but that their health suffered proportional to how frequently they fought with their spouses. Rates of heart disease and substance abuse increased with the frequency of their marital conflict.
Is Marriage Driving You Crazy?
There was also evidence of a clear link between these unhappy marriages and mental health. Spouses in conflicts reported their emotions interfering with work, trouble sleeping, migraine headaches, or fidgeting and restlessness. Serious mental health diagnoses were also most common in this group.
A Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex noted that while no single fight in a relationship will permanently harm a person’s health, the research is clear that long term conflict correlates to declines in physical and mental health.
Another exert connected to the study said that experiencing continuous fighting in a relationship could be as dangerous to your long term health as drinking and smoking.
This study also shows that the inverse is true; those in a happy relationship had much better outcomes. They were healthier, had lower rates of disease and mental illness, and lower inflammation and stress hormones.
What does this all mean? Many older studies showed a positive relationship between health and marriage. What they did not take into account was that walking down the aisle has little to do with your health. It’s how you live as a couple that matters. A loving, caring relationship can add years to your life. But if you are trapped in a miserable marriage, you should start thinking about divorce or separation–before it’s too late.
Co-written by Sebatian Weiss